Over the years I have found myself woven into the co-operative movement in a number of forums. I have chaired meetings, helped prepare budgets, drafted policies for committees, delivered newsletters and spent a lot of energy in the day to day work of building a co-operative community and to live out the dream of abolishing capitalism in all its forms and replacing it with a co-operative commonwealth. This is in addition to years of efforts on serving on co-operative boards on the local, provincial and national level, where I try to stay firmly rooted in my home co-ops.
As a grassroots focused co-op activist, being a participant in the life of the Credit Union Central of Canada is humbling. The assets of affiliates to Credit Union Central are over $152.5 billion. The challenge of ensuring member control of institutions with such economic resources is substantial.
One organisation I am on the board of—the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative— is a class c member of Credit Union Central and has sent me on occasion to the annual general meeting of Credit Union Central, where people who find billions of dollars numbers are not a barrier to full participation are the dominate voice, but to whom the co-op principles are essential. The first one I attended was a large gathering in Ottawa, where I was lost in the crowd. This time, I sat in a small board room of people where Denise Guy, the executive director the Canadian Co-operative Association, was a familiar face.
In reports and discussion, the vital importance to the credit union movement of living out the co-op principles to distinguish credit unions from other financial institutions was stressed. The business of the meeting was the same as other annual general meetings—approving the audited financial statements, electing directors, passing resolutions—but there was an underlying sense of shared and mutual stewardship of the resources of millions of people. The Credit Union Central people seek ways to ensure that the individual members of credit unions are valued, that all member investments are not only safe but are used to strengthen our economic and social communities and that the political world in which credit unions function is continually reminded of the credit union difference.
I did have an opportunity to have a brief conversation with Brian Branch, the executive director of the World Council of Credit Unions. Having a rare opportunity to learn about the different expressions of credit unions around the world helped make the meeting unique for me.
I am not a banker; I am not someone whose mind easily grasps billions of dollars. But I understand the co-operative principals. One thing I have taken away from all my experiences with the Credit Union Central is that the co-operative principals have a universal applicability, indeed are key statements of different values from those that seem to dominate our political and economic world.