Oikocredit’s new forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue
Pastor Ueli Burkhalter is the seventh member of Oikocredit’s recently formed members' council (MC). The MC is a consultation and advisory body elected by Oikocredit’s member organisations to represent and promote their interests. We talked to Ueli about what both his role within the MC and Oikocredit mean to him.
What is the MC and why was it established in 2016?
During 2014-15 an Oikocredit working group looked at how its investor members are represented within the organisation and concluded that there was a need for greater involvement and communication between the members and Oikocredit. At the same time there was a realisation that of the 600 members listed, a significant number of them were not very active and there were discussions about how to re-activate them. The working group developed the concept of a Members’ Council and proposed its establishment to the 2016 annual general meeting.
Ultimately, I would describe the MC’s function as being a forum for members to discuss issues and to develop a multi-stakeholder dialogue.
What topics does the MC work on?
First of all, it is important to note that the MC is an advisory, not a supervisory, council, and we need to decide how much input it can have with regard to strategy and operations. It’s a delicate balance. During the annual general meeting in Ghana in July 2017 we got to hear not just from Oikocredit members, but also from Oikocredit colleagues and partners in the countries where we provide funding. In this way we can provide a channel for everyone’s concerns. The meeting was very successful with great feedback and it gave us many things to consider about how we can continue to build up this multi-stakeholder dialogue, because we also noticed that there were diverse expectations about what the MC should handle.
You could say, we’re still in the phase of developing what the MC’s role is and how we could function as a sounding board for the members and other stakeholders of the organisation.
How can Oikocredit members benefit from the MC?
Primarily from having a dedicated council to go to with any questions or suggestions about how Oikocredit is working with them. We feed in questions from the members to the managing board and the supervisory board, and if they have questions, they can consult the MC and ask us to liaise with the members.
You were elected as the seventh member of the MC in June, what has your experience been like so far?
It has been very positive and made me realise the kind of spirit that can be awoken when people meet face-to-face, rather than just through Skype or email. I’ve been inspired by hearing about all the different issues that are relevant to the organisation and we had some lively and productive discussions.
You have been volunteering for Oikocredit for 16 years. What motivates you to dedicate your free time to Oikocredit?
In my role as a pastor I have worked on the issues of peace and social justice over many years and the success of this work led to my involvement with Oikocredit. Our motto ’investing in people’ is very important and the ‘credit’ in Oikocredit comes from the Latin ‘credo’ which means ‘I trust in you’ or ‘I believe’. We can’t change the world, but we can make a contribution to making it better. That’s what motivates me to be part of Oikocredit. Also, on study tours where I have met farmers receiving support, they all said that they had confidence in Oikocredit as a long-term partner – that Oikocredit believes in them and works through any problems like a proper business partner. For me, that’s just fantastic.
In 2013 you did a three months internship at Oikocredit’s regional office in San José, Costa Rica. What were the key take-aways from your time there?
I was very impressed by the engagement and education of the staff in Oikocredit’s Central American offices. I also went to Guatemala and to the Dominican Republic where I visited a number of partners and saw how they worked in the fields and the obstacles they faced. I saw what a professional job Oikocredit was doing and that is what I really respected. I also admired the social performance management and how it works first hand. And I realised that listening to each other and learning from each other is very crucial and there is a need to discuss the best ways to achieve that.