The rapid development of the internet, competition, and growth has not left much time to contemplate cooperative principles or to embed them in operational practice. For this reason, Mike Mercer, former president and CEO of the Georgia Credit Union League, with support from the National Cooperative Bank, periodically exposes credit union leaders to cooperative cultures and practices abroad. These short but intense exposures are called ‘Learning Journeys’ as participants gain valuable insight into the global credit union movement.
The most recent Learning Journey occurred in September 2019 where Mercer and several credit union executives traveled to Rome and Bologna, Italy. Similar to cooperatives in the United States, cooperatives there have long functioned as a way to help people succeed in their journey through life. The group was hosted by leaders of the Italian Cooperative Alliance, the apex organization with the responsibility to support and lead cooperation among cooperatives across all sectors. Members of the International Cooperative Alliance shared insight into their work and various efforts in place to advance the cause of the cooperative business model.
The group was afforded many opportunities to meet with business and education professionals such as professors from the University of Bologna. Throughout their time together, they discussed the cooperation and economic development of Emalia Romagna, a highly developed, wealthy region located in Northern Italy. Emalia Romagna touts their commitment to the cooperative business model and its advances in social services as the primary reason for the region’s success.
Further discussions with professors at the university showcased the ways cooperative principles are being discussed and carried out in the classroom. Students at the university are able to take classes in cooperative studies and earn an advanced degree in Cooperative Management. This course of study was developed as a means to keep young Italians engaged in their cooperative movement and help ensure the future of cooperatives in Italy.
An attendee of the Learning Journey, Lily Newfarmer, president and CEO of Tarrant County Credit Union found her time abroad to be filled with valuable information and beneficial exposure. “Throughout the journey we engaged in discussions about the exercise of cooperative values, principles, and practices at work, comparing the economic sectors and the cooperative business models in Italy and the U.S.,” said Newfarmer. “These Learning Journeys are always informative and engaging, and ultimately leave us with many questions to ponder. What is it about the cooperative principles and practices abroad that cooperatives in the U.S. can learn from? What are the strategic opportunities for American Cooperatives going forward?”
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