The Extraordinary Steps An Australian CU Takes To Give Back To Its Community

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While Maleny Credit Union and Foresters ANA Friendly Society looked to the U.S. and other nations for inspiration on how to offer strong community development financial services, they also offer some models of their own.

Among some of MCU's notable practices:

* It allocates 5% to 10% of profits to a community grants scheme, which funds reforestation, organic gardening, social, cultural and educational projects.

* It pays an "ecotax" to the local Landcare group on every ream of paper used.

* It provides loans to people on low incomes or Social Security who would otherwise be unable to access credit from mainstream banks.

* It provides loans to innovative, sustainable businesses.

* It joins, supports and donates to community and environmental organizations

* It develops an environmental policy, conducts regular social and environmental audits of MCU activities, and offers a fee-for- service Social Auditing Service to help other organizations operate more efficiently.

* It participates in the Cool Communities project, a national collaboration between the Australian Greenhouse Office, state-based conservation councils and community organizations to reduce household greenhouse gas production. MCU was one of only two Queensland communities and the only financial services provider in Australia selected to participate in the program.

* It minimizes waste by separating recyclable garbage, composting kitchen wastes and choosing items with minimal packaging, purchases second-hand items and items made from recycled materials where possible, shreds waste paper and provides it to local shop keepers for packing.

* It purchases locally if the local price is within 10% of the lowest price. Apart from supporting local businesses and producers, this policy helps the environment by reducing the amount of energy used in transporting goods, the credit union said.

* It uses a part-time work policy for most staff. "This policy is family- friendly and shares the available paid work," said the credit union.

* It employs "industrial democracy." Workers work in self-managed teams and are encouraged to participate in decision making.

* A staff-director serves on the MCU board.

* It has a strong representation of women in management, and six of 10 directors are female.

* With its commitment to fiscal, environmental, social and global responsibility Foresters ANA developed an "ethical policy statement" to guide its investment strategy.

* The organization evaluates its investments on a variety of checkpoints, including respect to fiscal responsibility, profit history, volatility, net asset backing, movement relative to market and dividend yield, while the social responsibility checkpoints look at the equality of opportunity for employees, the capacity of employees to affect decision making, honesty of directors and management and effect on local community.

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