Think Globally, Act Locally
July 31, 2019
By Gracie Brandsgard, Director of Government Affairs, PolicyWorks
When I was 16, I put a “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper sticker on my car. Even as a teenager, this concept resonated with me because it’s a simple idea that says we can tackle tough issues when we all come together and do our part. In May, I was given the opportunity to “Think Globally, Act Locally” and travel to Curitiba, Brazil as a part of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) Global Classroom Program. My delegation included thirteen other young professionals from the United States, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica. We attended a young professional conference hosted by Sicredi, a credit union system in Brazil, and toured several of their credit unions.
Sicredi is a credit union administration platform and franchise model that is comprised of more than 100 credit unions, plus regional offices and a national headquarters. Credit unions may choose to join the Sicredi system or remain independent. By joining Sicredi, credit unions pool their resources with others and share branding, a core platform, strategic visioning, and legal, compliance, and operational support.
The regional offices are similar to the Iowa Credit Union League; they support all the member CU’s in their region. They coordinate community/member engagement and annual meetings, assist with educational efforts, ensure performance of individual credit unions, and plan and facilitate events like the young professional conference we attended.
A phrase I heard over and over again during my week in Brazil was “tudo que somos, tudo que podemos ser,” or “all we are, all we can be.” And Sicredi staff and members not only say the phrase, but live it. I was so inspired by Sicredi’s collaboration and commitment to the community; they approach their economic and social missions with the same importance.
Over the last few years, Sicredi credit unions have started young professional committees at each branch in order to engage their staff and members in a more intentional way. These committees meet regularly, provide professional development through speakers, trainings, and discussions, and are open to any Sicredi member, not just staff. In fact, at the young professional conference we attended, most of the participants were credit union members – it was a true testament not only to the commitment of Sicredi to engage young people, but a reflection of their members’ investment in the cooperative system.
Sicredi facilitates frequent opportunities for its member credit unions to collaborate and the results are creative solutions for outreach and community engagement. Last year, Sicredi hosted 2,500 financial literacy workshops with 130,000 attendees, and partnered with a well-known comic in Brazil to create financial literacy comics for children, distributing over 2 million throughout the country. They also help the environment through a program that recycles used cooking oil, and support local schools by providing activities at no cost. These programs truly demonstrate the power of acting locally, but would not be possible without the work of each Sicredi member credit union. One credit union would not be able to host 2,500 financial literacy workshops in one year, but because they all work together they can have a larger impact.
This kind of collaboration reminds me of our advocacy efforts in Iowa. For the last two years, bankers have tried to divide and conquer our industry, but credit unions have stuck together and shown up for each other, at the Capitol, at town halls, and in emails and letters. And that’s been the key to our success, and what makes the credit union movement so unique. No one person or credit union can solve an issue like defeating bankers’ attacks on their own. But with each person and organization doing its part, acting locally, we are tackling these things together.
Even our advocacy agenda reflects that “thinking globally, acting locally” mindset. Did you know that nearly half of Americans do not have $400 in savings? Learning about the national savings crisis was the motivation behind our prize-linked savings (PLS) legislation last year. PLS is a program that incentivizes saving; individuals earn chances to win prizes the more they save, and in states that have implemented the program it has helped the average participant save $2,400. Will prize-linked savings completely solve the problem? Of course not. But it would make a difference here in Iowa. And that’s what “thinking globally, acting locally” is all about – tackling the tough issues with small actions that, together, make an impact.
How can you think globally and act locally? Travelling the world isn’t the only way we can think globally – attending roundtables, engaging in the ELC Facebook group, and participating in Hike the Hills are all great opportunities to meet and learn from other credit union professionals. It may not feel like you’re making a difference when you write a letter or email a legislator. But every piece makes an impact, and putting our collective energy and actions together is what has defeated every banker attack over the last two years.
Here’s my commitment. I’m coming back to Iowa with a renewed energy and focus on building our advocacy bench – I want everyone to feel comfortable and empowered to talk to legislators. You all have important things to say and stories to share, and I want to amplify those voices. And I’m committed to meeting credit union staff, board members, and members where they’re at, literally! This fall, we’re rolling out regional advocacy trainings hosted in nine cities across the state in an effort to make credit union advocacy more accessible. And I have a dream that someday we can use the Sicredi model and invite members to these same trainings and eventually grow our Hike the Hills to thousands of advocates!
We need you to make the cooperative movement a success. You bring creative solutions and important perspectives that will help us serve members and each other. So what will you do locally to make a difference?
Gracie Brandsgard is the Government Affairs Director for PolicyWorks and supports advocacy initiatives for the Iowa Credit Union League.