Carol Hunter was appointed Executive Director in 2005 and served until 2011. On the occasion of CDF Canada’s 75th anniversary, Carol Hunter shared some stories of her time spent with us, the challenges and the impact.
As a woman working in cooperatives and supporting the most vulnerable communities, I aimed to build strong partnerships that would help build sustainable communities.
When I started with CDF Canada, resources were very limited, with much of their work beginning with very small partners. For example, productive lending for women in India or giving loans to women and men to start a market stall. The projects were very aspirational but reachable, with the idea of helping people start small and then grow.
Building relationships is critical to success and connecting Canadians with our partners through the women credit union managers via a women’s mentoring program is vital. It’s great for Canadians to see their cooperative system work. And it’s a good reminder for us of how we started – very small – in many cases, literally operating out of a kitchen drawer in a church or somebody’s home. But from that, we built a very large movement, and so we are reminded and humbled by the importance that however small you start, it is that first step to growing up to become a movement.
CDF Canada, in my opinion, should continue to play a role where it can to support cooperative development in impoverished communities. The partnership is the key – no one organization can do it all. So wherever collaboration is possible in Canada, it is about exposing people to the coop model and educating them on how to replicate its success, rather than doing and executing all the work.
Funding Then and Now
Funding has always been competitive but is now being intensified due to COVID-19. Earlier the competitiveness was rooted in how much impact an organization had. But more so now, it’s about collaboration, keeping the focus on the partner benefits and avoiding competition where you can.
To lower fundraising and reporting costs, we need a common impact assessment framework across all donors, so that you don’t have to collect different data sets for different partners. If there is an impact code or global standard of impact assessment, all parties can compete for multi-year funding commitment from the government or other private donors, which is a win-win situation for all.
Evolving Our Work
Due to the volatile climate, disasters will continue to be more frequent and more severe, thus widening the inequality gap, especially on women and indigenous communities.
During my time, we discussed with CDF leadership that we were not in the business of emergency preparedness or emergency response. However, given the magnitude of increase in the calamity, I think CDF Canada will need to play some role in disaster response and not only focus on capacity building. I believe we will continue to be key players in getting aid to a community because of the trust we have developed over the years.
Women’s role in rebuilding or even decision-making in the community for how to be resilient is often left out because men are often at the center of discussions around climate change. This needs to change. I think women and marginalized populations have a crucial role in making communities more resilient. We need to take a more multidimensional and interconnected approach to address the growing complexity of problems and support women and indigenous communities.
A Story Close to My Heart
Many stories are close to me. But the work undertaken by the Nepal credit union in a small village near the border of India is one that stands out. It is a women’s credit union, and it really illustrated to me that a credit union is much more than just financial systems and product services. It’s also a place for women in the community to come together not just to discuss the business of lending and savings but also to empower them and their confidence in business and in being leaders in their community. Women were eventually able to undertake the role of advisors/ elders in the community because they have demonstrated their financial understanding and their ability to be fair, transparent and inclusive.
Perhaps the most astonishing impact of our work in Nepal was seeing the women become so strong, empowered and confident that they were able to fight back against some of the worst atrocities. In this village, so close to the border with India, the trafficking of women was unfortunately not uncommon. Yet the empowered women of this community came together and mobilized themselves, working together with the credit union, which gave them a legal framework to go after the men and put them into jail.
Women Leaders – Challenges and Inspiration?
As the executive director of the Canadian Cooperative Association and CDF Canada, I went to all the member meetings. It was hard to see how few women were represented. For example, walking into a room of 1000 people at their annual conference, with just four women present. There’s definitely a feeling of isolation and thinking that when you are talking, they are not going to hear what you are saying, but rather only see how you look.
I still get the feeling of isolation today. As a female board member trying to make a point for example, you are often ignored. Yet moments later, a man will say the same thing and be acknowledged. Things have improved over time, with more women-led cooperatives, where women leaders support one another, but there is still so much work to be done in terms of equality.
I think is important for women leaders to be good listeners, humble, and confident. I’d like to think that I was all those things! It’s inspiring for women to see other women leaders, especially in a large, successful cooperative. So whether it’s an actual corporate credit union or an association to be successful, we would often say in Canada that we can’t deserve to fail because we are the inspiration for all the people starting small.
There is an expression I remember reading, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” by Madeleine Albright.
Happy 75th Anniversary to CDF Canada. Here’s to another 75 years of impact!
*Featured Image: Carol Hunter in Nepal