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A History of the World Council of Credit Unions


The World Council of Credit Unions traces its history back to the beginning of credit unions in the 19th century throughout Europe. The first credit union was formed by Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch in the 1850s in Germany. It was designed to provide those that were lacking access to financial services the opportunity to borrow from the savings pooled by themselves and their fellow members. This financial cooperative was then transported by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen to rural Germany a decade later.

The concept of a credit union then expanded to North America during the early 20th century. This led to the formation of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), which is the national association for credit unions throughout the United States of America in 1934. Approximately twenty years after this, Roy Bergengren, who was the CUNA president, and CEO, requested that representatives approve an overseas credit union assistance program that would grow and expand the Credit Union National Association’s existing outreach to countries outside of North America.

Shortly after, the vote passed, causing the Credit Union National Association’s World Extension Department become a reality. The purpose of this was to attack one of the greatest abuses in developing countries, on a worldwide level. The department’s vision was to provide a simple, effective, yet potent weapon to improve people’s economic situations.

Throughout the mid-1950’s the international credit union development programs really focused on community development. These programs had broad social and economic objectives. Bergengren believed this department could work with a number of private and government funding organizations to foster credit unions as part of a larger program and to develop contemporary economies in less developed nations. This office, when combined with the efforts of cooperative systems throughout Canada and the countries of Europe, led to the development of credit unions all over the world over the past twenty years.

Since the 1960s, the United States government has promoted cooperative and credit union development through its foreign assistance legislation. The Foreign Assistance Act in the early 1960’s was altered to promote the evolution and growth and use of cooperatives and credit unions in economically developing countries. The move was particularly important due to the formation of a brand new agency, this agency is known as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is located within the State Department. United States Agency for International Development established the majority of the department’s early credit union development activities. Then, during the eight-year span between 1962 and 1970, credit union movements throughout Australia, America, and Canada generally started the systematic expansion of the international credit union movement. By late in the 1960s, organizations from all over the world had joined in hopes of creating the international credit union system that exists today.

World Council of Credit Unions was incorporated within the state of Wisconsin on the date of November 10, 1970. This was the result of an important vote of confidence that took place among national credit union associations throughout the world. This was an important point in history for the international movement as well as the culmination of a dream that had stirred enthusiasm in several generations of leaders. World Council officially began operations Jan. 1, 1971.

Today, the World Council acts as the leading voice for advocacy and governance on behalf of the international credit union community. The World Council still works to promote economic freedom and the sustainable growth of financial cooperatives around the world through education, collaboration, and community-based development projects.

World Council is governed by a board of directors that represents its member organizations. The organization and its subsidiaries are headquartered in Madison, Wis., in the United States. World Council also has a permanent office in Washington, D.C., and program offices worldwide.

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