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2020 has created deep uncertainty for all organizations, including credit unions. The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the economy into a new type of recession, muddied the national political and policy environment, and transformed the most basic of our daily routines and relationships at work and at home. Moreover, we are wrestling with a reckoning on racial justice and equity, unevenly distributed effects from the economic and health crises, ongoing political polarization, and growing distrust of institutions. There remains a distinct lack of clarity about what a new normal might look like by the end of 2021.

What to do? How do effective leaders respond? Filene Research Institute sought counsel from its Research Fellows to learn what insights and wisdom they might share to guide leaders through these uncertain times.


There is crisis leadership, and then there is next level crisis leadership that 2020 has thrust upon us. All of us have faced multiple professional and personal crises that have forced us to reset, rethink, and restructure. During these times, I draw on my research on climate change adaptation and post-disaster recovery for some insights into resilience in times of crisis.

Being resilient requires having robust systems and a strong structure. Invest in building and maintaining a strong infrastructure during non-crisis times. Don’t hold off for another day or settle for mediocre because you may not be able to withstand the shock of a disaster.

Create some redundancy in the system. Redundancy may seem inefficient, but it’s actually critical. If a member of your team is sick, can someone just as skilled and knowledgeable take over their duties and keep the system running at 100%? If so, the redundancy in your system allowed you to have backup that is essential to having a resilient system.

Adaptability and flexibility are necessary in times of crisis. Resilient systems do not break easily under pressure but are able to withstand it because of the ability to pivot quickly and adjust in order to perform. Think about how many ways a rubber band can bend and stretch before breaking and the many different uses for it.

Resilient systems are reinforced horizontally and vertically. Being a part of a network that can offer support and resources is vital. Horizontal linkages are those relationships to your peers or similar types of organizations. Vertical linkages offer higher level connections, to superiors or resource-rich institutions, that can provide support during times of crisis. No unit can withstand a crisis alone. As the saying goes, it takes a village. Make sure you invest in relationships during non-crisis times so you can draw strength from them during a crisis.

As we begin to recover from this momentous year of multiple crisis, consider how you can build more resilience in your organization in order to withstand whatever crisis comes next.


For more insights from Dr. Nguyen and the Center for Community Social Impact visit:

Led by Filene Fellow Dr. Mai Nguyen, the Center for Community Social Impact will measure and expand credit unions’ social impact to help develop a strategic advantage in the communities they serve and become a catalyst for positive community transformation.

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