Being involved in politics gives Emily Leite, chief advocacy officer at the Ohio Credit Union League, an opportunity to “invent history” on behalf of the credit union movement.
“From a young age, I have always been fascinated by history, government, and how generations build upon each other’s progress to improve the country and the world we live in,” Leite says.
Leite worked for three Ohio legislators before joining the Ohio League in 2015. In recent years, the league and its member credit unions successfully worked to update the state charter, gain approval for remote notarization, and strengthen relationships with state government.
Working closely with Ohio banking associations helped achieve most of those advances.
“We will never reach full consensus between credit unions and banks, but we can work together strategically,” Leite says.
She notes that Ohio credit unions also benefit from a strong relationship with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a credit union champion who chairs the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees.
Both decisionmakers and credit unions seek to make a difference in people’s lives, Leite notes.
Focusing on that common “why” helps her bridge differences on positions and issues. She leans on credit union leaders to share their stories and expertise to offer a genuine, transparent rationale for their requests.
Leite encourages all credit union leaders to channel their passion for the “people helping people” philosophy into advocacy.
“Starting out small, like completing a call to action on an issue important to you and your credit union and working your way up to meeting with a legislator or regulator in their office is a strategic approach that can build comfort and confidence,” she says.
The pandemic forced credit union advocates to switch from face-to-face contact to virtual channels like Zoom. Spending less time traveling to meetings means lawmakers, regulators, and credit union leaders have more time to connect virtually.
“Virtual accessibility makes it easier to reach out and take action and forge a relationship with decisionmakers the moment you need to,” Leite says.
Leite is pleased that a growing number of women lawmakers and lobbyists are entering the male-dominated field of lobbying and government affairs.
Her role models include two trailblazers: Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady and U.S. delegate to the United Nations who advocated for overlooked people and groups, and Hillary Clinton, who deflected criticism while pressing forward to pursue her goals as first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state, and presidential candidate.
“I am proud to be a part of that generational change and hope to continue paving the way for young girls everywhere who want to serve as advocates for a cause important to their hopes and dreams,” Leite says.
Memorable “firsts” for Leite include stepping into the Ohio Statehouse as a legislative aide and her initial visit to the U.S. Capitol to advocate for credit unions. Every return visit is a “deep honor and privilege” for her.
“Feeling the weight of the history in each building still leaves me with the feeling of immense responsibility and gratitude that I get to live my dream of making a difference for others every day.”