CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 149 Samira Rajan Brooklyn Cooperative Credit Union and Economic Inequality

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It was the members’ personal stories that hooked Samira Rajan early in her employment at what then was known as the Bushwick Cooperative and now is the Brooklyn Cooperative. When she started there it was in 2001 as a volunteer via AmeriCorp Vista  the recently founded credit union had assets of $299,000, four employees (including her), and a membership of under 1000.

Rajan has been there ever since. Today it has assets of $50 million, 16 employees, and two branches (one in Bushwick, the other in Bedford-Stuyvesant).

As for those stories, Rajan spent her early years at the institution as the loan officer and the stories she heard was from this member as to why she needed a $10,000 loan for her business, or from that member on why he needed a $5000 home improvement loan. These are stories about hopes and dreams and Rajan found it exciting to think about making dreams come true and also protecting the credit union’s solvency.

As for how she wound up at the credit union in the first place, listen to the podcast. You need to hear the story from her but I will tell you it involves a bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr where she doubled majored in economics and Spanish (and the Spanish matters in Bushwick where over half the residents are Latino). She then worked as an economist at the Federal Reserve in New York. But she got restless, she wanted to see if financial services could in fact help address economic inequalities. So she went to Harvard and earned a master’s degree in public policy at the Kennedy School.

Flashback to 2001 when she earned that degree and she was back home in New York, the economy was sluggish, New York City was still recovering from 9/11, and she heard about this start up credit union in Bushwick and decided to check it out.

Next thing she knew she was a volunteer and soon that became a staff job.

In 2008 she became CEO.

In this podcast you will hear about the day to day challenge of keeping a small credit union vital, about the help Brooklyn Cooperative has gotten (or not gotten) from large banks and credit unions, and why it matters to be a CDFI, a community development financial institution.

Related podcasts mentioned in this one include CU 2.0 Podcast #15 with Cathie Mahon, CEO of Inclusiv. 

Also listen to CU 2.0 Podcast #37 with Cliff Rosenthal, a pioneer in the CDFI world.

And Luis Pastor at Latino Community Credit Union in Durham.

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