COMPOUNDING COMMUNITY CAPITAL: Canada’s Credit Unions and the Untapped Assets of Poor Communities

This paper is about poverty, and the role Canadian credit unionists have played, and can play in helping poor people the world over to overcome it. At the heart of the Canadian credit union experience are two fundamental insights that are vital to the great task ahead of us: 1. Every village on the planet, no matter how poor or remote, has the basic financial and human resources it needs to build its own financial institution, and 2. Especially if it is poor and/or remote, it must have its own financial institution if it hopes to have adequate and uninterrupted access to financial services in the future. To accomplish any great task – and it is hard to think of a greater one than lifting 500 million people out of poverty – we must all try to learn from one another and embrace a long historical view that allows all to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s approaches. For this reason the paper will start by citing someone not generally associated with the credit union movement – Robert Peck Christen. Christen encourages us all to take the long view on the great task, citing practices of microfinance that go back 500 years in London. The long view can help us to make sense of our accomplishments and our challenges, and put the past 30 years in a clearer light. While Christen is a prominent microfinance specialist, he is particularly a friend of credit unions, and as he himself has attested, “[T] he only significant banking relationship I have is with my credit union.” (Christen, p. 154) This makes his observations about

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