Building a Young Professional Cooperative Community

This entry was posted by Monday, 12 September, 2011
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Brent Dixon

From Brent Dixon:

The cooperative movement has a problem with aging. Average age of cooperative members and employees is over a decade older than the average age of people in the US and in Canada.

We feel this pain in the credit union industry. The average age of a credit union member is 47, and 75% of credit union board members are over 50.

Because of economic, technological, and cultural changes, financial services – and many other business sectors – have hit what the smart folks at McKinsey & Company call a “Structural Break,” which is:  “…the moment in time- series data when trends and the patterns of associations among variables change.” (via)

What does that mean? It means things have changed and we cannot continue to do things the way they’ve always be done.

If you went to business school you remember the chart that appears with this post on the life-cycle of an industry.

All signs point to credit unions, and many of our cooperative brethren, being right smack on X. This means we can go one of two ways, and have to fight for the future of a model we know is better for our communities. And if we don’t inject new blood, new energy, and new ways of solving problems into our cooperatives, they will die.

We need to recruit and invest in young talent.

At the Filene Research Institute, a think-and-do-tank for credit unions, we learned that the top reasons young people work for credit unions include:

•   The opportunities to influence strategy immediately

•   The opportunity to work with and learn from top leadership from day one

•   The opportunity to help their community

In talking with young people across credit unions, we also learned that because young credit union employees are somewhat rare, many of them feel like an island while at work. They were starved for ways to connect with other like-minded people their age.

Ed Filene, father of the U.S. credit union movement, once said, “Youth is too serious to become obedient.”

That in mind, a group of young credit union people, myself included, decided to take the problem into our own hands. Through a series of small grassroots meet-ups that spun wonderfully out of control, we’ve nurtured and grown The Crash Network, a growing community of close to 200 young credit union professionals. The community is designed to enable:

•   Ongoing connections and support from like-minded people through an online network at

•   Opportunities for professional growth and development through action (One example is: The Collider, an innovation tournament designed to improve the problem of affordable housing).

•   Mentorships with seasoned industry veterans.

A year and a half in and we’ve initiated countless development projects, sparked spin-off youth development organizations across the U.S, piloted a mentorship program, and given a voice to a growing number of young credit union employees who are ready to step up, get their hands dirty, and create the future themselves.  You can watch a short video on some of the voices of The Crash Network here.

We have a lot to learn, and can’t wait for what’s next.

Brent Dixon, Young Adult Advisor for the Filene Research Institute, will be presenting on building a younger cooperative at the upcoming CUNA Community Credit Union & Growth Conference.  This post was originally published for the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA).

5 Responses to “Building a Young Professional Cooperative Community”

  1. Brent, what you’ve started and continue to build with the Crash Network is potentially the most important break through in the last 10 years. Don’t stop.

  2. Sasha Kemble

    I agree with Tim. Though at my first go-round in the movement, I knew there were young people involved, I didn’t feel a regular connection to the purpose of what I was doing. Since starting at Verity and getting involved with Crash, I can say that this has changed.

    It is imperative that we continue to build on this through our original values of cooperation, to remain not only relevant to society, but also revolutionary /for/ society. We’ve seen what has happened with the capitalist model of financial services, and together we can help serve all members of our population.

    Next year is UN’s Year of the Co-Operative… and it’ll take our youthful energy to highlight it and keep it moving beyond. We can totally do it, together.

  3. The new ideas, energy, and insight young professionals bring is imperative for the sustainability and growth of credit unions… a point made by Brent in his post that I wholeheartedly agree with. Anyone willing to share what their CU is doing on this front?

  4. Thanks so much for your comments and encouragement, Tim and Sasha. It especially means a lot coming from you.

    I’m Wondering the same thing as Josh: Any credit unions out there with stories on how they’re reaching out to / mentoring / developing young talent?

  5. Rick Heldebrant

    “The cooperative movement has a problem with aging. Average age of cooperative members and employees is over a decade older than the average age of people in the US and in Canada.”
    *Disagreement alert*.
    I have seen similar comments and do not agree that we are using the correct numbers. Per the 2009 American Community Survey (US Census) – the average age in the US is 36.8. But…
    That age includes all age groups, including 0-5, 5-10, and 10-14. When I take out the under 15 year olds, the average age is 45.2. When I take out all the under age 18, the average age is 46.8. (20% of the population is under age 15 and 24% is under age 18).

    I do not quibble that CUs need to get young members and serve them properly. I think we should compare our adult member average age to the US adult population average age.

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