NEW YORK (6/11/08)--Because of the subprime crisis, “the dominant financial system in the U.S. is being questioned in a way it has not been before,” Cliff Rosenthal, president/CEO, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, told the World Social Finance Summit. The meeting of socially oriented cooperatives, banks and policy advocates was held in Quebec, Canada, Thursday. The catastrophic losses and the widespread economic distress present “an unprecedented opportunity to bring the credit union and cooperative message to millions of Americans,” Rosehtnal said. Rosenthal found broad agreement with his assessment of three major challenges faced by social and cooperative finance institutions across national lines. “First, global capital standards designed with large banks in mind are a major threat to the survival of smaller, socially oriented institutions,” he said. “A second major threat comes from the increasing crush of regulations, which again have a disproportionate effect on small institutions. Finally, there is the threat of demutualization, or conversion to for-profit status with the loss of mission.” The summit was organized and sponsored by the Belgium-based International Network of Investors in the Social Economy and, locally, by Quebec’s Desjardins Caisse d’economie Solidaire, a member of the Desjardins credit union network. Over 150 delegates attended from five continents, from as far away as Togo and Cameroon, Scandinavia, Brazil, the Philippines, British Columbia, and Australia. Stressing the urgency for action, conference speakers laid out a series of interrelated crises: The financial crisis, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, the escalating food crisis, and a growing water crisis. In every sense of the word, the present situation is “unsustainable,” they said. The financial system, in particular, must be transformed: instead of making people merely a means to produce profit, finance must serve human needs, speakers agreed. Return on investment must account for environmental and social costs, they added. The conference closed with a declaration signed by the participants, including the federation, which affirmed the basic common values underlying the social finance movement: Placing human needs first.