Press Briefing: Summary of Proceedings

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Press Briefing 


Cooperatives have an important role to play in implementing the
programmes of action of the recent global conferences,
Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable
Development Nitin Desai said this afternoon, at a press briefing
held following a meeting of cooperative representatives at
Headquarters. He said a major purpose of the meeting had been to
see how practical expression could be given to the goal of
involving cooperatives in all aspects of social development, as
set out at the WorldSummit for Social Development in Copenhagen.

The meeting, which Mr. Desai chaired, was organized jointly by
his Department and by the International Co-operative Alliance
(ICA), in advance of the second International Day of
Cooperatives. The Day, to be observed 6 July, will focus on the
contribution of cooperatives to the eradication of poverty. Also
speaking at the briefing were Alliance President Graham John
Melmoth and the Executive Director of the United States Overseas
Cooperative Development Council, Ted Weihe.

The meeting participants had reached three conclusions, Mr.
Melmoth said. First, the Committee for the Advancement and
Promotion of Cooperatives -- made up of the United Nations, the
Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labour
Organisation and four non-governmental organizations -- needed
an action plan. Secondly, the home governments of Alliance
members must be urged to provide more support to the
international cooperative movement. Thirdly, the various
cooperative development agencies around the world must meet to
share information on their activities.

Mr. Melmoth supported the Secretary-General's statement in his
message on the International Day of Cooperatives that the United
Nations and the Alliance shared many common values, as well as
an ethical base. The task now was to make their relationship more
productive and, in particular, to expand the role of the
Committee as a way of following up on the recommendations of the
Rio, Beijing, Copenhagen and Istanbul conferences.

Asked exactly what he wanted the home governments to do, Mr.
Melmoth said they could be encouraged to enact legislation
congenial to cooperatives and to urge the United Nations to
support a plan of action promoting the cause of cooperatives.

In response to a question on the cooperative movement in the
Americas, Mr. Weihe said cooperatives had been able to convince
bilateral agencies to provide technical assistance from one
cooperative movement to another, rather than providing funds from
one government to another. For example, his organization
comprised nine national cooperative organizations which provided
$70 million in development assistance annually. The
movement-to-movement approach worked because the organizations
were successful, self-sustaining, group-owned businesses and were
capable of creating similar cooperatives overseas.

Unfortunately, cooperative organizations had not been able to
encourage the World Bank and other multilateral agencies to
employ the movement-to-movement approach, he said. Instead, those
agencies relied on government-to-government assistance and on
consultants who did not appreciate the particular nature of
cooperatives. Sometimes, the efforts of multilateral agencies and
of the cooperative organizations were at cross purposes. The goal
of involving the Committee and the United Nations was to get
bilateral and multilateral agencies working together on
cooperative development.

What sort of contribution did cooperatives make to the
eradication of poverty? a correspondent asked. Mr. Melmoth said
they provided expertise to enable people to help themselves. "In
the long run, we wish to leave self-sustaining movements."

Asked how such a democratic movement could be initiated in less-
developed countries or in countries that might not welcome it,
Mr. Melmoth said cooperatives did need to be run on democratic
lines. The Alliance had done a lot to advise governments of the
former Soviet bloc on how to convert former State-run
cooperatives into private ones. He welcomed the Chinese
Government's effort in distancing itself from its cooperative

Mr. Desai said it was a fact that successful cooperatives had
already been established in developing countries. For example,
in India, where he came from, there were many successful
cooperatives which delivered support and services to poor people
and helped them to raise themselves out of poverty. This was the
essence of the cooperative movement: not charity, but self-help.
Nevertheless, an enabling framework was required. That was the
reason for United Nations involvement.

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