The ICA: A Community of Co-operators

The International Co-operative Alliance: A Community of Co-operators

Founded almost 100 years ago, the International Co-operative Alliance, a
non-governmental organisation, now has a membership which includes 237
national and international co-operative organisations representing over 700
million individuals. The mission of the ICA is to unite, represent and
serve co-operatives worldwide and its priority areas of work are identified
by the co-operatives themselves.

A co-operative is formed to serve its members and to improve their economic
and social wellbeing. However, the work of ICA members benefits whole
communities, contributing in this way to the aims of the United Nations as
set down in its founding Charter. On the occasion of ICA's Centennial, we
would like to stress the role co-operatives play in contributing to the
economic and social development of their members and thereby to the world

Economic and Social Development

Although the economic and social development of their members is the raison
d'etre of all co-operatives, several movements stand out in the impact they
have had on the communities in which they work.

The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), an international organisation
of credit unions and similar co-operative financial institutions, which
assists members to be effective instruments for  the economic and social
development of people and extends co-operative financial services to areas
where there is a demand for them.

The Mondragon Group in the Basque region of Spain is considered by some as
the most important co-operative initiative in the world.  This successful
industrial model, rooted in the community, offers a clear alternative to
both capitalist and socialist models.

Another outstanding model is the Desjardins Movement, a co-op people's
bank, which was started over 80 years ago in Quebec and helped the French
Canadian community to develop economically and socially.  The movement now
has over 4 million members. The Desjardins International Development
Society programmes aim to improve the socio-economic conditions of
individuals in developing countries and put indigenous populations in
control of their own resources.

Peace and Security

The promotion of peace and security is closely linked to the basic concept
of co-operation.  At its first International Congress in 1895, the ICA
stated: "thus our co-operative movement will be found to be ... the most
certain pledge of a future reign of peace amongst nations when co-operation
has reached its full development".

The ICA organised peace rallies from 1948 onwards. It also influenced
decision-makers and governments, contributing to the work of the League of
Nations and then to that of the United Nations. Both organisations made
statements recognising the importance of the co-operative movement in
promoting economic and social development as a prerequisite to

The achievements of the ICA during the Cold War also demonstrated its
propensity as a peace builder.  Despite ideological and political
differences between members, its activities continued due to a commitment
to negotiation and compromise.

On a more individual level, the ICA promotes international understanding
and respect, enabling members to interact with persons from other races,
religions and social backgrounds and work together for common aims, thus
diminishing social tensions and building peaceful communities.

ICA Member organisations have been active in the promotion of peace and
security for many years. For example, the Japanese Consumer Co-operative Union 
(JCCU) has actively campaigned for lasting peace since it was founded in 1951. 
In 1989, it was awarded the title of UN Peace Messenger, in appreciation of its
work. Recently the organisation has been focusing on Japan's reparation for its
aggression in Asia during the Second World War.

Human Rights

Co-operatives have contributed to furthering human rights of all peoples at
the global, regional, national and local levels.  The ICA has set a
priority aim on auto-determination, applying the UN declaration regarding
the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples.  Following the Human
Rights Conference in Latin America, the ICA's Regional Office for Central
America and the Caribbean implemented a specific programme on Human Rights
and Co-operatives. This aims to increase awareness of human rights through
seminars and workshops held in rural communities and run in local

Humanitarian Assistance

The ICA's work in the field of humanitarian assistance has focused on
assistance in emergency situations, support of refugees and resettlement

>From 1934 onwards the ICA established Funds to assist refugees from wartorn
countries. In 1945, the ICA Relief Fund was established to assist in the
recovery and reconstruction in Europe of co-operative activities following
the end of the Second World War.

Assistance was also provided for emergency situations including famine and
natural disasters. Although the ICA no longer establishes appeal or relief
funds which it administers, it does call on members to provide direct
assistance to movements stricken by natural disasters.

One initiative worthy of special mention is the East European Development
Agency (EEDA), a UK development project in Romania is a project which
deserves particular mention.The EEDA is a very small co-operative
organisation operating out of Bodmin Cornwall with the aim of helping
set-up housing co-operatives in the former Eastern block countries.  They
have so far managed to purchase three properties in Romania to provide self
managed co-operative housing for people facing homelessness or a lifetime
of incarceration. There are now twenty permanent residents.

The Bucharest house also doubles as a night shelter for the "sewer
children" who do not even have the rudimentary care provided by an
orphanage.  These youngsters are provided with new clothing, food and a
bath as well as assistance with finding permanent accommodation.

Another example from the  United Kingdom is the Co-operative Bank, which
has as its slogan "profit with principles", refuses to deal with any
regimes (or companies) which are engaged in unethical activities, actively
seeking to support those with a more ethical stance.  On 30 March 1994 the
Co-operative Bank announced plans to send 5p per UK=A3100 spent on VISA to
charities, thus generating UK 3500,000 pounds per year.

Environment and Sustainable Development

The United Nations Agenda 21 notes that, "...The greater the degree of
community control over the resources on which it relies, the greater will
be the incentive for economic and human resource development". 4
Co-operatives, as people's organisations, are therefore, ideally placed to
implement activities dealing with the protection of the environment as well
as with sustainable development questions.

In October 1992, the ICA Congress adopted a Declaration on the Environment
and Sustainable Development which reaffirms co-operatives' commitment to
action in promoting sustainable development practices. It is also planned
that a Co-operative Agenda 21 will be adopted at the ICA Centennial
Congress in 1995.

Many ICA members have been implementing environmental policies and
practices long before the environment became the hot issue it now is.
Examples include the Japanese Consumer Co-operative Union (JCCU), which has
been promoting environment awareness since 1960s through the development of
alternative, environment-friendly products and the promotion of consumer
awareness. JCCU action programmes include environment checks on air and
water, and the publishing of green consumer guides.  Since 1992, the
Japanese National Federation of Workers and Consumers Insurance
Co-operatives (Zenrosai) has donated all but 1% of business surplus (100
million Yen) to grassroots voluntary groups working on environment and
Japan's aging society.

Another Asian example is the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-operative Limited
(IFFCO), Asia's largest fertiliser co-operative, with 30,000 members.  It
aims to generate income for the rural population, whilst trying to maintain
an ecological balance.  It has instigated an afforestation programme, and
subsidiary activities include a fish farm and dairy.

In the United Kingdom, the Co-operative Insurance Society's mutual
environmental unit trust, ENVIRON, has invested over UK 30 millions in
companies involved in improving the environment, promoting environmental
awareness or using exceptionally environment-friendly methods.

Food Security

Almost one quarter of ICA's individual members work in the agriculture and
fisheries sectors.  The contribution to food security and sustainable
production practices is considerable and concerns all geographical regions
of the world.

The ICA regional offices run education and training programmes aimed at
increasing the technical and financial capacity of agricultural
co-operatives in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The ICA also has
specialised bodies (the International Co-operative Agricultural
Organisation and the International Co-operative Fisheries Organisation)
which have organised training activities, contributed to policy dialogues
on major international agricultural and fishery policies and programmes and
provided technical advice to co-operatives in both developing countries and
new emerging democracies.

The Land O'Lakes Co-operative (USA) was formed in 1921 by a small group of
Minnesota dairy farmers;  today it is owned by over 300,000 farmers.  Sales
total $2.5 billion per year.  They process and market over 600 food
products, manufacture and market a full line of agricultural products and
provide crop and livestock assistance.  The co-operative also has a 500
acre research farm.

Since 1981, the co-op has transferred expertise to  customers all over the
world.  In developing countries, this work is carried out in co-operation
with USAID, the World Bank, and private voluntary organisations.  130
voluntary agribusiness experts have recently  been sent by Land O'Lakes for
a 3-year period to Russia, the Ukraine, other countries in Eastern and
Central Europe and the Cameroon to provided training in agricultural
methods. Programmes in Latvia and Albania include working with women

Human Settlement

Co-operatives have helped to meet the housing needs of their members,
primarily by providing low-cost adequate shelter.  Through its Specialised
Organisation for Housing Co-operatives, the ICA has contributed to the
advancement of housing co-operatives in developing countries and in the new
and emerging democracies, providing technical assistance, information and
advice to housing co-operatives worldwide and encouraging exchanges of
personnel so that housing co-operative movements can learn from each other.

One of the main concerns in Europe today is coping with an aging population
reluctant to exile themselves to 'old people's homes', which can represent
in their eyes the loss of autonomy and dignity. Co-operative schemes
attempt to meet the physical and social needs of the aged, thus enabling
them to remain independent for as long as possible.  Sweden actually has
the largest proportion of elderly inhabitants in the world, about 18%.
The Union of Housing Co-operatives (HSB Sweden), set up 70 years ago,  is
involved in work including the promotion of environment-friendly practices,
the encouragement of good neighbourly attitudes, the provision of communal
meeting places, help with the establishment of parent-run play centres,
health facilities and home visits by welfare or health professionals etc.

The Co-operative Housing Foundation (Egypt) runs what is probably the
largest housing project in the Third World, and was co-financed by USAID
and the Egyptian Government.  New houses were built for 100,000 people in
the industrialised area of Helwan, just north of Cairo, and slum areas were
upgraded, providing homes for 75,000 more.  Today, the community is
thriving, and boasts its own brick factory, operational bank, national
savings and loan programme.

Another remarkable example of how co-operatives can help combat the problem
of homelessness is provided by DESWOS, the German Development Aid for
Social Housing and Settlement. DESWOS was founded in 1969 by non-profit
making housing associations with the main aim of improving living
conditions in developing countries through international inter-co-operative
solidarity.    Projects which include the construction of new homes, and
the provision of education in agriculture, alternative technology such as
bio gas and health care exist in many countries including Burundi, Chile,
Song-Lipem, Nicaragua, Malawi, India, Mozambique, Tanzania, Somalia,
Ethiopia, and Nepal.

Education and Youth

One of the co-operative principles is the provision of education and
training.  Although this focuses primarily on the education relating to
co-operative management and professional training, a large number of
co-operatives have expanded this to include basic education.  Consumer
co-operative movements have been particularly active in providing education
on nutrition, environment and health.

In addition to the activities implemented by the regional offices, ICA has
also established a specialised body, the International Committee for
Training and Education of Co-operators (INCOTEC) which provides advice to
the ICA regional offices and assists member organisations in increasing the
effectiveness of their training programmes, especially with regard to
teaching materials, and facilitates international co-operation in the
education field by organising study trips, exchange visits, etc.

Members of co-operatives have also established co-operative schools, which
provide education in its largest sense --culture, physical and mental
health, literacy and employment.

Finally, the ICA has provided professional education and training to young
journalists through its Workshop for Young Journalists.  The second
workshop is scheduled for 1995.

The education of the younger generation is a particular priority of the
World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). Credit Unions in the United States
apply the credit union philosophy of "people helping people" to the lives
of young people by educating them to become regular savers, responsible
borrowers and wise consumers.  Under the guidance of helpful adults, youths
aged 7-24 years, serve on the boards of directors of young people's credit
unions and serve as volunteers or paid tellers, managers and officers.

Educational Co-operatives are more common in developing countries than in
the industrialised world, and indeed, play a more important social role.
In Zoungbonou, Benin, the local population organised a school co-operative
comprising 27 pupils between the ages of 7 and 13, one director and two
young teachers.  This had a profound impact on the community, resulting in
an increased rice yield, the profit from which was used to obtain a new
supply of spades and other utensils with which to build additions to the

The ICA has worked towards the well-being and protection of children by
promoting income-generating activities through co-operatives and the
provision of services. For example, co-operative day care centres provide
high quality, low cost child care to families throughout the world,
particularly in Asia and North America.

Furthermore, children themselves have been able to form school
co-operatives. These are run by their members with guidance from teachers.
School co-operatives providing access to low-cost school books and supplies
are found in Europe, North and South America. Others, which are geared
towards small-scale agricultural production having a strong training
component, can be found in Asia and Africa.  These co-operatives
initiatives have contributed to the well-being of children in their
respective areas of operation.

In 1984, the JCCU (Japan) initiated a nationwide fund raising campaign for
UNICEF, and has since contributed over 200 million yen each year.


Poor State healthcare provision has lead to the formation of an
ever-increasing number of medical co-operatives in several countries
worldwide. The sector is considering starting their own specialised
organisations within the ICA structure.

In Japan, JCCU medical co-ops run full-time hospitals and community
clinics, and emphasise the importance of preventive medicine.

One original approach has been the creation of medical "Hans".   Neighbours
join together in groups (Hans) of 10 or so, and hold regular meetings to
discuss health issues and perform routine medical checks.

Another example is UNIMED, a national health co-operative set up in Brazil
in 1990.  It is already 14th amongst hundreds of health care companies,
with an annual turnover of US$ 5.5 million, and employs over 60,000 doctors
(about a third of the country's professionals) in over 3,000 cities.

In 1986, the ICA Women's Committee collaborated with the UNICEF world-wide
Immunisation Campaign to ensure the immunisation of children against
smallpox, polio, etc.


The ICA has contributed to the advancement of women throughout its
existence.  A number of the leading personalities in the history of the ICA
were women who not only furthered the aims of co-operation, but also tried
to improve the status of women in general.

In 1921, the ICA Women's Guild was established to promote the participation
of women in co-operatives.  The Guild urged the League of Nations to
recommend a revision of the unsatisfactory provisions regarding the
nationality of married women in the Hague Convention on the Codification of
International Law.  Later in 1931, it was amongst those "invited by the
Secretary-General of the League of Nations to express views on the
question" concerning the collaboration of women in the League of Nations.6
As recently as September 1993, the ICA membership reaffirmed its commitment
to increasing and improving the participation of women in co-operatives by
approving the ICA Policy on Women in Development.

ICA development programmes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have also
identified women and gender programmes as priority areas of work.  Gender
Advisors have been recruited to implement programmes and ensure that the
gender perspective is included in all ICA programmes.

In Asia the Asian Women's Co-operative Foundation (AWCF) runs seminars,
training and solidarity action within the community.  Other projects
include running workshops aimed at promoting social protection for
homeworkers in Indonesia, where the majority of homeworkers are women.

In Japan, the "Seikatsu Club" Consumers' Co-operative in Japan is a women's
co-operative, pioneering ecologically responsible life styles and a
commercial system transformation in Japan using environmental ethics.
Membership totals 170,000, of whom 90% are women.  Indeed, women hold the
majority of seats on the board.  When the club cannot find products that
meet its standards for quality, it starts its own businesses. It also
encourages political action: 33 club members were elected to municipal
office with the campaign slogan: Political reform from the kitchen.

In Sweden, the Folksam Insurance Group (Sweden) is a co-operative insurance
company which has elected to become an equal opportunity employer, and has
done much over the years to boost women's confidence and encourage them to
assume responsibilities.  In 1992, Folksam was awarded first prize for
Equal Opportunity employer by both the magazine Veckans Affarer and by the
Equal Opportunity Ombudsman.  Folksam has also issued several publications
confronting gender issues, including two recent books produced in close
collaboration with the Swedish Organisation of Emergency Shelters for
Battered Women (ROKS), and is the prime supporter of the large conference
'Women's health and futures' to be held in Stockholm this year.

Cultural Development

The co-operative principles encourage ICA individuals to come together
regardless of race, creed or colour to solve problems in a democratic forum
which respects different cultures. Many indigenous communities, especially
in Asia and Latin America, have adopted the co-operative form of economic
and social organisation since it inherently respects differing cultures.
Examples of how co-operatives have brought people of different national and
ethnic backgrounds together to work for a common aim are numerous and are
found in all parts of the world.

Co-operatives themselves also organise social and cultural activities for
their members and the community in which they operate.  These promote
understanding and respect for other cultures.

Finally, the ICA has recognised that it works both directly and indirectly
towards the the realisation of the objectives of the United Nations World
Decade for Cultural Development which it acknowledged to UNESCO.

One example of co-operatives' work in this area is the creation in 1992 of
la Fondation du Credit Mutuel pour la Lecture by Cr=E9dit Mutuel (France).
The foundation finances and supports magazines and courses designed to
encourage the enjoyment of reading and combat illiteracy.  Activities
include workshops on reading and writing and the development of 85 'road
libraries', manned by voluntary staff, who read to  some 4,000 children per

The Gesamtverband der Wohnungswirtschaft e.V.(GdW) in Germany endeavours to
promote social and racial harmony.  A good example is the housing co-op in
Mannheim where inhabitants have taken over responsibility for the
administration and upkeep of their 400-or-so social dwellings, encouraging
personal contribution to the community and social activities.  They boost
multi cultural respect by furthering local understanding of immigrant
culture and simultaneously encouraging immigrant integration to the German
life and attitudes.


This brief synopsis of co-operative activities aims to show that the
International Co-operative Alliance and its membership have  made a major
and multi-sectoral contribution to assuring the economic and social
well-being of almost 45 per cent of the world's population which today
comprises the co-operative movement.  Throughout its history, the ICA has
sought to promote equitable values in every aspect of the development of
human society. The past and current achievements of the co-operative
movement are indeed impressive but the organisation is looking ahead to see
how it can further contribute to improving the quality of life of peoples
around the world.