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Becoming Effective Partners in Advancing Racial Economic Equity

Filene has spent the last year exploring questions and listening for ideas on how the “broader” credit union system can address systemic barriers that prevent equitable access to financial services and strengthen economic resources to close racial wealth gaps.

You've heard this statement before: “the coronavirus pandemic spotlighted and exacerbated the growing economic precarity and inequality in the United States.” Let’s pause to look at what that actually means and why we can’t just read past that important statement.

For credit unions, that means millions of Americans – particularly those in communities of color – lack access to responsible credit, affordable financial products, and institutions that support their overall well-being. Financial institutions have long been mistrusted by marginalized and vulnerable communities – often for good reason, considering deep histories of discrimination and disinvestment.

However, as cooperative financial institutions embedded within communities, credit unions have tremendous potential to affect positive systemic change.

Racial Economic Equity Incubator

Filene has spent the last year on a learning journey - exploring questions and listening for examples, ideas, and programs for how the “broader” credit union community can best address systemic barriers that prevent equitable access to financial services and strengthen economic resources to close racial wealth gaps. Both in strategy and practice.

Our goal is to contribute to the development of a new norm. Later this Fall, Filene will be launching the Racial Economic Equity (REE) Incubator to forge new pathways for credit unions and communities to strengthen community driven partnerships and develop joint priorities and implementation practices.

Filene will be partnering with Urban Strategies, Inc. and Native Women Lead. Over the course of 9 to 12 months, we will create a multi-phased approach beginning with design and facilitation of REE Incubator’s co-creation and planning process, putting us in a position to launch live product tests in 2023.

Learning Journey Initial Insights

The first phase, our learning journey, led us towards three initial insights that will help drive the way we design this incubator.

  1. Systems Change and Capacity

    We have an ongoing commitment to listening and learning, but one thing is clear: in this work, process is just as important as outcomes. The design process that structured our planning year, along with these initial learnings, has compelled us to center equity more fully in the way we approach the REE Incubator.

    Urban Strategies and Native Women Lead have deep experience working with community, and developing strategies at the levels of macro, organizational and local context, especially as it relates to structural racism and authentic co-creation.

    Urban Strategies and Native Women Lead perspective stems from a set of strong relationships with diverse stakeholders nationally and locally, proximity to the communities and lived experiences of the population that will benefit, and an organization led by leaders of color for people and communities of color.
  1. Centering Community Voice, Co-creation and Power Sharing

    A major theme was the need to go beyond traditional community engagement tactics to recognize sharing power is essential. Rather than repeating the broken formula of dictating financial solutions after a tokenized “consultation” with communities of color, Filene believes the Incubator and the solutions it produces must be collaboratively co-created and designed with, not for, the communities it aims to serve.

    We will be exploring how to create a framework for co-creation. This will support credit union’s ability to work with a diverse set of people with different lived experiences, including a fundamental realignment of power between credit unions and community – one that honors the expertise and experience of both groups.

    This framework will intentionally be flexible because we recognize that what is showing up in one community may not be showing up in another. This only reinforces that we must engage partners when doing this work to stay centered and grounded around the lived experience of members.
  1. Centering Racial Equity

    While credit unions were born out of a mission to provide financial access and opportunity for all, the important take away is that racial equity must be intentional and centered.
Racial economic disparities are too vast to ignore.

Advancing racial economic equity is a complex challenge but the racial economic disparities are too vast to ignore. We must be purpose driven and intentional in our approach to equity and not see it as an addition to the work credit unions are already doing.

If credit unions are committed to the idea of inclusivity and community – our approach to solving problems needs to shift to how individuals and credit unions work together.

When racial equity is centered, better questions are asked, decision-making processes shift, leaders become more diverse, and solutions become more equitable and successful.

We are excited for what’s to come.

While our design process is underway, core elements of our REE Incubator will include partnerships with community–based organizations, a learning community with peer-to-peer exchange, and specialized hands-on technical assistance and capacity building. We will be focused on leveraging credit unions and community organizations resources, assets and strengths while learning how to best align resources and partnerships.

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