Cooperative conversations: with Anita Clemons of the Members’ Council
Anita Clemons, member of Oikocredit Members’ Council
We recently had a conversation with Anita Clemons from the Presbyterian Foundation, one of the latest members of the Oikocredit Members’ Council (MC). She talks about what it means to be a members’ council, cooperative values such as transparency, about her hopes for the MC and the Oikocredit cooperative.
How did you get involved with Oikocredit?
I have responsibility for investments for the Presbyterian Foundation, the investment arm of the Presbyterian Church in the US. The Presbyterian Foundation was one of the 80 founding members of Oikocredit, investing as part of its peace and justice programme, which launched Oikocredit in 1975. I joined the foundation in 2000 and that is where my journey with Oikocredit began. Then at the Oikocredit international AGM in June 2020, I was elected to the MC.
What is your motivation to serve on the Members’ Council?
The Presbyterian Foundation’s investment in Oikocredit provides high returns in terms of the benefit to human need, with impact investing being ahead of its time when Oikocredit launched back in 1975. I have been involved with the investment industry for 40 years, initially serving individuals and more recently endowment funds.
So when I heard about an opportunity to serve on the Members’ Council, I was keen to show my heart for the mission, connecting US members with the mission of Oikocredit and hopefully to grow the membership and our members’ commitment to Oikocredit.
What is the Members’ Council (‘the MC’)?
The MC is one of Oikocredit’s governance bodies, which is representative of the members to reflect and defend their interests as owners of the cooperative, elected by the members and with duties delegated by the members. The idea of a members’ council may be new to Oikocredit, but the people involved are very experienced and knowledgeable about Oikocredit’s history and everything happening in the organisation today.
I’ve met the MC members and they are all highly dedicated to the Oikocredit members and the mission. The MC not only represents the members, but can help strengthen the governance structure of the cooperative and its reputation especially within the wider constituency of Oikocredit’s membership.
How does the MC represent Oikocredit members?
For me, it’s firstly about making connections with Oikocredit members in my geographical area and asking them: “What is important to you?”. For example: about Oikocredit events coming up and finding out their reactions to the Oikocredit issues of the day. Without that communication we can’t hope to represent the members. And I’ve already been in contact with members across North America and we have a number of video calls lined up. Here I will want to find out how I can best serve them and what we can work on together.
What were your first impressions of the MC?
I was impressed at how well the meetings are organised and the good spirit of cooperation, for example in sharing tasks like notetaking. The MC is very mission focused and I found it inspiring to be working with representatives from across our little blue world.
It’s fascinating to see people sitting down to discuss the issues of the day, like the Oikocredit share dividend, people with different lives but all focused on communication and how to grow the mission of Oikocredit.
How does it feel not being able to meet face-to-face?
The MC is currently not meeting face-to-face due to Covid-19 restrictions, but it would normally meet mostly by video calls due to the travel distances. Currently the MC is meeting more frequently.
We have found shorter and more frequent meetings works best for communication, and this has been particularly useful for me as a new member, with video calls every other month. We also keep in contact via email every week. And we do the chit-chat of course, finding out how the weather is across the world, and that’s important too in getting to know each.
So, I find remote working is no problem, but I do look forward to meeting everyone in person someday soon.
What are your hopes for the Oikocredit cooperative?
My hope is that Oikocredit can expand in a sustainable way to continue on the mission it set out 45 years ago, and also reach more people.
This is the Presbyterian Church’s goal too, of seeing impact in terms of human need: that comes about by providing sustainable jobs and access to finance because that will make all the difference in the world to tackle poverty.
Is it important for Oikocredit to be a cooperative?
Yes. The Presbyterian Foundation has many social impact investments, however, Oikocredit is uniquely structured as a cooperative with transparency and a voice for all its members. Having this voice is a big part of social responsibility. I see this especially in challenging times such as during this pandemic, the transparency of Oikocredit enables members to know what is happening. As investors with a fiduciary duty, we always seek more information which is important in continued due diligence for any investment.
The Presbyterian Foundation is investing for the benefit of others, so we absolutely need the transparency that Oikocredit provides. It’s true that not all Oikocredit members use their cooperative voice, and the MC can help. This can be as simple as contacting members and asking what are you thinking? We have to ask, and continue to ask.
My dream is, that when I finish my term of office, that the communication bridge between the members in the US will be an ongoing dialogue between the members, the MC and the management of Oikocredit. And I’m hitting the ground running with lots of meetings, initially via Zoom from my home in Kentucky.
I believe it’s all about the impact and the organisation just supports that impact. So I hope members see the benefit of the Members’ Council in encouraging all members to be involved. This I see as a valuable role today and one which is evolving with the help of Oikocredit members.