Over the course of our lives, most of us are lucky to positively influence a handful of people. It is no overstatement to say this 2023 Herb Wegner Memorial Award recipient has had an impact on millions.
After 31 years, Dr. Brian Branch announced his retirement as CEO of the World Council (WOCCU) in early 2021. It marked the conclusion of a career spent bringing the credit union difference to where it was most needed, no matter how distant or dangerous.
Brian’s fervent belief that all people deserve financial well-being—and that financial cooperatives are the most powerful, effective partner to help them achieve it—will see him presented with a Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement at the 2023 Foundation Dinner.
When Brian first joined WOCCU, it was a regional organization serving 41,000 credit unions and 86 million members. When he became CEO in 2011, the organization supported 51,000 credit unions serving 196 million members. But over the next decade, Brian expanded WOCCU to include 118 countries and a staggering 375 million members—almost five percent of the global population.
Much of WOCCU’s growth was driven by Brian’s efforts to upend the status quo. He understood that any organization committed to serving people must understand, represent and include those people. This bottom-up, locally driven expansion of credit unions stood in contrast to WOCCU’s previous top-down approach, reaping global rewards because of it.
Brian also understood that people could never achieve long-term, lasting financial freedom through credit unions if the system itself was unsustainable, and so prioritized the development and adoption of tools that fostered accountability such as WOCCU’s PEARLS, which measures the financial health of credit unions.
That focus on sustainability was also present in Brian’s commitment to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the credit union space. He founded the Global Women’s Leadership Network to advance female economic initiatives, oversaw the launch of World Young Credit Union Professionals, and undertook credit union development assignments in over 100 countries around the world.
While his work at a leadership level is impressive, Brian has never shied away from being on the ground—often leading the line for the credit union system in times of crisis.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brian knew access to cash would be imperative and traveled into the heart of the devastation with money literally strapped to his back.
In Afghanistan, Brian helped create, develop and expand a unique group of credit unions that operated under Sharia Law (which prohibits charging interest).
And in Kenya, where more than one million children have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, he was instrumental in the success of the Busia Compassionate Center orphanage. Time and again, Brian could have chosen to operate from the safety of his office. Time and again, he did not.
Perhaps nothing speaks to Brian’s reputation as much as the fact that he’s continued to be credit unions’ go-to person for international challenges even in retirement. As two million refugees fled to Poland after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Brian was on the front lines, meeting with Ukrainian refugees and credit union CEOs.
Thanks to his efforts, a foundation was created that made it possible for American credit unions to donate directly to their Polish counterparts. That funding bought much-needed ambulances, helped create a path to housing, jobs, childcare and more.
For decades, Brian has proven that nothing is beyond his reach when there’s suffering in the world. For that, we say “thank you” and congratulations.
Join us in congratulating Brian and the other 2023 Herb Wegner Memorial Award recipients on Monday, February 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Tickets can be purchased here.