Article

CU Women: Globally Stronger by Acting Locally

diverse group of women standing shoulder to shoulder wearing orange partnership ribbons
By Brian Branch

5 minutes

On the 10th anniversary of the Global Women’s Leadership Network, looking back at the important work it has achieved

The Global Women’s Leadership Network was formed 10 years ago. The global women’s vision was to provide women with the opportunity and resources to make a difference in each other’s lives, in the lives of credit union members and in their communities. World Council of Credit Unions  is the hub of the network to bring together women from CU systems around the world: staff, executives, board members and business partners. GWLN is one of our most important programs.

The initial request that led to the formation of GWLN was to create a safe forum in which women could discuss business issues among themselves. It was not meant to be divisive or separatist. Both women and men championed the network, contributed their time, and leveraged the power of the network and the vision to make a difference among their peers and in their community.

The pink tie became the symbol of the GWLN, ubiquitously worn by men and women. Then the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions introduced pink scarves. In pictures from around the globe now, we see people in education forums and volunteers working in their communities. 

Soon, membership expanded to include men. Brazil introduced the “He for She” slogan. Men who had for years sponsored their colleagues to participate stepped forward and became active participants in the network. Our cultural dress may be different, but we all wear pink ties and scarves.

The network provides a forum for collaborative coaching. We are cooperators. The annual GWLN Forum at the World Council conference, the Brazil Women’s Leadership Summit and the U.S. Executive Readiness Summit each year provide best practices on critical competencies and working groups regarding professional development challenges. Local Sister Societies include people from all levels of experience and responsibilities. The result is an expanding pool of talented women prepared for professional advancement.

Each year, GWLN awards scholarships for many to attend the Forum or to carry out community-based programs. Many participants have launched GWLN initiatives in their home community or started local Sister Societies. GWLN has blossomed into an international community and a truly global network, from Malawi to Brazil to Thailand to more than 30 countries. Men and women have embraced the commitment to women’s professional development and financial inclusion.

Members of the Global Womens Leadership Network pose together in Sinapore 2018

GWLN has members from 78 countries, but make no mistake: It is a grassroots movement. Sister Societies began in many cities around the U.S. and then the world, providing peer networking, education and professional development. Group leaders are elected to plan and lead several meetings a year. Credit unions sponsor the venue and meal. 

Many state leagues incorporate GWLN Sister Societies events into their annual meetings. Sister Societies provide the innovation and community leadership of the network. In the U.S. alone, there are 25 states with Sister Societies (and some with more than one) where volunteers help with résumé writing, interview coaching, placement counseling and outreach to university graduating students. 

Most Sister Societies choose a community charity for strengthening the economic security of women and their families. Sister Societies support shelters for battered women, education and support for single mothers, teaching life coping skills to young women, family food assistance programs, and youth empowerment programs. 

This work has been supported by such industry partners as Mitchell Stankovic and Associates from the beginning, in addition to PSCU, CU*Answers, CU Direct, CO-OP Financial Services, CUNA Mutual Group and Ser Technology Corporation.

One of the challenges of an international network is keeping up with members across the globe. We began field engagement programs in which members of the network would travel with us to study and contribute to the work of our peers. In 2017, we traveled to Ukraine to support a credit union system suffering from global isolation, archaic systems and civil war. Subsequently, three network members traveled to Ukraine as volunteers to assist credit unions in product enhancement, marketing and financial literacy services to rural women and youth. 

In 2018, we traveled from the World Credit Union Conference in Singapore to Thailand to study an Asian credit union system and to participate in its future strategic visioning. In 2019, we will travel from the World Credit Union Conference in the Bahamas to Puerto Rico to support an American community struggling to overcome economic and natural disaster. 

$2 billion Elevations Credit Union, Boulder, Colorado, also stepped up to develop an app for GWLN, which connects members and links to cuwomen.org, GWLN’s website. Now, from the most remote locations, members can get information, share educational ideas and build a true network. 

In 2019 at the World Council, our agenda returns to some of the early challenges in serving women. We will be collecting better data about women’s participation in credit union systems around the world and the impact of their financial inclusion and identifying the obstacles that women face in addressing time, family and opportunity costs of taking on executive or leadership responsibilities. World Council will begin implementing solutions that leverage opportunities for women’s financial inclusion presented by digital technologies. With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are working in the Philippines and Indonesia to connect women to e-commerce and payments ecosystems with digital credit union platforms. 

At World Council we value the generosity of talent, time and treasure of the credit union movement. GWLN is a network of volunteers, and the world’s credit union system is stronger for it. The organization creates greater global impact with your local efforts. To engage, go to www.cuwomen.org.  

Brian Branch is president/CEO of WOCCU, Madison, Wisconsin. 

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