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Vancity head to advise Pope on the economics of peace

Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO of Vancity Savings Credit Union, is photographed at a Vancity branch in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, May 5, 2014.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The head of the Vancity credit union is headed for the Vatican this summer to help advise the Pope on income inequality and the pontiff's hopes on encouraging a values-based global economic order.

Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of the 68-year-old B.C. financial institution, says she will be joining 30 others, including NGOs and those in academia, to advise the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. She says she was invited two months ago. Officials from the Vatican and the Vatican's embassy in Ottawa did not respond to queries on the matter from The Globe and Mail.

Pope Francis has said that business activity has a role in improving health care, education and communication. In a message to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, he said too many experience daily insecurity and that politicians should promote an inclusive approach that considers the common good and dignity of all.

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Ms. Vrooman, a former B.C. deputy finance minister, says the invitation is an affirmation of the values-based approach of her credit union, which administers about $21-billion in funds. Vancity was dubbed one of Canada's 50 most socially responsible companies by Maclean's magazine in 2013 for such policies as paying workers a minimum wage of at least $19.14 an hour, offering specialized mortgages to help occupants of social housing buy their own homes and providing financial support for the First Nations reconciliation process.

In the following Q&A, she talks about the Vatican gathering as well as a recent luncheon with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. In April, Ms. Vrooman moderated a discussion with Mr. Trudeau at a Vancouver Board of Trade event.

Have you ever advised a pope?

No. I am not Catholic. I have never advised a pope before. [It's] a great opportunity to talk about what's going on in our part of the world, and what we see as real opportunities to do what we have been doing around putting the needs of ordinary people first and showing how that can grow a profitable and sustainable financial institution. Banks and finance don't have to be anathema to helping people prosper and thrive. In fact, the two can go hand in hand.

What can the Pope and the Vatican learn from Vancity?

He's going to hear from academics and people who have done research on what's possible in theory. What we can show is what's possible in practice. You can contribute capital to growing and sustaining an economy in a way people benefit from as well as the financial institutions. Last year alone, we provided almost $470-million in community investments and impact loans in our region. So we're able to show real examples of how this works, and some models I hope give real application to what largely is, sometimes, an academic or theoretical debate.

What would you tell the Pope on all this if you had 30 seconds alone with him?

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I would, first of all, thank him for the opportunity to engage, but also tell him these ideas he has been talking about are more than just ideas. They really can work on the ground. We provide a real example that proves that. And I would encourage him to keep looking for those examples and inspiring hope.

Has Justin Trudeau asked you about running for the federal Liberals?


Did you say yes?


Your name has come up in past for political leadership roles. What's your philosophy in answering those opportunities.

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I've been asked by almost all levels of government and by all parties across the spectrum and I'm always flattered. I take those requests very seriously because I think public service is vital to our economy and our society. But I like where I am and what I am doing at the moment.

Is this something you'd rule out for good or something you might change your mind on?

It's never wise ever to say never because you never know how things might change. But, for the foreseeable future, I really am well-situated and have lots to do at Vancity.

May I ask: What did Mr. Trudeau say?

No. I think you should ask Mr. Trudeau.

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