Intergenerational Thinking and Co-op Design

The concept of paying forward is inherent in the credit union model.  Current leadership begins with a legacy of common wealth inherited from previous efforts.  The assumption is that the current generation will in turn pass an even greater legacy to their children’s children.

This is not the performance standard dictated for profit making firms in a market economy.   Rather the inexorable force of the invisible hand drives a firm’s stock price.   Success or shortfalls, are measured quarterly against explicit annual performance expectations.

What Will our Descendants Thank Us For?

Credit unions were founded with a different ethic of success.  The member ownership allows co-ops to play “the long game.” Performance encompasses obligations for the common good of members and their communities.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a leading English art critic of the Victorian era.  He was an art patron, draughtsman, watercolorist, philosopher, social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as architecture, myth, literature, education, botany and political economy.

His vision for human enterprise uses an architectural metaphor which I believe embraces this unique, intergenerational scope of cooperative design:

“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our fathers did for us.”


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