Cooperatively Yours

The International Year of Cooperatives celebrates co-op principles, history, and benefits.

February 15, 2012

The United Nations’ “International Year of Cooperatives” is well under way. Here’s an update on what’s been happening and how credit unions can get involved in this important and timely opportunity.

The theme, as you may know, is that “Cooperatives Build a Better World.” Since late October, cooperatives around the world have been celebrating the principles, history, and benefits of cooperatives.

They’ve been highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socioeconomic development, in particular recognizing their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation, and social integration.

For U.S. credit unions, this is a fantastic opportunity—particularly at this point in our nation’s history.

And it’s time for credit unions to consider taking advantage of this opportunity.

As cooperatives, credit unions understand the philosophy, principles, and value of the cooperative business model: maximizing services to our members, rather than maximizing profits for shareholders.

Never was that key difference more evident than during last year’s run-up to “Bank Transfer Day,” which was kindled by the announcement by Bank of America that it would begin charging its customers $5 a month just for the privilege of using their debit card.

Consumers saw through that quickly—and just as quickly began looking for an alternative: a place that emphasizes meeting their needs as consumers, rather than lining the pockets of those running the financial institution.

And they found that place in credit unions. Hundreds of thousands of consumers ultimately joined credit unions, all in just a matter of weeks. The national media took note, widely publishing and broadcasting this shift in consumer preferences.

Now we have an opportunity through the International Year of Cooperatives to build on that tremendous media attention we received. We can make the most of this for American consumers and cooperatives, and especially for credit unions.

We have the chance to educate more people about co-ops and credit unions. We have the opportunity to attract more young members, especially when such emphasis and focus exists on the not-for-profit financial services model that credit unions offer.

At CUNA, we’ve been engaging policy makers in Washington, D.C., to secure more recognition for the International Year of Cooperatives and for credit unions. We’ve already worked to have a resolution introduced and passed in Congress recognizing the international, year-long celebration.

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineWe’ve also been working with the Obama administration to build support for recognizing the role that co-ops play here in America.

But we want to see all credit unions get involved.

In particular, we want to build better relationships between credit unions and other co-ops.

For example, why should co-ops go to banks for services when they could go to the credit union—a co-op itself—within their community? They can conduct their business transactions through the credit union, as well as have their employees become members of credit unions.

Additionally, we’ve been working with the National Cooperative Business Association, the International Co-operative Alliance, and, of course, the World Council of Credit Unions—in efforts to amplify the vital part cooperatives play.

For example, there’s a way to tell your story about how you help your members. Organizers of the international year are seeking one story for every day this year about how co-ops build a better world and how they help consumers all over the world do that. You can provide your story in writing, as a photo slideshow—or even as a video.

To tell your story, go to or To learn more about the efforts going on for credit unions and all cooperatives, visit You’ll learn how to get involved in this year’s celebration.

We want to do more, and we want you to be able to do more.

There’s so much that people need to know about the great work cooperatives—and credit unions, in particular—do all over the world.

As we move through the international year, please consider getting involved—cooperatively.

BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.