I became interested in credit unions and cooperatives because they are business models that promote economic justice. I was looking for alternatives to the traditional banking system that today appears solely to focus on profits over people. Somewhere along the line the traditional banking industry stopped using sound financial principles and gambling became common practice.
I am not here to demonize banks. I am to here to speak about opportunity and choice. I think we are sitting in the middle of a pivotal moment in history where a social movement, Occupy Wall Street, has grown around ideals similar to the principles and values of credit unions and cooperatives. Millions of young people are becoming attracted to and invested in the idea of cooperation. These young people are taking a critical look at their careers and opting for a position that has a component of social good instead of just compensation.
What I see is that there are younger generations of people who understand that credit unions and cooperatives are viable financial institutions and business models. I believe the credit union and cooperative movement is growing and maybe doubling in size over the next five to 10 years due to this movement. My hope is that the credit unions and cooperatives see the intrinsic value in this movement and these young people.
This generation believes that credit unions and cooperatives espouse ideals of democracy and equity, the foundation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Furthermore, they understand that these models have the potential to rebuild and grow our economy and to serve the underserved. In my short lifetime, I have never seen a movement of this kind with such momentum and spirit. This momentum can be cultivated, and I believe it can help sustain the credit union industry.
Collaborating with younger generations that believe in the cooperative models is vital to the sustainability of the credit union industry.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is nothing to fear or to discredit. It is an opportunity to connect with like-minded people across the country that are looking for innovation, solutions and answers to the economic problems plaguing the nation. Cooperatives and credit unions have some of the answers, but if no one attempts to work with these young people, then I believe the future does not look too bright.
Elizabeth Friedrich is a program associate at the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @ekfriedrich
The Cooperative Trust is a grassroots organization composed of several hundred young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships online collaboration and development projects. Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.