"Unconventional" is defined as not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed. In short, to be unconventional one must be open to change, and willing to challenge longstanding systems, structures and situations to produce new possibilities.
This month, we acknowledge the many ways that several leaders in the African-American community have stood up for something unconventional—opening doors of opportunity for many following in their footsteps—doors that could not have even been imaginable decades ago.
Let me be clear in saying we still have a long way to go, but I am aware of the progress that has been made and the barriers that have been broken.
The principles of the credit union movement, and specifically how we work to help everyday working people, is what has kept me in this career. Let me be real: I originally started in this movement because I needed a job.& But I had no clue that it would lead to such a purpose-filled life for me.
Coming up, though, I saw the opportunity to make a real impact in the lives of those in my community, and it motivated me to stay in the movement.
In fact, that passion led me to a credit union specifically focused on the unbanked and underbanked populations in our community. Navigating my own personal challenges from childhood to young adulthood familiarized me with the types of financial challenges many people must overcome.
At this institution, we obtained CDFI (community development financial institution) certification. We have worked to build unique programs within our community to increase skills attainment for workforce development and have given access to credit to those who have previously damaged their credit.
We even certified 100% of our staff (including myself) as financial counselors to ensure we can be the resource our members need.
My personal mission statement is to change the world by building people who will change the world. This is why my work extends beyond the corner office into my local community serving as both a pastor and activist for issues that plague the disenfranchised in our city.
I am an unconventional CEO in many ways. I have sat in the top seat since the age of 27, and I am African-American. Neither my age nor my race makes up the formula for a typical CEO for most industries, including the credit union movement.
Being both young and black have their challenges at times. Both can make me feel as if I am an outsider navigating a space that was not designed particularly for me. But that challenge of going against the grain has always motivated me.
In fact, I long for the day that our credit union board rooms, executive suites, and conferences begin to reflect a broader audience of people in age, race, gender, and more. Making this happen will only make it easier to live our people helping people mantra.
With a more diverse audience at the table, we will reach a broader audience in our membership, creating the lasting impact we were designed to make. Will it be challenging? Yes. Will there be things to overcome? Yes.
But change is unconventional, and the end result will be worth the journey.
RONALDO HARDY, SHRLD, CUDE, CUERME, CCUFC, is president/CEO of Southwest Louisiana Credit Union in Lake Charles.