As the chief community engagement officer at $2.3 billion asset Nusenda Credit Union in Albuquerque, N.M., Robin Brule focuses on how the credit union and its foundation can make a positive impact on the community.
Brule also serves as the executive director of the Nusenda Foundation, which received an Outstanding Organization Award at the National Credit Union Foundation’s Herb Wegner Memorial Awards during the 2019 CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference.
Credit Union Magazine: The Nusenda Foundation received a Herb Wegner Memorial Outstanding Organization Award. What does this award mean to you and your credit union?
Robin Brule: We’re honored and humbled to receive this award. All the challenges we see in the communities we serve are an invitation for us to be innovative, and to make use of our skills, connections, and resources to find inclusive and reverent solutions. Our predecessors, like Herb Wegner, who developed and grew the credit union movement were problem-solvers. They realized that existing financial systems didn’t meet the needs of many, so they cultivated an alternative. They showed that when you do well, you can do good. They were pioneers and innovators. We like to think that is how Nusenda, via the spirit of cooperatives, will continue to thrive and grow to best serve our members and our communities—through partnership and innovation. As a cooperative, creative thinking is in our DNA.
Q: How does the Nusenda Foundation empower the community?
A: The Nusenda Foundation’s mission is to create stronger communities where our members live and work through collaborative partnerships and investments in innovative solutions to improve education, health, social, and economic outcomes. We do this in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
Our aims are to authentically serve our unique and diverse populations and the challenges they face. Credit unions were founded with the roots of access and opportunity. Our foundation embraces that history and applies it to the challenges and economic realities we face today.
Q: What inspired the Nusenda Foundation’s inception?
A: The bottom line is commitment to our communities. We knew we could do more.
Its intention is to further support the causes we’ve rallied around for decades and to formalize our processes so our investments have maximum impact. All the challenges we see in the communities we serve are an invitation for us to be innovative and to make use of our skills, connections, and resources to find inclusive and reverent solutions.
Q: What unique challenges does your community face?
A: New Mexico has a diverse population with tough and pervasive challenges, from a high poverty rate, to under education, to economic instability. While there is no fix-it-all solution, we try to understand the needs of individuals, and be adaptive and flexible.
We know there is no one leader or system that can solve it alone. By building partnerships between financial institutions with industry knowledge and community organizations with deep roots in people’s lives, we can transform who gets access to capital and how, and thereby accelerate progress toward a more equitable future.
Q: What innovative ideas have you found to be the most impactful?
A: Our Co-Op Capital program has been recognized internationally for its impact and innovation. Co-op Capital transcends the formulas typically used for eligibility.
The decision of whether someone should receive a loan shifts from the lending institution to partner organizations—such as nonprofits, community organizations, and educational institutions—widening the pathway to capital.
Co-op Capital has loaned more than $675,000 in low-interest capital with a default rate of only 1%. By contrast, the industry average is 2%, according to a report on the Small Business Administration's Microloan Program.
Q: What advice would you offer others who are looking to make a difference in their communities?
A: There is no cookie-cutter approach or one-size-fits-all solution. Listening is paramount. Our most successful and impactful programs at Nusenda have been based in this philosophy.
We invest a great deal in co-creation, pulling the business community, educational institutions, governmental entities, and nonprofit organizations together to find solutions and work toward common goals.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
A: The best piece of advice was from my mother, who was a teacher. She taught me that empathy is the key to a new world and she made sure that my sibling and I knew we can make a difference.
Without empathy, there is insufficient traction for conflict resolution and altruism is not possible. I have always believed that and continue to believe that.