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Winona Nava: 2023 Herb Wegner Memorial Award Winner

Winona Nava

“She’s someone who dreams big but builds even bigger.” The credit union movement and vulnerable people across the country are better off because of this Herb Wegner Memorial Award winner’s dedication.   

Ask someone who knows her well to pinpoint the most impressive thing Winona Nava has accomplished during her nearly half-century career with New Mexico credit unions. It’s likely they’ll struggle to decide.

After all, when career highlights include taking over a credit union in conservatorship—then growing its assets from $10 million to $270 million—playing a key role in convincing your state to pass legislation that allows people to get a driver’s license without citizenship documentation, and spending 16 years combating predatory lending and helping pass legislation that lowered the interest rate cap from 175% to 36% … it’s pretty hard to choose.

Because of these accomplishments and so many more, Winona will receive the Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement at the 2023 Foundation Dinner.

Winona has been a force for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for decades. She is widely regarded as a trailblazer whose achievements have contributed in no small way to the credit union movement’s commitment to improving financial well-being for all.

She started her credit union career at State Employees Credit Union in 1978 and during that time, consistently went above and beyond her role with a desire to learn and grow. Winona completed Western CUNA Management School and received her Certified Credit Union Executive (CCUE) designation while at the credit union, ending her time there as Executive Vice President.

In 1991 Winona became CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union (GCU) and under her leadership, the credit union gained a nationwide reputation for finding effective ways to serve immigrant families. Winona was an industry pioneer in Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) lending; embracing the approach when it was little understood and widely feared. Today, ITIN lending has gone mainstream and GCU has become an invaluable mentor and guide to credit unions looking to provide it.

Furthering her work to ensure marginalized and unbanked communities—especially those in rural areas—have access to services, GCU has expanded its field of membership from one to seven counties under Winona’s tenure.

With support from a National Credit Union Foundation grant, GCU opened a new branch in October 2012 that primarily serves new immigrants. A decade on and it’s the credit union’s largest and fastest-growing location.

Recognizing the role financial education can play in improving the financial well-being of marginalized populations, Winona has been an ever-present advocate for the Foundation’s Development Education (DE) program and has tirelessly sought out other opportunities to connect with and serve overlooked communities. These have included providing programs for high school students (and their parents), bringing financial coaching sessions to homeless shelters, and providing income support and justice programs to other community locations.

She understands the power of Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification to better serve vulnerable consumers and made it a priority for GCU to gain this certification. This has brought over $7 million in funding to New Mexico: the state ranked 50th in the nation for poverty.

The peers who lauded Winona in her award nomination spoke of a lead who is “tireless,” “relentless,” “devoted” and “unwavering.”

Each of those adjectives describes not just her commitment to members and communities but to credit unions and their employees, too. Winona strongly believes that everyone, no matter their country of origin, ethnicity, capabilities, or choices in life deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone deserves the opportunity to receive the information and support they need to attain financial empowerment. That is why she created the position of Chief of Financial Empowerment and ensures every office has a certified financial coach. Through their feedback, GCU has created unique products to better serve the underserved.

Winona even provided branch space to another credit union when it, and most of its elderly members, had to be evacuated due to wildfires.

Over the course of her career, Winona has brought her passionate commitment to numerous boards. She, alongside her fellow winner Linda Bodie, was one of the founding members of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance. She served on the board for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the CUES Rocky Mountain Council. Winona was chair of the National Credit Union Foundation Board and serves on the National Association of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals board and the Credit Union Association of New Mexico board.

Congratulations Winona!

Click here to secure your seat today and congratulate Winona and all of our 2023 Herb Wegner Memorial Award winners in person on Monday, February 27, in Washington, D.C.

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