The founders of early financial cooperatives believed in ‘cooperation’. This was not a sentimental idea. It was seen as a practical tool for pooling financial and human resources where poverty was too great for individuals to escape by themselves. It required an almost obsessive focus on both prudent financial management and disciplined adherence to operational rules.
Democracy in private enterprise, and practical concern for poorer neighbours, are left-wing ideas. Prudent financial management and disciplined adherence to operational rules are more likely to be found on the right. For cooperation to work well, the left and right had to ‘clap’.
In much of the West, since the cooperative movement emerged a century or more ago, the concepts fused in early cooperatives have parted company both in politics and in the institutional fabric of our societies. Democratic enterprise and concern for poor people are now the domain of NGOs; organizations that often have a limited grasp of both financial management and operational discipline.
Conversely, modern Western credit unions, which are responsible first and foremost for protecting over a trillion dollars in member financial assets, have lost much of their zeal for democratic participation, and much of their concern for reaching poor people. With the right and left no longer clapping, the sound of private sector cooperation has fallen silent in much of the world. Can we change our attitudes enough to awaken hope once again, for the populations of the world’s villages?