This past May, Libro Credit Union(104,000 members, $7.2 billion in assets) was awarded the Community Economic Development Award at the 2018 National Conference for Canada’s Credit Unions. The Ontario-based credit union was given the honour for its innovative Libro Cluster program, an aggregate of partnerships with various organizations and businesses focused on supporting growth and development across southwestern Ontario.
Some of these partners include WEtech Alliance, the University of Guelph, St. Paul’s University College GreenHouse and Western University. A few of these relationships were already formed, due in part to Libro’s existing granting program, while the remaining partnerships were established thanks to
a shared vision for economic prosperity in the province.
Libro Cluster came about organically, out of the simple goal of creating better opportunities in neighbouring regions. “We didn’t begin with the notion to start a cluster right off the bat, rather, we started doing a lot of research in 2015 to come up with a strategic community investment program that aligned with our purpose, which was to grow prosperity in southwestern Ontario,” says Libro’s Liz Arkinstall, manager of corporate responsibility. “We also thought there was more we could do, rather than simply invest in good community initiatives, and that sparked conversations about becoming a purpose-based credit union. As a result, we began looking at potential hurdles facing our regions, which made us look beyond traditional branding and philanthropy,” Arkinstall says. “We also noticed there were lots of people looking to tackle the same issues, which made us want to bring these like minded organizations together.”
While the main scope of the program is indeed to help local business and encourage economic development, there’s also a subsequent advantage to the cluster — the invaluable public exposure of credit unions. The Libro Cluster is a great example of a successful marketing tool in that it promotes the distinct aspects of credit unions — their loyalty to members and communities — while simultaneously acting on those principals. Since its inception in 2017, the cluster program has supported 78 entrepreneurs, created 26 jobs and secured nine new research projects focusing on rural development, among other initiatives. To achieve this, aside from providing straightforward funding, Libro also provided staff support, volunteers and strategic partnerships.
Among all these accomplishments, there’s also the added satisfaction in knowing these milestones helped elevate Libro’s public prole. The benefit of the partnerships among these various organizations, aside from the philanthropic fullment, also adds to the network of people being exposed to credit unions. The types of businesses and entrepreneurs supported by the cluster cover a wide spectrum: mom-and-pop stores, tech companies, start-ups as well as global companies. Added to these success stories is the extra exposure that helps familiarize more Canadians with credit unions, whether that be through simple word-of-mouth or deliberate information sharing from the cluster partners.
“We definitely see that people have taken notice of what we’ve been doing with the cluster,” says Arkinstall. “They tell us, ‘we see the amazing things you’ve been doing in the community — we want to know more.’ We also notice our heaviest spikes in social media when we tell stories of the work we’re doing to grow the regional economy. People relate to and appreciate the stories of what the Libro Cluster is doing to grow and support their local towns and communities.”
Ultimately, the ongoing contributions of the Libro Cluster program, aside from supporting prosperity among southwestern Ontario communities, also provide increased visibility of credit unions and their member-centric mandate. ◊