Annual Q&A: Elissa McCarter LaBorde, World Council of Credit Unions

The president and CEO of Woccu wants the sector to take leadership on 'financial inclusion with a focus on digital innovation, climate resilience and productive lending'

How has the last year been for the global credit union movement? 

As we close another year, the global credit union movement once again faces political, social and economic challenges that test our resolve and undermine a long-standing belief that a rising global tide will lift all boats. 

Because credit unions and financial co-operatives continue to stand for co-operation, shared purpose and people over profit – it is precisely during these uncertain times that the significance and value of our movement is more needed and relevant than ever. 

In 2023, Woccu made bold strides to increase that relevance by pushing for greater climate resilience, empowering more youth, women, refugees and migrants through financial inclusion efforts, and investing in innovation pilots to extend the reach of credit unions to underserved customers through inclusive digital financial services.  

Our International Advocacy team secured wins on proportionality and financial inclusion in the guidance International Standard-Setting Bodies hand down to regulators – levelling the playing field for credit unions. We delivered a record-breaking (over 3,000 attendees) annual conference together with the Canadian Credit Union Association in Vancouver, where we also launched our Climate Influencers Network to signal credit unions’ leadership position on the global journey to a net-zero carbon economy. 

I can think of no better way to end the year than my trip in early December to Ecuador and Peru, where I met first-hand beneficiaries, employees, partners and government officials who showed an impressive commitment to the sea change Woccu has initiated through its Economic Inclusion Project, which has helped more than 123,000 Venezuelan migrants and vulnerable local residents obtain formal financial services, as well as entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. More than 60 partners – including financial institutions, fintechs, governments and regulators, municipalities and universities, and civic organisations – work with EIP to achieve a common understanding of how to acknowledge the dignity of people, many of them women who are also victims of domestic violence and were forced to flee their home country and find new opportunity that often is biased against them. We are proud that USAID considers this a flagship program in the region and renewed the project through June 2026. 

Woccu also continues its work with USAID and the private sector to put credit unions at the centre of closing the credit gap for underserved populations by accelerating SME lending to underserved businesses in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guatemala. And in Ukraine, we continue to help small farmers access loans and contribute to the nation’s food security during wartime, while leading new resilience-focused lending for women-led micro-enterprises.

Looking ahead, we will continue to press credit unions to take more leadership in advancing financial inclusion with a focus on digital innovation, climate resilience and productive lending to support the resilient livelihoods of those who rely on us for investing in their futures. 

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