Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Intersection of Community and Economics

This morning I got off the westbound California Zephyr in Denver amidst a snow shower. Scrambling to get away from the wet, heavy flakes, I scooted over to the Tattered Cover Bookstore at 16th & Wynkoop, and ordered a triple latte. Fifteen minutes later, a friend collected me for a ride to Loveland, where the skies, amazingly, were a cloudless cerulean blue. Welcome to Colorado winter weather.

I'm visiting Sunrise Ranch this weekend, sitting in on a meeting of the Sunrise Credit Union Board. It has been about a decade since I was last here (over the years FIC has held two board meetings at this long-time headquarters of the Emissaries of Divine Light) and seeing the place again, in the red rock country of the northern Colorado Front Range, brought back a flood of powerful memories. We established the mission for Communities magazine here in spring 1995, and then held our first-ever Art of Community weekend conference in fall 1997.

SCU is the only credit union in the country located in an intentional community—and they specialize in personalized service and helping groups trying to build cooperative culture. Anyone who becomes a member of FIC is automatically eligible to join SCU.

This afternoon they asked me to facilitate a brainstorm on what aspects of the SCU mission were precious to the board, and what would be the components of their ideal program if unconstrained by budget limitations or government regulations. While afternoon sessions are often the sleepy portion of all-day meetings—because the blood tends to be more actively engaged in the stomach (processing lunch), than in the brain (processing agenda)—no one was falling asleep for this topic, and it was a challenge to capture and sort all of the ideas on flip chart paper.

The program inspirations that most captured my imagination were:
o Offering property insurance for cooperatives
o Helping communities establish credit
o Providing
entreprenurial financial advice to cooperative businesses
o Packaging loans to cooperative groups
o Advising groups about fundraising
o Bridging innovative funding sources with traditional ones
o Providing the financial componenet of consulting teams providing techinical assistance to struggling groups
o Delivering everything with a commitment to relationship building and training people to be better at managing their own finances

While it remains to be seen what actions will come from all this juicy conversation, I'm excited to be honing in on how to provide financial services with high integrity; to be building a cooperative world and net assets at the same time.

While it's possible for activities that lose money to be a solid fit with one's values, they can hardly be sustainable if they aren't profitable. The SCU Board wants to build a more cooperative world and make money. It will be very interesting to see what manifests from this energy.

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