|Maria Moore welcomes participants to Coastal Credit Union's first Principles and Philosophy Conference.
Fifty employees of Coastal Credit Union participated in the credit union's first Principles and Philosophy Conference April 5-6. The event, which Coastal's Credit Union Development Educators (CUDEs) designed and hosted, took place at Camp Caraway near Asheboro.
"This is Camp Coastal," President/CEO Chuck Purvis shared in his opening remarks to the mostly front line staff who were specifically chosen by their supervisors to attend the conference. Purvis underscored throughout the event the importance of the Seven Cooperative Principles and Coastal's ongoing mission to use them to meet the needs of the membership.
The event began Wednesday with Empathy Mapping, an exercise where Coastal employees were given profiles of people struggling with various life and financial issues. Participants then worked together in small groups to determine what the people in these profiles were feeling, hearing, saying, seeing and doing. One such profile was "Susan," a 28-year-old mother of two recently diagnosed with cancer. A stay-at-home mother with no health insurance, her husband earns an income of $39,000 a year.
"Situations like these are playing out in the lives of our members each and every day," shared Maria Moore, AVP teller center, who planned the conference event with a team of Coastal CUDEs. "The Empathy Map exercise places our staff in the shoes of our members who are in difficult places in order to encourage care and compassion in a vulnerable situation."
The lessons of the Empathy Map were taken a step further with the Life Simulation. During the simulation, participants are grouped into “families” that are struggling to make ends meet. During the four 15 minute "weeks" of the exercise, each participant plays a unique role within the family. Some might be working adults, while others might be unemployed or on disability. Some children may have behavioral issues or be living with a grandparent.
With each person playing their role, these simulated families visit a variety of booths, including a school, employer, pawn shop and payday lender. Through the exercise, they encounter events & financial crises faced by many Americans, including eviction, loss of utilities, lack of reliable transportation, crime, and the moment-to-moment stress of making ends meet. (Editor's note: the Life Simulation is available to credit unions and chapters in the Carolinas. Click here for more information.)
Eyes were opened and awareness broadened at the common events that many working families face during the Empathy Mapping and Life Simulation events. This heightening of the senses set the table perfectly for the immersive classroom time that followed, as the group learned and discussed the Seven Cooperative Principles. The sessions were all taught by Coastal CUDEs and focused on the history of the credit union and the movement, the meaning of each principle, the cooperative nature of the credit union, and how it all ties together into Coastal's "We Share" mission.
On Wednesday evening, the focus shifted to the impact of credit unions globally, as Lois Kitsch, national program director for the National Credit Union Foundation, shared her experiences working with credit union systems abroad. Kitsch focused on two very different places she lived and worked as a representative of the World Council of Credit Unions: the Philippines and post-war Afghanistan.
The connecting idea throughout these presentations is that credit unions operate on a pendulum between their business objectives on the one hand and their social impact goals on the other. Effectively balancing the need to make a profit versus the imperative of helping as many members as possible is vital to running a successful cooperative.
On Thursday, participants were challenged to take what they learned back home with an Action Planning exercise that encouraged the staff to develop specific goals for their work. In this way, the attendees could bring what they learned to life on a day-to-day basis. They also heard from Purvis, Jim Pack and Creighton Blackwell how the senior management team of the credit union is working throughout the organization in a variety of ways to support and enhance the culture, work and mission of the credit union.
Coastal recently completed a survey that showed 52% of its 230,000 members consider themselves financially unhealthy, meaning that they lived paycheck-to-paycheck with little or no emergency savings. "We have a longer-term vision for engaging in the communities within our 16 county service area to help people become financially healthy," said Purvis. "But our focus has to start with the people who already rely on the credit union for their financial services."
"Never look down at a person unless you are trying to help them up," one participant remarked near the end of the event. Her thoughts captured the feelings of many others in the room, and demonstrated that the attendees are inspired and prepared to bring the Principles to life.