Community Development – Community Finance
Bank on something better – with barefoot co-operation.
On Australia’s doorstep credit co-operatives are freeing people from poverty and investing in community projects for financial literacy, the empowerment of women, and environmental sustainability.
In contrast Australian community credit co-operatives are now virtually non-existent, victims of the economic rationalism that has decimated the mutualist financial sector. It was not always like this: our large surviving industry-based credit unions had small beginnings in community and union organisations.
Can we build a mutually supportive economic model in Australia? Is it still possible to generate community empowerment and social dividends through credit co-operatives? Does the astonishing growth of community credit co-operatives in South-East Asia in recent decades have lessons for us in terms of grass-roots community activism and integrated social development?
Come and hear of humble methods and extraordinary achievements by Malaysian ‘barefoot co-operator’ Paul Sinnapan, and some reflections on the local scene by co-operative activist Jacques Boulet. Join a discussion moderated by Dr Race Mathews exploring what advanced and developing countries might learn from one another.
Paul Sinnapan Savriamuthu (pictured above – in action)
Malaysia’s ‘Best Bare Foot Leader’ in 2012
“Training is more bare tables and floors than lecterns, and the disempowered discover their voice through dance and games as well as financial education.”
Born into a poor community of Indian Malaysia plantation workers, Paul and his teenage friends were influenced by YCW practises to begin a tiny credit co-operative, an initiative that has grown now into a network of co-operatives with over 100,000 plantation, farming, urban and squatter members and millions of dollars in holdings. The grassroots model has been adapted so as to also include Hindu, Islam Buddhist and Indigenous people, utilising their unique values and beliefs. Paul has been sponsored by the World Bank and others to take his credit co-op and micro-financing enterprises into Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Mongolia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Iran, Kazakhstan, and North America. His holistic or ‘integrated’ approach includes sustainable personal, gender, agricultural and environmental development, and ‘peoples parliaments’. He has undertaken training for co-operative and labour organisations across the world, spoken at international forums, and been awarded numerous awards, including a World Council of Credit Unions medal for his work in Asia and the USA, and Malaysia’s ‘Best Bare Foot Leader’ in 2012.
A native of Belgium, Jacques Boulet worked for 3 years as a Community Development volunteer in the Congo. He continued his social work studies in The Hague, and then taught and was active in grassroots community initiatives in Germany. After further studies in the USA he moved to Australia in 1985, teaching at Melbourne University and RMIT, before leaving academia in 1997 to help pioneer the Borderlands Cooperative. Borderlands is a mixture of community activism, learning and research/consultancy centre and ‘incubation space’ for good ideas, whose achievements include various publications and a range of initiatives and organizations, including the East Timor Women’s Association, an international network against evictions, Community Links with Cambodia, and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (Boroondara). Jacque’s interests are community development, social change, especially as it impacts on wellbeing and welfare, international solidarity and cross-cultural learning, participatory research and learning processes. He works in a broad range of family, community, volunteering, arts and local government development.
“I am most excited about art/craft, the environment we live in, and therefore the people around us. That sounds like a lot, but it can be simple.”
“I am strongest when I am living in the bush, and notice that my relationships are best here. My work in Nepal is in a small rural village, we work with the local environment to support local education. The project is at www.whitecircles.com.au and is essentially, a simple, beautifully made product that generates employment opportunities and community funding, most often directed to education.”
Kevin is a retired MFB firefighter, and a life member of the United Fire-Fighters Union. Following a work-place injury he started with others the Victorian Injured Workers Centre. In 2002-2005 he worked assisting refugees and asylum seekers at a Catholic parish at St Albans, helping them to find accommodation and work, running family information days, and setting up a no-interest loan scheme which provided over 200 loans. In 2008 with others he founded Cardijn Community Australia.
Prominent former State and Federal ALP politician, distinguished scholar of mutualism and author of Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stake-Holder Society, Dr Mathews will moderate discussion and conclude with his observations on the challenges and opportunities for credit co-operatives in Australia.