Cooperative Federal's Board of Directors has announced that, as of October 15, 2019, long time staff member Christina Sauve will be appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). As successor to our founding CEO, Ron Ehrenreich, Christina is only the second person to hold the title of CEO in our credit union's 37-year history. Get to know more about this remarkable leader!
From First Generation College Student, to CEO
Christina Sauve was born and raised locally, attending public school in Syracuse’s Near West Side and Solvay and graduating as valedictorian of her high school class. A first-generation college student, she graduated with honors from California’s prestigious Stanford University in 2003 and returned home to begin her career.
She first joined Cooperative Federal’s staff in 2005, working as Executive Assistant, Community Development Coordinator, and Assistant Treasurer before becoming COO. Christina has also served on local nonprofit boards including Home HeadQuarters (2014 - present) and Syracuse Community Connections (2011-2017).
Christina enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband and son, and having frequent family get-togethers. In her spare time, Christina is continuing to learn kanien’kéha (Mohawk language), which she started learning alongside her brother twenty years ago at the American Indian Center that was just a few doors down from the current Coop Fed office on N Salina St.
Q&A with Christina
Q: Why did you decide to come home to Syracuse after college?
After college, I returned to Syracuse, uncertain of my future career plans but sure that I wanted to spend time with my sister, who was born just a few months before I left for Stanford. I expected to stay only for a couple of years before returning to the Bay Area. I had this misguided sense that to really make something of myself, I had to leave and that returning home had been a step backward. I’m glad I was drawn home – I was here at important times for my family, and within two years I had started dating my now-husband, and I found my calling at Cooperative Federal.
Q: Before Coop Fed, your academic and professional background was in cultural psychology and education. What made you answer the ad for an administrative position at a credit union?
Most people expect if you work in a credit union, you studied finance or business. I went about it the other way – I was drawn to using finance as a tool to work for social justice. All of my college experiences raised questions about inequality, the social construct of race, and how our systems produced and reproduced inequality.
I also worked at least one, often two, jobs while taking classes in college. One of those jobs was as a Tutor Coordinator for a reading program at Costaño and Chavez elementary schools in East Palo Alto. The visible divide between the low income and largely Black & Latino community of East Palo Alto, and the multimillion dollar homes in predominantly white Palo Alto, was striking. By my fourth year as a reading tutor it also started to become apparent that being smart, dedicated and caring college students didn’t actually prepare us to best teach and coach the students we worked with. I felt they deserved more frankly – and the ride back through Palo Alto, seeing wealthy and better equipped schools on the way – made me really question how our education system works.
So, while my cohort was preparing for investment banker jobs, I decided to pursue work in education. When I saw Cooperative Federal’s ad for “activists posing as bankers,” I felt it was another way to dismantle systems of inequality.
Q: What is the most important or surprising lesson you've learned from working at Coop Fed?
I can’t point to one single most important lesson, but I do have to recognize with incredible gratitude our founder and outgoing CEO Ron Ehrenreich for his longtime mentorship. Ron has not only mentored me but many other staff members, and has selflessly worked to bring up future generations of leadership. His dedication to the credit union as a movement of people taking control of their lives and building the community they want for themselves and their neighbors – that vision has inspired those us on staff, our volunteers, and our members alike.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Working with passionate, hardworking people that are dedicated to our mission. One thing really important to me when coming home was to work in a multicultural environment, and I love listening to different languages in our lobbies and hearing my coworkers greet people in their own language. I also love that the people I work with aren’t afraid to suggest and develop new ways to continually do a better job of meeting our mission.
Q: Tell us about one part of Coop Fed's legacy that you most want to carry forward -- and one change that you want to see.
In the coming years, I would love to carry forward our experiential approach to financial education for youth. We have operated In-School Credit Union branches in Syracuse City high schools for ten years to provide high-quality, objective and effective financial advice and support for students at a point in their lives when they are faced with major decisions with significant financial impact, and who may not have the opportunity to get financial advice anywhere else. We have hired former students from the youth credit union and financial education program as credit union staff members, and I am excited about our work to integrate our program into career and technical education tracks and internships, and better support the great work that the teachers and Syracuse City School District are doing.
To me, our youth program is somewhat like a natural extension of the Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center - free professional financial counseling for City residents recently launched by the City of Syracuse and nonprofit partners. We are working to prepare our youth with the information they need to avoid financial traps and pitfalls, and make wise decisions for themselves.
As for a change I’d like to see: I often hear members say that Cooperative Federal is like a well-kept secret. I think we are often so busy working hard at our jobs, taking care of credit union members and problem-solving, that we often forget to take time to talk about the wonderful work we do and all the services that we have. We also want to better recognize the dedicated staff who make this all happen! We’ve started featuring a staff member on social media and our newsletter recently, as a step in that direction.