The future of the movement depends on fearless, big thinkers

While backpacking in the Himalayans, New Jersey teenager Maggie Doyne came face to face with global poverty when she met a Nepalese orphan. As detailed in a “Hero of the Year” story, her sadness around this one child’s experiences was multiplied when she discovered some 80 million others across the world struggle in the same way. Rather than shrink in the face of such overwhelming numbers, she decided to help just one child through school. And, she didn’t stop there. Using $5,000 she’d earned from babysitting, Maggie bought some land on which she and the local community ultimately built a school, a women’s center and a children’s home.

Maggie, like countless other courageous women throughout history, allowed herself to think big, and the results were incredible. This spirit of stubborn optimism in the face of crushing circumstances can be found in many pockets of the world. Luckily for the credit union industry, we have an organization actively mobilizing that spirit to effect change on a global scale. Homegrown within the credit union movement, the Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN) is courageously confronting the problem of women disproportionately excluded from the financial system. 

Globally, about 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked. More than half of these individuals are women. And here’s why that’s significant: When women rise out of poverty, they bring so many others with them, not the least of which is the next generation. A study in Brazil, cited in a report on Global Women’s Issues, found that the probability of child survival was almost 20 times greater when the household income was controlled by a woman. As mothers, caregivers, teachers, spiritual and community influencers, women are leaders in their communities. When they do well, so do their communities.  

For this and so many other reasons, CO-OP Financial Services is proud to have announced a new level of support for the work of the GWLN. In honor of the organization’s tenth anniversary, we have pledged a half-million dollar contribution. Beginning in 2020, CO-OP, a founding supporter of the GWLN, will donate $50,000 in 2020, and then $50,000 for the next nine years that follow.  

CO-OP is making this investment in GWLN because it is the right thing to do, but also because there will be a return on this investment in tangible and intangible ways, as GWLN moves from raising awareness to being a vanguard organization of actual change. 

We believe in the power of female leaders everywhere, and especially within the credit union movement. The industry is benefiting from a growing number of optimistic women who fearlessly go against the grain and push the envelope for the betterment of their cooperatives and their members’ financial lives. 

When I first came to the credit union industry, I was struck by the cautious, careful way the movement’s leaders approached growth or even thought about the future. The environment felt something like an echo chamber, and new ideas were often difficult to socialize. But that’s all changing, and a lot of that change is due to the strong female leaders that are killing it for their credit unions. Throughout the movement, these women are thinking in new, big ways about doing better for members, all while still respecting the value system of the industry. They take member service and “people helping people” and attach those values to growth-oriented innovation that enhances what we can do for members exponentially. 

There are so many examples I could cite, but perhaps I could simply point to CO-OP’s “Founders’ Award” recipient for 2019, former Board of Directors member Patsy Van Ouwerkerk. She retired in 2014 as President/CEO of Travis Credit Union, after serving in that capacity for 12 years, and capping a credit union career that began in 1975. A true pioneer, Patsy was only the fourth woman in the country selected to run a $1 billion credit union. She remains active in our industry having joined the Mitchell Stankovic and Associates consultancy – and she’s embedded in the ongoing work of the GWLN.

The possibilities for this big-thought energy are endless, especially when we consider the resources credit unions have at their disposal. I’m not just talking about the passionate, member-first executives who lead our industry or the collaboration that underpins everything we do; I’m talking about capital. 

A colleague of mine recently reminded me of the massive potential that lies within the movement’s assets. And yet, at credit union after credit union we see an aversion to putting capital to work. Investing in growth and innovation is a risk, to be sure. But, it’s a calculated one. 

As leaders of a legacy industry, we have to continuously push ourselves to listen outside of that echo chamber. Technology companies and big banks are spending billions to digitally evolve how they deliver financial services. Competition is tough, disruptors are real, consumers are demanding new forms of interaction and new levels of value from the organizations they bring into their lives – and that certainly extends to their credit unions. 

Now is the time to think big, and to cooperate with the organizations that are fearlessly, stubbornly and optimistically pushing to make the credit union industry the best it can be for its members. GWLN is just one of these organizations, and we’re so proud to be a part of the continued vitality of its mission.

Samantha Paxson

Samantha Paxson

Samantha Paxson is Chief Experience Officer for CO-OP Financial Services (, a payments and financial technology company serving credit unions. Web: Details