In the Press

It’s Time to Focus on Impact

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By Rob Miller, CEO, VSECU

Read this op-ed as it appears in the Burlington Free Press

Since becoming CEO of VSECU, a member-owned cooperative and not for profit credit union open to all Vermonters, I’ve made a point to go out to the communities we serve, engaging with individuals and organizations to better understand issues impacting our members, and all Vermonters. Through these discussions, I came to appreciate the many challenges – and opportunities – facing Vermonters today.

What I found was a growing disconnect between the Vermont we love, and the Vermont we actually experience. Young Vermonters – who are necessary to sustain thriving communities – are leaving the state, shrinking the size of Vermont’s next generation. There is a growing population of low- to moderate-income households that are struggling, and are frequently unaware of the resources available to help them.

There are many thought leaders, organizations and State agencies working to address these issues, but there are significant limits in scale and coordination that make it difficult to achieve real progress. As a state, we value our independence and local control, but our challenges are significant and require us to come together in more meaningful ways to meet the needs of all Vermonters.

What became enlightening to us at VSECU was our distinct position to facilitate and empower cooperation that helps address our broad reaching challenges. At our core, we are a cooperative. We embody people coming together to help one another. With nearly 60,000 member-owners across the state, we have a unique opportunity to employ our scale, capacity, and cooperative spirit to improve the lives of Vermonters and enhance our statewide impact.

At VSECU our members are our top priority. But our members are also Vermonters. With that acknowledgment, we are taking ownership of issues such as economic opportunity, environment, food, shelter and heat, and working to benefit members beyond traditional financial services. By expanding the view of our constituency, we are also strengthening our own long term health. As documented by the Shared Value Initiative, financial institutions around the globe are seeing significant organizational growth by investing in the financial health of their clients and the strength of their communities.

This month we announced a partnership with Milk Money, Vermont’s first third-party crowdfunding portal, to bring together everyday Vermonters in support of local businesses. Last year we worked with community leaders in Bennington to establish The Lightning Jar, a co-working space for entrepreneurs, students and professionals. These initiatives represent innovative efforts to stimulate economic opportunities from within, through collaboration and cooperation. We look forward to supporting these initiatives and more as we seek ways to empower possibilities for our members and Vermonters.

The economy is changing. Social and commercial interests no longer have to be at odds. Indeed, a commitment to social impact is smart business. Younger generations place high value on mission-driven businesses, and are increasingly spending their dollars and seeking employment with businesses that are seen as good corporate citizens. Commitment to impact, purpose and people will quickly become necessary to thrive in this new economy.

I encourage other organizations to join VSECU in considering their potential role in our society and to seek the intersection between institutional value and public good. What value can you bring to the Vermonters whose vitality is ultimately key to your business? Increasing societal value does not have to negatively impact your bottom line. Nearly a third of executives credit sustainability activities for contributing to profitability, according to MIT research.

Given the scope of our challenges and the power of our opportunities as a state, we should all embrace a public role as part of our missions, and work together to identify innovative solutions that help create sustainable positive outcomes for everyone in our state. It’s time to create a new movement. Leveraging resources to create impact in our economy and our society is vital to all of our interests, regardless of organizational structure – for profit, non-profit, B Corp, S-Corp, and so on. It’s also vital to Vermont and Vermonters.

Robert Miller, a resident of Shelburne, is CEO of VSECU. He is a former Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development and currently serves on the boards of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, Capstone Community Action and the Energy Action Network. Mr. Miller earned a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from the University of Vermont.