WASHINGTON (2/26/14)--Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Tuesday that credit unions can play a role in helping Ukraine emerge from its current political and economic turmoil.
The former top U.S. envoy said at the Credit Union National Association Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington that she discussed the matter with CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney. Albright relayed to the audience during a question-and-answer period that Cheney told her Polish credit unions have been working with their Ukrainian counterparts, and "can make a huge difference."
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sits with CUNA's 2014 Governmental Affairs Conference emcee Paul Berry and answers questions the credit union audience tweeted in for her attention. Just prior to the question-and-answer session, Albright gave a broad speech which she wrapped up by saying that credit unions "are like Tom Hanks in the banking world: likeable, everywhere, and ain't misbehaving in 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'" (CUNA Photo)
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the credit union movement has grown in Poland from 13 branches and 14,000 members in 1992, to almost 2,000 branches and 2.5 million members in the spring of 2012 (Polish National Association of Cooperative Savings & Credit Unions
, July 2012). Former Polish President Lech Kaczynski--who was killed in a 2010 plane crash--said, during a 2009 visit to the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Polish & Slavic FCU, that Poles visiting the U.S. two decades beforehand brought the credit union movement back to their country (News Now,
Oct. 9 2009). He called it "the largest Polish social/financial success since 1989."
Now, Albright says, credit unions can pay it forward by helping the Ukrainian economy develop.
She said that credit unions and other non-state actors--such as non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations and pension funds--can, more broadly, "help shape the international terrain" beyond any single country. Simply allowing the forces of globalization and the spread of technology, she opined, was not sufficient for creating civil society.
"You can't tweet your way to democracy, stability and peace," she said.
Albright's speech, much like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's CUNA GAC talk the day before, focused on a rapidly changing world. She laid out her personal philosophy of international relations, saying that foreign affairs are not like a chess game, as they are commonly described, but more akin to a game of billiards, in which a single action can have numerous unintended consequences.
Albright described globalization and information technology shaping this as a force multiplier, with crises in places like Ukraine, Pakistan, Syria and South Sudan reverberating beyond those countries' borders, and the rapid flow of information shaping the actions of people around the world.
"Gone are the days when a few countries could dominate," she said.
In that vein, she expressed hope that a "unity government" would emerge in Ukraine to unite the polarized eastern and western parts of the country, and that the international community would work together to "bailout" the country's ailing economy.
Albright also told her credit union audience about her personal history. She talked about her tumultuous childhood as a two-time refugee from Czechoslovakia--first, fleeing the Nazi invasion for England, and, after the war, seeking asylum from Stalinist rule in the U.S. Albright did note that her childhood and her diplomat father fueled her interest in global affairs and U.S. leadership--a path that led her to become the first woman secretary of state.
She told tales about her tenure as a top American diplomat, and life after prominent public service too. Albright said she would wear different types of pins to help convey the U.S. position during diplomatic negotiations, opting for a snake pin, for example, during a meeting with Iraqi officials after the state media in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein called her "an unparalleled serpent."
Albright also told the audience that former secretaries of state share a bond that crosses party lines, and that all living former secretaries of state meeting for dinner with the incumbent is a tradition--one that John Kerry's travel itinerary hasn't allowed for yet.
Albright did say that her own recent travels have bolstered her appreciation for credit unions. She fondly recalled meeting managers of a Kenyan credit union at a market in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, and how they described it as an institution built on mutual respect and cooperation, in which all members "put money in and trust each other."
She also praised credit unions for being particularly welcoming of women executives, describing them "at the vanguard of progress."
Albright also said how she was "tremendously proud" to be a part of the Aspen Institute panel of judges that awarded the 2013 McNulty Prize to Bill Bynum, president/CEO of Hope FCU, Jackson, Miss. She said that the credit union movement helps set the U.S. apart.
At the start of the speech, she had a similar message for attendees, albeit with a more light-hearted and pop-culture conscious tone. Albright told conference attendees that credit unions "are like Tom Hanks in the banking world: likeable, everywhere, and ain't misbehaving in 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'"