Celebrating International Cooperatives Day: Coops play a central role in revitalizing the economy as we make our way past this pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis has halted activities and slowed down the work of many organizations, including the work of Oikocredit.
Our work of providing finance for the low-income population in the global south has certainly not stopped, but our overall effort has been cut back by a couple of percentage points. We hope to get back to our usual pattern of growing by several percentage points each year. Moreover, we too see an opportunity to “build back better,” in keeping with the slogan made popular by U.S. President Joe Biden in his recent election campaign. Oikocredit’s current Purpose Driven Strategy process looks very carefully at ways for us to be effective and efficient in providing our product and enhanced investment opportunities for our supporters.
In Canada, we have extra work to do in rebuilding our Oikocredit support. Oikocredit is a global banking cooperative that was started by the World Council of Churches in 1975 as the Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society. Our work in Canada was founded in 1983 by a visionary Presbyterian laywoman named Heather Johnston, who convinced her congregation, her denomination, and several other Canadian churches to become investing members. She also launched a Canadian Support Association, which still exists in the form of Oikocredit Canada. During the 1990s, I became a board member of the Support Association and took over the Chair from Heather Johnston in 2000.
As a Support Association, we were able to sell retail investments to individual Canadians until evolving securities regulations made this impossible. Subsequently, for several years, we offered a retail product in partnership with a Credit Union, but that arrangement eventually became unviable. Before the collapse of our retail offerings, Oikocredit members in Canada held more than CDN $12 million in investments. Today, without the participation of individual retail investors, we are down to about CDN $3 million held by the remaining Canadian institutional Oikocredit members.
Rebuilding better in Canada will mean creating an Oikocredit retail investment for individual Canadians. The regulatory barriers are formidable, but Oikocredit Canada is highly motivated to explore further possibilities. In the meantime, we are investigating options to link philanthropic contributions towards the institutional investments held by existing Oikocredit members. We are also exploring opportunities to partner with other NGOs with similar missions. As always, we continue to invite all who are interested in joining us to build a global movement that enhances the lives of low-income people through impact investment in sustainable development.