The story of the origin of U.S. credit unions should reengage credit union leaders, members, and policymakers with the founding model’s unique value: cooperative entrepreneurship. Bolstered by the philanthropy of Edward Filene, cooperative entrepreneurship was leveraged at the launch of the credit union system to grow the sector from 80 credit unions in 1908 to over 26,000 by 1954. Edward Filene’s and Roy Bergengren’s approach through the Credit Union National Extension Bureau (CUNEB) helped create and implement a model that:
- Provided a blueprint for credit unions,
- Leveraged the clout of leaders in the movement to provide legitimacy,
- Developed enabling legislation, and
- Established collective organizational strategies.
Today’s credit union leaders would be wise to reengage with the sector’s origins. One critical lesson: Apply your philanthropic efforts to seed new institutions in support of financially healthy communities.