At a time when global crises abound and tensions between countries are at an all-time high, the recent international conference of Caribbean and North American credit unions was a welcome relief and a model of cross cultural cooperation. This meeting was the result of a joint effort of the CCCU (Caribbean Conference of Credit Unions) and US based CUES (the Credit Union Executive Society). The conference was held at the end of June in the Bahamas.
With the theme of “Re-Engineering Credit Unions for Success and Sustainability,” the joint conference with 800 representatives from 18 countries kicked off to a robust start . The conference’s opening ceremony was unlike any that I had seen in my many years of credit union service. On the dais, the Royal Bahamas Police Force band, immaculately groomed and resplendent in their impeccable white jackets, red stripes and seamed trousers, took center stage. The flag procession commenced. Each country, in alphabetical order, from Antigua-Barbuda to Trinidad -Tobago and special guest country, the USA, walked in with its nation’s flag, escorted by a uniformed guard. Reminiscent of the Olympics’ medal ceremony, each nation’s flag was presented and placed on its spot on the stage. Each anthem, carefully composed for that nation’s independence, was lovingly played, with many still embracing the familiar strains of “God Save the Queen.” The pageantry, sounds and swells of pride were infectious and a boost to the spirit of all the delegates.
Immediately following the flag placement, a representative from each country gave greetings and highlighted credit union strides in that nation. We then had an unexpected guest speaker in the person of the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, the Honorable Perry Christie. To an attentive audience, the Prime Minister spoke about the role of credit unions in the region. He stressed that because of their level of influence and ability to make a material difference in the lives of members, credit unions should use their affiliations to foster a greater sense of hope and self determination in communities that were still marginalized.
This speech set the tone for the rest of the conference. In the next few days, presenters from the Caribbean and the U.S. gave their audience guidelines and tools for more effective management. In breakout sessions, even with obvious credit union size and cultural nuances, all groups were willing to learn from each other. Caribbean credit unions were awed and amused that their US counterparts were encouraging members to do business remotely. U.S. credit unions were amazed at the passion and drive of their island counterparts. Recognizing our differences we also realized that we were united in a credit union brotherhood and common goal whether we hailed from Belize or Boston.
In the final analysis, in this international coming together, all parties profited from the spirited exchanges. By the end of the conference, all delegates could truly say that they were empowered to help drive the financial and moral success of their own credit unions. To echo the words of Aaron Moses, the President of the Caribbean Confederation, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.” Well said.