WOCCU Turns 40

International CU association celebrates four decades of development activity.

November 10, 2010

The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has been in existence for 40 years. The global credit union trade association and development agency formally incorporated Nov. 9, 1970, in Madison, Wis., although its articles of incorporation state that WOCCU's operations “are principally to be conducted wherever credit unions are located.”

“Today is a milestone, not only for World Council but for the global credit union movement,” says WOCCU Chairman Barry Jolette, president/CEO of San Mateo Credit Union, Redwood City, Calif. “The organization has spent four decades seeking ways to improve people's lives through credit unions, and the number of people WOCCU has touched and the number of ways those lives have improved are immeasurable.”

WOCCU evolved from the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) World Extension Department, developed in the 1950s to attack usury on a global scale.

During that era, international credit union development programs emphasized community as well as economic development. CUNA officials believed the department could work with private and government funding agencies to help credit unions foster the creation of modern economies in less developed countries.

The work of this department, in conjunction with the efforts of cooperative systems in Australia, Canada, and Europe, led to the organization of credit unions worldwide over the next two decades.

“World Council’s 1970 incorporation was a vote of confidence among national credit union associations worldwide,” notes Pete Crear, WOCCU president/CEO. “It was a benchmark in the history of the international movement and the culmination of a dream that had stirred enthusiasm in two generations of leaders.”

WOCCU has implemented more than 275 technical assistance programs in 70 countries. While its programs have largely focused on credit union building and strengthening, WOCCU has worked with credit unions in recent years to employ innovative rural outreach technologies, create an Islamic finance model for cooperatives in Afghanistan, and develop agricultural finance programs that connect small farmers to markets.

WOCCU's latest program in Mexico worked with 54 credit unions in 22 states to bring financial access to 200,000 people living in remote, marginalized areas. WOCCU developed and trained credit union staff on a new service delivery approach whereby field officers travel to outlying communities once a month to bring credit union services to people who are normally at the mercy of usurious lenders or long, expensive trips into town to access savings and loans.

Some of the credit unions now use personal digital assistants (PDAs) to perform transactions in the field, and rural businesses are installing point-of-sale devices to give members an opportunity to pay bills, buy mobile phone air time, and access their accounts more frequently.

WOCCU has also expanded its focus to include community development programs, addressing the role credit unions can play in helping people with HIV/AIDS, orphans, and those living in conflict-affected or disaster areas.

Earlier this year, WOCCU mobilized the international credit union system to raise more than $1 million in relief and rebuilding funds for Haiti. WOCCU used the donations to provide immediate aid and shelter to credit unions affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake and continues to work with the institutions on stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

WOCCU began formal operations January 1, 1971, and will celebrate its 40th anniversary throughout 2011 with a variety of special events, culminating at the 2011 World Credit Union Conference in Glasgow, U.K.