The “Action Man” behind the development of the “D.E.”  structure in the UK that was hosted by a credit union association on behalf of the entire movement was Alex Spence I-CUDE.

The cerebral thinker behind the “D.E.” courses held in the UK is Marlene Shiels, OBE, FCIBS (Hon), former Director of the World Council of Credit Unions (the first elected from the UK), Course Director inspiration behind both the Development Educator United Kingdom (D.E.U.K.) (that no longer exists) and the Development Educator Europe (D.E.E.) Course (a truly international one, with outreach similarities to the African, Asian and Caribbean D.E. courses). 

Any graduate statistics that might be forthcoming are a bit sterile if read on their own.  Basically in 15 years, there have been about 450 graduates. Each one should be continuously engaged in inspirational innovative post graduate projects in their mother credit unions, communities and the wider world.  The spirit and ethos of being a “D.E.” is to see societal need and to try to fix it, creating a sub-stream of enthusiasm that pulls others along with them!  Sadly it appears many UK graduates have seen “D.E.” as just a “rite of passage”.

Briefly .....

  • In 2002, Alex Spence approached Barry Epstein with the idea of “D.E.”.  Barry knew nothing of it until then.  Both of them could see many of those elected to office in the UK movement, then as now, were not fit for purpose, lacking both leadership and business skills and there was a need to remedy this.
  • At the time, Barry was Treasurer of a credit union league in Great Britain and Alex, a Co-Director of it.  Alex convinced Barry in a single telephone call to provide funding to set up a dedicated charitable trust to promote “D.E.U.K.”
  • Alex and Marlene were owner-members of the same credit union, Capital Credit Union Ltd. in Edinburgh and were already Credit Union Development Educator (C.U.D.E.) graduates, having attended these courses in the USA in the 1990s.
  • Marlene is a cerebral thinker (and tornado) and, together with others, was Course Director of every D.E.U.K. course from 2004 to 2010.  Alex was the “Pioneer Corps” (heavy lifting) and Administrator of the programmes.
  • Marlene and Alex’s credit union disaffiliated from the host credit union league in 2010 for philosophical and valid trading reasons.
  • Those left behind in that league and its Foundation did nothing with the D.E.U.K. programme for a year; so, not to break the continuity, Marlene, Alex and a colleague, Rod Ashley I-CUDE (from ScotWest, another disaffiliated credit union) set up the D.E.E. programme with the financial assistance and support of Capital Credit Union Ltd, Edinburgh (that had its own charitable trust) the first course being held in Edinburgh in 2011. Two separate DE programmes ran in the UK for 3 years before D.E.U.K. was disbanded.
  • D.E.E. has attracted mentors and attendees from Afghanistan, Africa, Canada, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, Macedonia, Poland, Philippines, Thailand, USA and of course England, Scotland and Wales.  With its own leadership, D.E.E. is totally separate to the ICULD&EF.   


In 2013, it was recognised by some that one credit union could not be asked continuously or morally (using its owner-members resources) to fund the programme or the funding necessary to provide course bursaries.  

This thinking led to the setting up of the International Credit Union Leadership Development & Education Foundation (ICULD&EF) that promotes the “Filene” and “Biden” Awards and funds the “Pell Scholar” bursaries (for credit unionists lacking the finances to attend D.E. courses outside their home course). This charitable company was created using private funds (earned and raised) that did not come from any sources whose commercial activities compete with credit unions or from any league or association that could slant the Foundation’s core objectives of working for the entire movement in the UK and overseas;  click here to find more about its evolution and purpose,

An annual Award Ceremony and Dinner (the UK’s Credit Union “Oscars”) is the major fundraising event.  This is the only major fundraising event, using ticket sales, sponsorship and donations from the private sector only.  The net proceeds after costs are used to provide the Pell Scholarship D.E. bursaries.  Between 2015 and 2018, 22 bursaries were awarded to “Pell Scholars” from 13 countries and four continents, some from countries where Course Directors were endeavouring to establish new co-operative credit union systems.  The Australian Mutuals Foundation (ICULDEF’S strategic partner) and the ICULDEF are the only organisations who engage in this endeavour.

All D.Es undertaking projects in their communities can enter the “Biden” Awards – full details here, as, by doing so, they can inspire other D.Es and will also stretch themselves physically and mentally.  Edward Filene said (among many other things) “Do the best you can today, tomorrow do it better”.    


The Asian Confederation of Credit Unions covering 22 countries in Asia, appointed the Foundation as its Honorary Asian DE Office in London and in 2017, this was raised to “partner organisation”.

Working partner status was conferred on the Foundation by the Caribbean DE programme - covering all nations of the Caribbean and its offshoot CanadaDE; .as well as the Australian Mutuals Foundation - that undertakes work with fragile children and vulnerable young adults in Australia, also conducting similar but far larger endeavours than the Foundation’s in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

In the same year Honorary Membership was awarded to the Foundation by the Filene Institute (USA) the world premier research and insight body for credit union and connected social economy matters, stating this was “to further help advocate and create changes driven by ICULD&EF”.

Having read about the “Filene” and “Biden” Awards in the “Co-operative News”, the Co-operative College (Manchester) approached the Foundation and, recognising the synergy of purpose of the two organisations, entered into a collaborative relationship.