Credit Union DE Training: How to Change the World in Six Days

Ask anyone who has attended the Credit Union Development Education (DE) training program, an intense six-day total immersion program outlining every aspect of the credit union movement, and the first thing you’re likely to hear is a pause. It turns out to a difficult experience to fully explain.

“It’s kind of like a master’s program on credit unions, and on the philosophy and the good that credit unions do,” offered Kasey Rockwell, Director of Outreach Programs for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

DE training takes what amounts to a holistic approach to understanding the credit union movement, meaning that if DE training is a master’s program on credit unions, then it is also simultaneously a master’s program on global charity work, community-building, and networking. As Rockwell put it, participants truly get a handle on “all the components that go into making the credit union movement what it is.”

“It made me think about credit unions differently, how they are out there to help people,” said Karen Mattson, Community Relations Coordinator for Washington Employees Credit Union and a 2010 attendee. “It’s the heart of the credit union.”

This basic education is important, according to Deborah Binder, who went through the training in 2007, because understanding the fundamentals of credit unions, as well as the history behind the movement, is the critical first step toward fully understanding and embracing the philosophy and ideals of the movement.

“Especially if you are an employee in a credit union, it really helps distinguish how the credit-union-slash-co-op model varies from corporate America,” Binder said. “It highlights how there are similarities and how the credit union really differs, because I think a lot of people come into credit unions looking for a job in the financial industry, but they have no clue about the history or how it’s really about helping the members versus helping the shareholders. It’s just an eye-opening experience—very inspirational.”

What makes DE training a truly life-changing experience for attendees is that understanding the history and benefits of credit unions is only the first step. At its very core, the credit union movement is about service to the greater good, about creating positive change and building community on a local and a global level. With that in mind, DE training works to emphasize the idea of credit unions as being the vehicles we choose to use to create that change—and the results are often extremely powerful.

“You learn about not only how we can make a difference to people in the United States or in our own state, but how you can really make a difference to people in the world by having credit unions out there,” Rockwell said. “Just because you go through the six-day training, your work isn’t done at that time.”

This illuminating education is achieved through intensive group work and discussions, allowing the participants to share in one another’s experiences, as well as through real-world scenarios that the participants are asked to solve. These scenarios asked the attendees to address issues, ranging in scope from low-income neighborhoods to financial issues in foreign countries, through the lens of the credit union movement, and to present their solutions to the larger group.

And while participants are offered a buffet of tools, best practices, and strategies that relate directly to their work, the training is far from simply theoretical. At the end of the six days, participants are asked to plan and implement a project with real-world implications—and some of the results have been remarkable.

Rockwell used her project as an opportunity to partner with credit union leaders in Uzbekistan to advance their movement. Others have used the project as an opportunity to work overseas or to raise much-needed funds. Tulip Community Credit Union was founded as a way to work with the low-income population of Thurston County, and it all started as a DE project.

“It’s amazing what people do to help other people,” Mattson said, “and it opened my eyes to what credit unions are all about. It gave me a better understanding of my job and [made me] just want to go out there and let people know.”

And just as the work is far from over after the sixth day, the support participants receive has only just begun as well. Regular meetings among DE participants are commonplace around the country, and “networking” only begins to describe the kind of relationships that are formed and the sense of community that is created as a result of DE training.

“I would say a lot of the training is transferable to any kind of work where you’re trying to create community and effectiveness within a varied population,” Binder said, “because it seemed like we all came from different size credit unions or different perspectives or different parts of the country with different politics. It was a community-building experience in and of itself.”

Registration is now open for the Spring 2012 DE training class, which is set to take place April 18-25, 2012, in Madison, Wis. The registration fee includes seven nights of single-room lodging, as well as all training materials and meals. Registration is limited to 42 attendees and is available on the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) website, where you can also find links to scholarship information.
The NCUF is the primary sponsor of the DE program, with additional support provided by  CUNA Mutual Group, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the World Council of Credit Unions, and state foundations and leagues.


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Posted in Around the NW, Events.