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 community. 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 peace-building. 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 languages. Humanitarian Assistance The ICA's work in the field of humanitarian assistance has focused on assistance in emergency situations, support of refugees and resettlement programmes. >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 producers. 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 school. 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. Health 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. Women 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 year. 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. Conclusion 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.