Oikocredit pioneer Heather Johnston remembered
In 1987, church activist Heather Johnston established the first Canadian support association of Oikocredit. Through fierce determination and dogged enthusiasm Heather and a core of volunteers worked to build up the Oikocredit movement in Canada. Today, there are three Support Associations with a total membership of over 900, and about $7 million invested. Here, long-time friend John Shields remembers Heather's work for Oikocredit on the occasion of her funeral, Jan. 2, 2015.
Remarks from John Shields
Friend and colleague of Heather Johnston
At the occasion of Heather’s funeral
MacNab Presbyterian Church, Hamilton ON, Jan. 2, 2015
I am honoured to have been asked to speak today of Heather’s connection with Oikocredit Canada.
Everyone who knew Heather is aware of her passion for Social Justice.
Many years ago, when she got to know of the Ecumenical Development Co-operative Society (or EDCS) which was raising money in Europe to help promote small businesses in developing countries, Heather decided that there had to be a branch in Canada - And so she set one up.
The important difference between EDCS and some other bodies helping the poor was that the money was intended - not as a hand-out, but as an investment; the recipients were expected to repay the loan with interest – not a great deal of interest, but with interest nevertheless which would then go on to help other people. And this concept worked extremely well with over 80% of the money being paid back.
Sometimes the projects were over-ambitious and ran into trouble, but there were advisors in many countries to lend advice and assistance. This is going back over 30 years now, so my recollection may not be quite accurate, but in order to be able to sell shares in Canada, we had to incorporate in Ontario as a not-for-profit company - and this was not easy. But with a great deal of assistance from Bill Callaghan, who was a lawyer and a member of MacNab Street Church we were successful. In fact, I understand that EDCS as it was then known, appears in some text-books as an example of a not-for-profit company incorporated in Ontario. But even Bill had difficulty in understanding why people would want to invest in EDCS and receive little or no interest at a time when bank interest rates were in the teens. I was very happy when I was able to tell Bill that we had passed our first million dollars in investments.
In 1995, the EDCS 20th anniversary Annual General Meeting was held in Canada. It was held at Redeemer College in Ancaster ON and was a huge success. I think that when head office in the Netherlands heard that the AGM was to be held in Redeemer College, they expected a Catholic institution. Instead when they found that many of the staff were Dutch-speaking, they were very happy indeed.
Some years ago the name was changed from the Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society (EDCS) to Oikocredit so that it could be the same in any language.
Today Oikocredit has three Support Associations in Canada with over 900 members and over $7 million in investments. That Oikocredit Canada exists at all today is a tribute to Heather’s commitment and determination.
This is an achievement for which Heather can be truly proud. From small beginnings a mighty oak has grown.
Well done, Heather.
A pdf copy of these remarks is available here.