At some point, you’ve probably wondered what the difference is between credit unions and other financial institutions. In reality, many differences exist, but the short of it is this: Credit unions exist to help people, not to make a profit. That difference resulted in CapEd being established in 1936 as a financial cooperative rather than a bank. Although we don’t sell groceries or farming supplies or electricity, we share the same principles as other cooperatives. At a cooperative, you’re a member/owner, not a customer.

In order to increase public awareness of cooperatives and promote their formation and growth, the United Nations General Assembly has designated 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC) with the theme “Credit Unions Build a Better World.”

As financial cooperatives that stand on social responsibility and economic viability, credit unions play a substantial role in the global cooperative movement. In 97 countries, close to 186 million people are members of credit unions. Credit unions around the world have taken that message to heart and adapted it for their International Credit Union Day celebration on October 20, 2011, which is the launch of the 2012 IYC. Cooperatives address the common goals of their members.

Cooperative principles include:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community.

These principles underscore the cooperative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.

Here are a few examples from the World Council of Credit Unions of how credit unions worldwide are exercising cooperative principles to promote the above values:

  • In Mexico, credit union field officers physically take credit union services to the poor in marginalized areas of the country through new handheld technologies, giving them an opportunity and affordable alternative to access financial services.
  • Amid the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, men and women alike are getting the chance to experience democracy firsthand by voting at their local Islamic investment and finance cooperatives (credit unions).
  • In Kenya, a credit union with a membership consisting of secondary school teachers offers an HIV/AIDS peer education training program to help members help their communities.
  • In Haiti, credit unions have strived to maintain operations in the face of a catastrophic disaster, so that their members have access to the resources they need to begin rebuilding their lives and homes after 2010’s devastating earthquake.
  • In the U.S., credit unions are committed to providing a safe and affordable alternative to predatory payday lenders. Credit unions are always looking for opportunities to bring affordable services to communities in need.

As financial cooperatives, credit unions are much more than money lenders and holders. Like all cooperatives, we stand for the power of people helping people. Credit unions are prime examples of how the cooperative spirit transforms individuals and advances communities, the first steps toward building a better world.

Copyright 2011 CUNA Inc.

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