CO-OPERATIVES: RESHAPING CARIBBEAN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome and greet you with tremendous expectation and enthusiasm for yet another engaging, interactive and rewarding cooperative experience. I want to particularly welcome those of you who are attending our convention for the first time. Our 60th annual conference is unique in many ways.We are meeting at a unique period in the world’s political and economic history which many deem extremely uncomfortable and uncertain.
We are also meeting when our region continues to grapple with many challenges including low growth, high unemployment, high debt to GDP, persistent fiscal deficits and deep vulnerability to disasters and other externalities.
For the first time, we are meeting in a beautiful and scenic Caribbean location where despite their familiarity with cooperatives primarily in the agriculture sector, there are no credit unions. So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Varadero, Cuba.
Our choice of location is strategic. It is also exploratory as it is our hope that the significant promise and benefits of the financial cooperative sector can also accrue to the Cuban people and economy sometime in the future. In this regard, I would like you to join me in extending a warm welcome to our Cuban representative *who responded positively to our invitation to be here. We hope that your presence would result in a better appreciation and understanding of the Credit Union movement and hopefully signal the beginning of a meaningful relationship between the Caribbean Credit Union family and the Cuban government and people.
Brothers and sisters, our Credit Union movement continues to play a significant role in the socio-economic growth and development of our region. Currently we have 297 credit union in 17 countries, serving 2.5 million members with a total asset base of approximately 6.5 billion US dollars. We are part of a world family of 223 million members in 60,500 credit union in 109 countries with an asset base of US 1.8 trillion.
Our level of penetration is among the highest in the world. In fact, the region’s penetration rate is 20%, the highest in the world with Montserrat at 140.7%, Dominica 136.7 %, St Vincent and the Grenadines 88.8%, Barbados 85.6%, Grenada 79.4%, St Lucia 77.6% and Trinidad & Tobago 75.3%. When total assets of the sector are compared to GDP, the picture is also telling. Credit Union assets approximates 8% of the region’s GDP. Contributions range from 5% in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, 13 to 19 % in Belize, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, 39% in Dominica and 68% in Montserrat.
So as an economic and social enabler, credit unions continue to transform and enhance the lives of individuals, communities and our Caribbean countries.
We believe that our impact and relevance is due to our unique structure as a people centred, community oriented, democratic organisation that delivers value. Our empowerment of people, the enhancement of lives, our rootedness and mobilization of communities, our social interventions and our mobilization of savings are all vital for growth and development of our countries. This model of development has so far demonstrated its resilience and sustainability since its introduction in the region approximately 75 years ago.
Across the world, the cooperative model has mirrored our regional experience. Repeatedly, the cooperative sector has demonstrated its resilience and relevance as a stable sustainable model. Many studies post the 2008 deep recession including that of the ILO, have clearly and irrefutably concluded that the cooperative sector outperformed other models in terms of stability, comparative performance, job loss, resilience and sustainability. *
Interestingly, the post 2008 period also saw a considerable shift in public perceptions of large private businesses particularly finance companies in the developed countries. Driven primarily by millennials who were incensed by the relentless pursuit of profits, consumer insensitivity and indifference of big business, a movement was begun. There was an increase in a general way of civic mindedness. People began looking for alternative business models that were people oriented, transparent and community controlled. The concept of shared value became important to many and participative business models were birthed and revisited.
What is instructive however, is that the values that drove and underpin this shift are the same values that our movement is built upon. They coincide with the ethos, philosophy and practices characteristic of the cooperative movement. So, in effect, many around the world are re-discovering the power and relevance of cooperatives.
It is our considered view that the cooperative model offers tremendous promise, relevance and applicability to our Caribbean situation. I am of the firm view that the success to date of financial cooperatives is ample testimony to our efficacy and potential as a catalyst for economic growth and development. As such good, logical cooperative public policy, dictates that an enabling policy environment should be an imperative in our region. *
This we view as absolutely critical, for the sustainable growth and development of our movement. So, I take this opportunity to implore our regional governments to urgently embrace, revisit and prioritize the cooperative sector as an enabling and integral model and partner in our socio-economic development.
As leaders of this movement our responsibility is to actively articulate our uniqueness, our performance and the tremendous contribution we make within our communities. We also need to engage in relentless lobbying for conducive and supportive conditions. This is necessary as the Credit Union’s role in the sustainable growth and development of our region is foundational and pivotal. However, despite this reality, many are still slow to recognize our impact, our relevance and most importantly our true potential. I submit that this is in part largely due to our complacency and sometimes inaction.
At the micro level, credit unions need to refocus our resources and interventions on building national and regional self- reliance. This means financing areas such as viable agriculture to aid in food security, community tourism, small business involved in value added activities etc.
So, brothers and sisters, the time is now.
The opportunity exists.
The environment is receptive.
What is needed is aggressive action.
Action to maximize all available opportunities to tell our cooperative story, our promise and our potential.
In doing so we should be reminded of Nelson Mandela’s admonishment (version)when he says:
“Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world.”
You would agree with me that the credit union’s vision of “expanding financial inclusion in the Caribbean” remains pertinent.
What is now required from us, is deliberate, aggressive and focused action. I say to you, let us act now to transform members lives and ultimately our Caribbean in a sustainable way.
I thank you and look forward to another rewarding and successful conference.