Credit unions were in my blood from the beginning. My first experiences came with Cooperativa El Educador Herrerano, a teacher’s credit union that my parents founded in my hometown of Chitré, Panama. One of my earliest lessons, in fact, came at age 15 when my mother asked me to type up the credit union’s bylaws.
I may not have fully understood all the words, but their importance somehow stuck with me. I didn’t realize then that I had already started down my lifelong career path. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I can look back on my life with some sense of wonder and a great deal of gratitude for the luck and diverse opportunities that have come my way.
In 1991, I came to the United States to study economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on a Fulbright Scholarship. After learning English and graduating with honors, I married my wife, Heidi, and we settled in Janesville, Wis. to raise our family.
My adjustment to life in the U.S. was occasionally challenging, but even as possibly the only Panamanian in Janesville I still felt I had found a home. I didn’t realize that my career path was already taking me on the next leg of my journey.
In 1998, World Council of Credit Unions, the Madison-based global cooperative trade organization, advertised for a bilingual Program Specialist. I applied and was hired, which kicked everything into a much higher gear.
I spent the next 20 years leading U.S. credit unions to reach out to their global counterparts, sharing expertise and trading lessons in what the cooperative financial movement means to different people in different countries. At heart, credit unions embrace the same principles of member service whether they’re located in Texas, Ecuador or Australia.
Those principles make no distinction in terms of the race, creed or color of their members, and the global movement has thrived because of its open embrace of the diverse people it serves.
Building bridges across nations between people and institutions comes naturally to me. I have traveled millions of miles to bring together thousands of credit union advocates in more than 75 countries around the world. I have promoted organizations dedicated to human economic development, transforming my career into a passion and a mission of service.
The good that credit unions do in communities truly inspires me, and has led me to volunteer as an associate board member of Blackhawk Community Credit Union and on the consumer experience advisory board at Summit Credit Union.
Ultimately, the credit union difference led me to Coopera where, as a Latino immigrant to the U.S., I can do what I consider the most important work to keep our industry relevant and true to its principles in years to come.
Coopera, in Spanish, means “to cooperate.” Our mission is to help credit unions welcome and serve the Hispanic community, increasing both their diversity and business opportunities. As one of the country’s fastest-growing population segments, Hispanics are the base of what could be credit unions’ next great growth wave, especially with the industry’s renewed emphasis on diversity, equality and inclusion. But we have to be ready for it.
No less a business guru than Malcolm Forbes once said, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.” If we as a movement can do that frequently and effectively, there will be no stopping us. I am lucky to have come from so far to secure a front seat to a movement that enables human development and dignity.
Fostering that emphasis, and the resulting opportunities, has become my mission. Let me ask you, what is yours?
Victor Miguel Corro, CUDE, is CEO of Coopera, a full--service Hispanic market solutions company, and has 20 years’ experience working with credit unions.