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Why People and Purpose Are Key

Chad Helminak of The National Credit Union Foundation

Is challenging the status quo the new status quo? Chad Helminak, Director of Programs & Impact at the National Credit Union Foundation, certainly thinks so.

He joins The Remarkable Credit Union podcast to talk about how The Foundation’s Credit Union Development Education (DE) program has evolved to incorporate sustainability and DEI principles, how the people who lead and work at credit unions are the key to fulfilling the movement’s potential, and why creating a culture steeped in purpose matters now more than ever.

This month’s BIG question:

What does it mean to be connected to and passionate about the credit union movement in 2022… and why should members care?

Key takeaways

  1. Challenging the status quo is critical to driving change and innovation, particularly since the credit union system struggles to produce start ups, which is where innovation usually comes from.
  2. DE is all about creating a culture steeped in purpose. The pandemic has pushed The Foundation to explore ways to create new pathways for people to get trained in the credit union principles and development issues that are accessible to more people. What if people came to DE training, the biggest and most comprehensive training of this sort, already well-versed in the economic development issues and credit union operating principles?
  3. The DE program has evolved to focus more on sustainability in business and how those principles apply to credit unions, as well as how DEI can drive a credit union to live its purpose more deeply.
  4. The fabric of credit unions is the people who work there.
  5. Fail fast… but only when innovation and failure are aligned with purpose.

Read the full transcript:

Cameron:
Hello, and welcome to the Remarkable Credit Union podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology and community impact. We bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual, and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative and magnify your positive impact in the community.

Cameron:
Today’s big question, what does it mean to be connected to and passionate about credit union movement in 2022, and why should your members care? Today I’m very excited to welcome Chad Helminak. Chad is the director of programs and impact at the national credit union foundation. He has a impressive background. He’s been involved in the credit union space, as far as I can tell for longer than he’s been alive.

Cameron:
Among other things, he’s served on the faculty of the [inaudible 00:00:59] management school. He’s a governing board member for the credit union DEI collective. And he’s won a number of awards, including the credit union rockstar award, trailblazer 40 below award and a cooperative spirit award.

Cameron:
One of my favorite facts about Chad is that in his free time, wherever he found it, he founded a group called the disclosures music education project, where he created original music and presentations that taught lessons about finding financial education and social responsibility for youth and professional audiences. I’m sure Chad will tell us where to find that. It’s pretty cool stuff. He also has a super cute three year old child. All right. Chad, welcome. It’s great to have you here.

Chad Helminak:
Great to be here, Cameron. Thanks for having me, and it’s good to connect with you. It feels like it’s been forever.

Cameron:
It’s almost like something came up that totally disrupted the world for the last two years and we haven’t crossed paths for some reason. No.

Chad Helminak:
You try to avoid cliches and you still. It’s so hard, right?

Cameron:
Yeah. I think we’re all pretty over it. Anyway. So yeah, it’s just really great to reconnect with you, Chad. It’s been more of a virtual connection we’ve had for the last couple years. But I’d love to just kind of step back for our audience and just hear a little bit about you and kind of your story of origin. What drew you into credit unions in the first place?

Chad Helminak:
A paycheck. That’s where right out of college I found a position at the Wisconsin credit union league and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even, I don’t think I prepped very well for the interview to what a credit union was. But by the grace of those who were in decision making process for hiring, they brought me a board. And so the instant, what drew me here, what kept me here was working for a really good organization.

Chad Helminak:
Brett Thompson, he’s still the president and CEO of the Wisconsin credit union league. He’s been a phenomenal leader and mentor to me throughout my career so I started a really good place. I was really lucky. And then in 2009, I went through the credit union development educator program. And just, we can talk more about this, but it always felt like there was this piece of me that knew I had to have a successful career to do what I wanted.

Chad Helminak:
And then this other piece that wanted to create meaningful change in the world. And those paths always felt diverged. And what the DE program did for me as a participant was showed me that those paths were one and the same. I’m just full of cliches today, Cameron, but the forests from the trees. Actually, I keep a quote next to my desk and I’ll just read it for you. It’s by Edgar Mitchell, he’s Apollo 14 astronaut.

Chad Helminak:
And so he, when he went to the moon, he said this. And this, I swear it’s relevant and then I’ll stop rambling. But he said, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world and a compulsion to do something about it. From out on the moon international politics look so petty.

Chad Helminak:
You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, look at that, you son of a-.” I don’t know if I can swear, but it was a moment where it just, it allowed me to step back and see that there’s meaning in the work that credit unions do. And even though I, at the time I was at a trade association, I was at absolutely a part of that world and the work.

Cameron:
I love that quote. I can see why you keep that on your desk. And profanity is not only welcome, but it’s even encouraged Chad. So we find that it-. Actually, I have no idea. I have no idea if it drives ratings, I’m just making that up. All right. You and I first met through the de program. I think you were just taking over at that point.

Cameron:
And I guess, in the time I’ve known you, I’ve always been impressed with apropo of that quote, your kind of global perspective on the world, but also the credit union space. And so I’d love to hear from your perspective, how has the credit union movement changed in the roughly 15 years that you’ve been a part of it and how do you think it needs to change to stay relevant in the future?

Chad Helminak:
This is good question. And it reminded me that I don’t look back enough on things like this. But to answer your question, I think the challenging of the status quo is becoming the status quo. And it’s a wonderful thing for credit unions and us as human beings. I think some of that has been forced by the environment we’re in, whether it’s technology or the pandemic, but there have also been individuals who’ve forced it as well.

Chad Helminak:
And I think one of the things that has changed with regard to the status quo is the number of passionate voices who are speaking out on topics that are really important that need to be at the forefront, but aren’t right now. And also people who are creating new places to have conversations. Honestly, Cameron I’d include you in that as well. This podcast is phenomenal and you bring a lot of different, really interesting voices to it.

Chad Helminak:
So I also see that in groups like the CU underground. Sue Mitchell and Zach Christensen and kind of the, what is the need out there? Oh, it’s not being offered. Let’s create that. Let’s create that space to give to those people who deserve to have, or who should have their voices heard. And so I’m digging into specific examples here, but I think that’s what I’ve seen change over the years and it needs to continue. We’re not done with that.

Chad Helminak:
And that rolls into a conversation around the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, which I know we’ll get to. But I’ve just seen that. One more example is in kind of the young professional work. I was really involved in that when I first came into credit unions. And I remember going to conferences when I had started and it was just young people really weren’t welcome.

Chad Helminak:
And that’s not a-. I’m not saying that from a place of judgment or blame, it’s just, it was the environment. And there were so many young passionate leaders in credit unions who changed that paradigm, who crashed conferences and started hosting, we’re not welcome here, well, we’re going to start our own thing. And now it’s just become a part of the landscape that we almost take for granted. But that work over time, chipped away at those paradigms, those traditions. And it’s been great.

Cameron:
Well, I appreciate you raising that kind of, I guess, spirit of challenging the status quo, because it’s something I’ve said in various other contexts, including on this podcast, but that one of the really unique things about the credit union industry. I use that term intentionally. We’ll maybe come back to those terms. We’ll see. I know Lois and I had lots of conversations about that.

Cameron:
But it’s an industry almost entirely without startups, which is, at least in my experience is basically unique. And we expect startups to bring some of that challenging the status quo and some of that innovation. And there’s de novo project. We had Denise Weimar on here, several episodes. There’s people are working on this, but the reality is it’s hard. And so I think seeing that spirit show up in other ways is really powerful and important for the credit union space.

Chad Helminak:
I’m really glad you mentioned Denise too, and the de Novo project. That’s one of those things where you look at it and you say, “Wow, that’s something that needs to be addressed.” And it’s consistent with our values and who we are, right? As credit unions, and as a movement, we’re here to look at what in the world needs solving or who needs help and let’s go change that. So that’s a great example as well. I’m glad you added that one.

Cameron:
Well, I know we’re both fans of all of that work. So Chad, I’d love to go, I’m sure at least this will be a lot of our conversation and talk a little bit about the DE program. And you know, some folks in our audience may not have heard of it or may not have been a part of it. So can you just tell us what is the DE program? Why does it matter? And then why did you choose to work with a foundation in taking over this program specifically back in 2018?

Chad Helminak:
Sure. Credit union development educator program or DE program is a leadership program dedicated to keeping the purpose of credit unions at the forefront of everything we do. And the program has been in existence for 40 years. We’re going to be over the hill this year and have some celebrations ahead. So Cameron, as a fellow DE, I hope you’ll take part.

Chad Helminak:
With the program over the years, it’s been… We’ve had more than 2000 credit union leaders come through the US program alone and also organic growth in that DE programs, people coming through it from other countries and then growing their own global DE programs internationally. So it’s been centered around this really important conversation, how do we create a culture steeped in purpose to do the work that we need to do? And I think that leads into why it matters. It’s about all the work that credit unions have done in the past.

Chad Helminak:
And the challenges ahead require a level of readiness and adaptability. And DE very much in that spirit has adapted over the years. And it’s always been around, what’s unique about credit unions? We talk about principles and values and how that influences our actions. And what are the challenges that people are facing and how as credit unions, can we uniquely solve for those problems?

Chad Helminak:
The best part about the DE program is that the conversation’s always different. The value and the level of quality of the program, I feel is very dependent on the voices and people that are in the room. We lead heavily into two-way conversations, activities, experiential learning. So that’s the DE program. And again, I kind of touched on why it matters, but we need to face the challenges ahead, a culture of readiness and adaptability.

Chad Helminak:
And we can’t lose track of the stories and everything. I think of native American culture and how storytelling is such an important part, not just making sure that those legends, folk tales and fables recount the histories of people and where they came from and et cetera, but it’s often told in ways to pass on cultural morals and values. And so there’s this element of DE and history that’s there.

Chad Helminak:
And sometimes it’s like, oh, history. Come on, snooze fest. But there’s some phenomenal stories. And if we don’t keep telling them, there’s a risk of us losing that culture. And then the last piece, in 2018, when I had the opportunity to step up and help lead the program. Since I went through in 2009, I had been just basically begging at the door for ways to come back and help the program.

Chad Helminak:
I always knew that it was special and I believed in what the program stood for and the people along the way. And I had an opportunity to go for this position. Honestly, I thought I was, Ugh, in 10 or 20 years, I’ll be ready. And I had my shot four years ago now. Not to dive in too deep. We can go where you want to go with this. But I think I knew that this program was special.

Chad Helminak:
And although I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy and daunting to follow in the footsteps of a world changer, like you mentioned Lois Kitsch and be responsible for a program that means so much to so many people, but it’s been an absolute privilege. And the journey’s far from over. And my job is like a Forester kind of. I’m taking care of a forest that was here before me and will be here after me if I do the right things and take the right steps. So that’s why I took it. And I’m so proud to be the program director today.

Cameron:
Well, and Chad, I had the privilege, I guess, we first met, I got DE trained in 2018 and you were, I believe it was literally the last kind of handoff. And so it was you and Lois Kitsch who were kind of co-leading it. And then I got to come back as a mentor, I guess, it couldn’t have been 2020. Anyway, I guess, late 2019.

Chad Helminak:
Okay.

Cameron:
And it was really fun seeing, I mean, I guess, I was just really, I loved the program when I went through it, but I was just so impressed with how much it changed. And so when I think about a whole lot more has happened in the last couple years, probably some forced innovations and others that were more intentional.

Cameron:
Can you tell us maybe how the program’s been evolving? Where is it at today? How might it be different than folks who went through DE many years ago? And are there any innovations maybe that you’re particularly proud of that you guys have brought to the program?

Chad Helminak:
Absolutely. And when you came through, I remember a conversation that you and I had. It was kind of during the end of training and then afterwards. I think of all the smart and experienced people that come through DE and what we can learn from that. I know that you, for example, sparked an interest in, and I knew about it, but I think you really set me on a path of understanding a little bit more about sustainability and B-Corp.

Chad Helminak:
We had a lot of meaningful conversations in whether you knew it or not. That stuff has had an osmotic effect into the DE program. And so I think we don’t take change. Well, there’s two things. One is that I don’t think the DE program has ever stopped changing. The DE program continues to be grounded in our purpose and that culture around purpose. What do we do? How do our principles and values influence our actions?

Chad Helminak:
That’s always been a part of it. And then this constantly evolving what’s happening in the lives of our members. What are these sustainable development issues that people are facing? And how are those changing over time? It’s how helping credit unions realize that different day to day, we’ve got to plan for the future. And we’ve got to be plugged into those things that influence our knowledge about those things.

Chad Helminak:
So I don’t take change lightly because so many people care so deeply about the program that it’s never a matter of, I don’t like this. We’re going to get rid of this. I think there’s a few key questions that we ask, what purpose does this, this existing things serve? What’s the problem we’re trying to solve, things like that. We’re always putting the learner first.

Chad Helminak:
And in doing that, one of my proudest changes that happened with DE was one that was a transition to virtual DE during the pandemic. And Maggie Wolf, who’s our development education manager played a huge part in not just the transition of an intense, in-person training in Madison, Wisconsin, five days, transitioning that to a 50 hour virtual training, but making sure that the education, the bonding, the storytelling that takes place can still be achievable in a virtual environment.

Chad Helminak:
That was the logic. And the choice we made was, it’s not going to be the same, but what’s important here. We’re trying to create an environment where the credit union movement, I’ll keep, it’s probably going to be woven into the title of this thing. I’ll say it so many times, but the fabric of credit unions is the culture of the people and the choices they make.

Chad Helminak:
If we’ve got leaders at the top who come from say a banking background, and they don’t have any exposure to the history and philosophy of credit unions, it’s going to be hard for them to come to terms with some of the ways that we’re different in business. So I don’t mean to divert from the question or my answer, but I think the virtual DE we looked at it and said, it’s going to be different. And we’re going to give different experiences to people.

Chad Helminak:
What came out of that, Cameron, here’s what’s great, we solved a problem we didn’t realize in doing this. Because I had people coming through the DE program and they would say, thank you. I wouldn’t have been able to come through DE. I’ve wanted to become a DE so badly. And whether it’s health reasons, family reasons, just they inability to travel for whatever the case is., They weren’t able to come. So we’ve got single parents and all kinds of people now who are DE’s and had their own unique experiences.

Chad Helminak:
And when we ask them, would you have preferred to go in person? Some say to what I just mentioned, “I couldn’t have.” Or some people say, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way because I had the best group ever in the best class ever.” And that’s where you start seeing the similarities to what other classes talk about.

Chad Helminak:
And so we’ve held five of those classes. It’s going to be a part of our programmatic portfolio moving forward, because there’s always going to be a place where people can’t travel to Madison yet we need to give them a DE experience. So I’m most proud of that. The other part of it, which we can talk more about is the incorporation of diversity, equity, inclusion into the content, not just a session, but how it threads through.

Cameron:
Yeah. Got so many good things you said, Chad. Let me just briefly touch on, I have several friends who went to the program last year and I heard so many good things. And I think huge kudos to you, Maggie, especially. I know at my company, we just finished our second completely virtual two day retreat, which if you would’ve told me two years ago, we could do in a way that would be fun and uplifting and I mean, I would’ve said no way.

Cameron:
No way can I get people on two days worth of Zoom meetings and have it be a highlight. I just think huge kudos to you all. And I think, I mean, we probably all have a little more virtual than we want in our lives right now, but I think not losing sight of that opportunity that it creates. Because I also know, like you, my kids a little bit younger, but I now have a one and a half year old. And I think before I was, “Sure, I’ll pop somewhere for five days, no big deal.” And now, it’d be a huge negotiation to figure that out. So I just think that’s great you’ve done that.

Chad Helminak:
Thank you.

Cameron:
And then yeah, I was very impressed with, I’ve mentioned this several times on the podcast, but most every other group I was in, including groups like the B-corporation community, DEI was just sort of this constant conversation. And I remember to me, the silence was kind of deafening in the credit union space. it was heartening. I started seeing it coming up a lot more.

Cameron:
First, I know Feline launched their center of excellence for diversity, equity and inclusion. And I remember I went to one of their first colloquia and it was excellent. And then I came back to the DE program as a mentor and in late 2019. And I just thought you guys did such a great job. So I know that in addition to your work at the foundation, you’re also serving on the credit union DEI collective. So can you maybe talk about yeah, how has DEI become woven into the DE program and just, why do you think it matters overall for credit unions?

Chad Helminak:
Sure. It’s found at home in our DE program because it is within the DNA of credit unions. It always has been. And I’ll again, turn back to stories and examples from the past. We talk about examples of credit unions being inclusive.

Chad Helminak:
A few of my favorite stories that we talk about at DE. One is the creation of credit unions to help Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps during world war II. Coming out of that, they lost a lot of their wealth and homes and employment. And through all of that hardship, credit unions for and to support Japanese Americans were created. And still standing today bearing the name a handful of them in the California area and I think Utah.

Chad Helminak:
So another one is Clarence hall Jr. suing the state of Mississippi to ensure that African Americans could charter credit unions and then leading a legacy of years and years and years of giving back and serving his manager, that credit union that he started in Issaquena County without receiving a paycheck. Smaller stories, which I’m constantly trying to dig out, but they’re there.

Chad Helminak:
And that’s why we can’t lose these stories. Towards the late sixties, early seventies, kind of women’s liberation credit unions became a path for women to obtain credit. They weren’t able to, unless they had a male co-signer, a husband or a family member. And so there’s these really cool stories of credit unions popping up around the country that were their field of membership were women, owned and operated by women.

Chad Helminak:
So I think there’s this piece that says diversity, equity, inclusion has always been a part of what we do and it needs to be more than ever a part of what we do moving forward. So proud to be a member of the collective. You mentioned Feline, and I think if you go through that, the groups and the organizations that are a part of the collective. And not just the collective, but continuing the conversation and looking at ways, whether it’s in the day to day or systemic that we can create that change, it’s fascinating and really important work.

Chad Helminak:
So I’m proud to serve on the collective on behalf of the foundation. And I think our work is there’s so much more to be done and it’s going to take a while. We talk about that sometimes where the results of this work, it’s so critical, but we’re not going to see it tomorrow. And so it kind of leads into this, what kind of change are we creating for the future? I digress it’s really important.

Chad Helminak:
And I think making it be just a part of what we consider with everything. For example, Cameron, I’ll just give you one more example. With our financial wellbeing for all effort at the foundation in partnership it with [inaudible 00:20:32] and so many others, we’re looking at what are those inequities that we need to make right in the world. So I could go really deep into that. And you’re familiar with all these conversations, but I think the important thing is to be in those conversations, like you said, with Felines events and their center of excellence. Where that work will lead us, it’s going to lead to prosperity and opportunities for credit union to continue to grow, remain relevant in the future.

Cameron:
And Chad, I’d love to dovetail on that. What do you get really excited about when you think about DE in the future? As you mentioned, the program’s always evolving, but it seems like the world keeps evolving even faster as well. So yeah, how do you think you guys need to stay vibrant and relevant?

Chad Helminak:
I like to think of the question, what would the world look like if everyone in the credit union system were a DE and had a deep, meaningful understanding of what our principles and values were and how they personally connected to them? And I think that drives our vision for the future. DE program will never go away. And at the same time, to recognize the limitations of that program, we allow 48 people four times a year to come through.

Chad Helminak:
And whether you’re large credit union or just an organization that wants to send a lot of people through, it’s going to take a while. So we’ve started expanding into half day to two day workshops, and we’re looking at more models. The name of our game right now, Cameron is how do we scale this work to reach as many people as possible. And with that comes some consideration of not cannibalizing DE. The DE program will remain special and unique.

Chad Helminak:
And what is that pre and post. What’s that learn journey that we’re on? So there’s some exciting conversation around other organizations and how they fit into that journey that I just talked about. That’s the future of DE. I think there’s going to be more connectivity, more of a funnel coming in. I think for example, we talk about the cooperative principles and our values at the DE program.

Chad Helminak:
What if everyone came into the program, having an understanding of that, setting that bar? And then afterwards, identifying those four to five ways that people could make an impact and here are the partners and pathways for that. So I think that’s the future. But it’s driven by that question of how do we reach as many people as possible.

Chad Helminak:
We know that when people come through DE in their own way, in their own experience, their perspective on their role, their organization and how credit unions help people has changed for the better for all of us. And so we want to help more people do that. I’m trying to avoid using the term brainwash Cameron, because I think there could be a misperception about DE. But it’s, again, people bringing their own unique perspectives and things to the table at DE is what makes it special. And we need everyone at the table for this.

Cameron:
Well, and I think this is probably me just flipping out of podcast host and just extemporizing. But part of our journey, Chad is at PixelSpoke was we converted to a worker owned cooperative on Jan one, 2020. Interesting year to make that conversion. And I think it gave me even more empathy and perspective of the challenge credit union space around this concept of values and purpose. Because granted COVID, there was a whole lot of stuff that happened in 2020.

Cameron:
I had a paternity leave. There was a lot going on, but I don’t know. I just can’t help, but to feel a little bit like I blew it and that I kind of thought, oh, Hey, we’re a worker owned cooperative now. We have four other co-owners. We have articles in corporation and bylaws. We did all these things that gave us kind of the formal structure of a worker owned cooperative, but our team, both the initial set of members of the worker co-op and the other employees who were not members, who were not yet eligible, we just didn’t know what we were doing.

Cameron:
It’s a different way of doing business. It’s a different way of living your life. And we didn’t really fix that until last year where we did basically every other week intensive trainings and it was on, they’re slightly different for cooperatives versus worker cooperatives, versus credit unions. But the seven cooperative principles and the 10 cooperative values. And we just had to intensely lean into that. And that sense of purpose and values was, it was not something that was innate.

Cameron:
It was not something that magically happened. It took intentional work. And I think that was just a powerful experience for me to maybe reflect back on why the DE program is so important for credit unions that as a default, as you said, there probably society and regulators and all sorts of things will pull people away from purpose and away from values and towards just what we all need to do to get through the day and get our jobs done. So that’s not to question Chad, but I don’t know if you want to respond. I just wanted to share that because it’s what came up while you were talking.

Chad Helminak:
I do. And in your voice, tell me if I’m wrong. I heard a little, it wasn’t regret, but just, I wish I could have done it differently.

Cameron:
Absolutely. I mean, is it regret? A whole lot came up in 2020 that for all of us.

Chad Helminak:
Yeah.

Cameron:
But maybe regret or maybe whatever is adjacent to that. You do your best, but it’s still not good enough.

Chad Helminak:
Well, and I don’t mean to turn it over to you, but I have a question for you then. Why did you change to work? Why did you change to a cooperative?

Cameron:
Yeah. Great question.

Chad Helminak:
Why was that important?

Cameron:
Yeah, this is fun. I like getting interviewed on my podcast. I think it’s probably very similar to why a lot of people started credit unions, especially in the present day of, I kind of just came up in the for-profit entrepreneurial space. It was really hard. I made tons of mistakes and I found mentors and education and resources, but they all just kind of presented this way of doing business as the only way.

Cameron:
And I think like you, I was always struggling with I wanted my purpose in life to be more than making a buck and working for hopefully nice enough clients and with nice coworkers. I want to be some small part of the solution versus the problem. Maybe in a few times, a medium or a big part of that solution. So as I kept reflecting on kind of my space in the world, as you know, Chad, I found this community of certified B-corporations.

Cameron:
And I think of that as basically like, it’s like having the NCUA come in and audit your company, but for impact instead of for kind of financial solidity. And we just found we were kind of honored that we were even able to qualify. We barely qualified the first time. But even more than that, it just opened our eyes, my eyes to all the things we could be doing that would have positive impact in the world that we hadn’t even thought about. Some were really hard, but some were really easy.

Cameron:
And as I kept spending time in that community, I kept coming back to a personal belief of mine. If anyone is been feeling super nerdy, probably you’ve all heard of the book Capital in 21st Century. It was a 600 page book by a French economist. And it was digging into this issue of inequality of wealth and income on a level that you have to be kind of wonky to want to get through it all.

Cameron:
But it’s just so comprehensive that it really changed my life. And it just left me thinking that we look at all these issues, all these symptoms out there in the world, but I think you can make a really good argument that the root problem is inequality. When there is rampant inequality, then it makes it hard for us to touch base with our generosity of spirit, our empathy for our fellow human beings, our desire to do the right thing for community because we feel scared and anxious and insecure.

Cameron:
So going really big here, Chad, so take all that philosophy, but then I sort of looked in the mirror and I said, well, if I’m this white man who came from an upper middle class family, went to college at Stanford, now owns a pretty successful company, a hundred percent. And so I get to keep all the profits.

Cameron:
Is that aligned with what I believe about what will make the world a better place or not? Sure, we’re a B-Corp. Sure, we do all these programs. But if I am holding on to hoarding, you could say 100% of the ownership of our company, am I living my values? And I know our credit union clients were a big influence on me of just, well, they can run without for profit shareholders. So maybe I need to question kind of my assumptions about the way things need to be. So that’s a long answer, Chad, but that’s how we got to the worker cooperative.

Chad Helminak:
Well, I asked and I appreciate your answer so much. I can’t help, but reflect on the choice to go to virtual DE and I, what I heard you expand on was you made a values based decision, not just what you believe in, but what’s right from an ethical business standpoint. And with virtual DE, that was a similar choice. And I knew that we all deal in different scales of responsibility and the impact of our decisions.

Chad Helminak:
But I knew that if that didn’t turn out, if that was just a nightmare, I’d be willing to make that mistake because I knew that I was doing it for the right reasons and that I had talked with people, talk through it and thought about it enough. And I was reminded recently, I’ve heard this in credit unions and just in the business world so much over the years, fail fast. And part of the human center design, the innovation work and all that.

Chad Helminak:
I don’t think we really mean that a lot of times. I think still we don’t have cultures that embrace the decision making that doesn’t go right even though it was made in the direction of our values in North star. And I don’t really know, I don’t have a point here that I’m going to land on here with this conversation.

Chad Helminak:
I just find it really meaningful because I think we need to give ourselves a little more grace and compassion around the choices we make, if they’re aligned with our values and they’re towards the betterment of people. I think we can boldly make those choices and in environments now where we don’t know what’s coming tomorrow and we don’t have that crystal ball, but say, we’re doing our best today. And I know what I stand for, I know what my organization stands for and whatever happens happens. So anyways, I, again, I didn’t have a real-.

Cameron:
I love that, Chad. That makes sense. Here’s how I think it connects. By the way, you’re a better podcast guest and interviewer than I am. But no, I mean, I think what you’re getting to is something really important, which is, and this is how I felt about the worker cooperative was I got to a point where I said, “You know what? Even if this totally screws up, fails, I’m going to feel better about myself having tried than just sort of sticking with the default model.”

Cameron:
And so fail fast of yeah, human center design. A lot of Silicon valley tech companies and a lot of problems in the world from that mindset and sort of co-opting it, which seems like the perfect word, right? To fail fast when it’s aligned with your purpose. That’s the stuff we want to fail at in the credit union movement, not something around raising overdraft fees.

Chad Helminak:
Exactly. So I think this is a conversation that when we start digging into purpose and principles, sometimes we hang them on the wall and we don’t talk about these kinds of things that are messy conversations that really don’t have an ending point because they’re meant to be continual. And I’m just, as we’re talking to, I’m reminded of and Brene Brown used it so everybody knows it now, but that daring greatly. The speech by Theodore Roosevelt and how important that is to be in the arena.

Chad Helminak:
Hopefully more people, whether it’s diversity, equity, inclusion, or just facing the challenges of tomorrow, whatever they may be, can feel good about the choices we make as a movement. And now I’m just rambling. So I’m going to stop here and pause. But yeah, Cameron, I also, I don’t think I’m a good podcast guest because I get into places like this and I just don’t stop talking, which.

Cameron:
Well, it’s very confusing when you no longer know who is interviewing whom. All right. Well, we’re just, we’re going to save this. We’re going to get a little silly and we’re going to go to rapid fire question.

Chad Helminak:
Well, let’s do it.

Cameron:
So now you have to be concise. All right. Question number one, Chad, boxers or briefs?

Chad Helminak:
Boxers. Boxers.

Cameron:
Yeah. It’s a little personal. Yeah.

Chad Helminak:
Yeah, this is.

Cameron:
We’re going a little personal. What’s your life slogan, Chad?

Chad Helminak:
Do good, and throw it into the ocean.

Cameron:
All right. Hopefully it’s something that’s biodegradable that you’re throwing into the ocean. You’ve traveled a lot actually. So I’d love to know what’s a place you’d like to visit that you’ve never been able to visit?

Chad Helminak:
I would love to visit Japan someday.

Cameron:
And what’s your favorite word?

Chad Helminak:
Wow. Favorite word? I don’t know, what’s your favorite word? Let me give you a chance here.

Cameron:
Yeah. My favorite word is onamonapia. People usually say these really, like love or whatever. I just think it sounds cool. And it’s spelled cool. So I don’t really have a. I didn’t go too deep. What about you?

Chad Helminak:
My favorite word right now is yike. Y-I-K-E because my son likes things a lot and he’s saying Ls like Ys. So I’m going to go with yike. I yike the yikes. I yike the. I yike the truck.

Cameron:
I like it.

Chad Helminak:
Yeah.

Cameron:
Maybe that’ll be the title of the podcast. All right. Well, Chad, we’ve gone all over.

Chad Helminak:
Yes.

Cameron:
Let’s do a final take. Let’s try to bring this back to something professional or goofy, whatever you want. I’d love to give you a chance, is there anything you didn’t get to that you wanted to share today, or is there anything you’d like to reiterate from our earlier conversation for our audience?

Chad Helminak:
Just that we’ve been thinking really deeply about culture here at the foundation. It’s taken us from our empathy work into mindfulness, how you create safe spaces, how we treat each other. And there’s this real human element to what we do every day. And even in these environments where we feel so separated by video screens and all that, the impact of our work on other human beings is such a simple and profound thought.

Chad Helminak:
And so I think as we move forward, I just welcome any listeners or as we explore this too, what else? I think Cameron, you talk to so many credit unions yourself. This exploration into creating an environment that breeds the success in the way credit unions want to. I think we need to be more conscious about that and also explore our conscious about how we go about that. So that’s what I’d leave is it’s this call out and what else, because it’s such a cool thread we’re pulling on right now.

Chad Helminak:
And we’re testing things with credit unions and we’re implementing things into new programs and all that. So if that strikes a chord with anybody, any listeners out there reach out because we to dare greatly or call back to that and try new things like this, figure out how those untraditional pieces of mindfulness and things fit into the business world. So I’ll pause there and just say, thank you again, Cameron, for having me on. I don’t know if I’ve earned the chance to ever come back, but it’s always good to talk with you.

Cameron:
You certainly have Chad and it’s a real pleasure to have you on and thanks for catching us up with everything you’ve been up to.

Chad Helminak:
Take care.

Cameron:
All right, folks, thanks for joining us for another episode. That was the first time I think that I’ve really been interviewed on my own podcast. I always enjoy chatting with Chad at whatever form it takes. I’d love to share some of my key takeaways. The first one I was really struck by Chad’s comment that what he has seen is that challenging the status quo has really become the status quo over the last several years. And just how critical that is to driving change and innovation when the credit union system, as a whole doesn’t produce many startups, which is where in other industries, innovation comes from.

Cameron:
I always like hearing Chad’s framing about DE. And so the way he put it today was that DE is about creating a culture steeped in purpose. And I thought it was great to hear how the pandemic has caused the foundation to explore ways to create new and different pathways for people to get trained in the credit union principles and development issues, which has made it a lot more accessible to more people.

Cameron:
And I thought it was really thought provoking of kind of the premier program and the credit union space around purpose and values, the DE program. What if people showed up for that all already steeped in the economic development issues and the credit union operating principles? It was helpful to hear just kind of the innovation that has happened in the DE program itself.

Cameron:
And hearing Chad kind of pull it out that he saw the, almost the two big pillars of how the DE program has evolved and been around sustainability in business, which is such a broad and powerful movement, but is often not really applied to financial institutions, as well as how DEI can really drive credit union to live their purpose more deeply and how inclusion and equity of course, are really at the heart of what credit union have always been about.

Cameron:
And this is just a powerful tool to update those for the environment we live in today. And I love that phrase that the fabric of credit unions is the people who work there and hence importance of this continual engagement and education around purpose and values. And I shared a bit about our own story at PixelSpoke of how important and essential that work is to really live them.

Cameron:
And then lastly, I like the take on fail fast and how we talk about that and how important that can be to have that culture that encourages people to try things and then just modifying it of how to make sure that we fail fast in ways that are aligned with our purpose. So that’s really kind of the synthesis of the credit union ethos and some of the learnings of human-centered design or technology companies in Silicon valley. All right. Thanks for joining us today for another great episode. Until the next time. I wish you all the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

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