Message from the Swedish Co-operative Centre (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
April, 1997
(Source: Swedish Co-operative Centre)

Message from Mr. Lars Hillbom, Int'l Relationship and Media
Director, Swedish Co-operative Centre (SCC)

Fellow cooperators, dear friends.

I'll try to do my best in a short while to introduce to you the
organization that in Sweden is called Swedish Cooperative 
Center, and that you can see in the middle we are the financial 
supporters of this Conference, and I'm the Chairman of the Board
of the Swedish Cooperative Center.

The Swedish Cooperative Center was founded back in 1958 by
cooperators in Sweden, by the consumer cooperative movement 
that I have my daily work in, the Swedish farmers, very strong 
cooperative movement among the Swedish  farmers, they own all 
their diaries, almost all slaughter houses and so on, the housing 
cooperatives, we also have a cooperative union of oil  cooperatives, 
consumer guilds, and insurance group.  So, all the cooperative 
organizations that are working in Sweden decided, back in 1958,
that together we [would] try to help people in developing countries 
by helping them to get stronger cooperative movements in other countries. 
So, this organization, SCC as it's called in English, is just working 
with people and organizations in the Third World.  We are not from 
this organization working with development of, for example, Central 
Eastern Europe.  Our world, where we are working, is Africa, Asia 
and the Americas.  

This is our mission.  I mean, from what cooperators in Sweden have 
learned through history.  We have learned that strong cooperatives can
lead to sustainable development.  We give high priority [to] sustainable 
economic development, democratization, environmental aspects and social
development. We have our resources, I can tell you.  Where do we get our 
economic resources from?  We get it from the members in these organizations.

Although we are just about 9 million people living in Sweden, those
cooperative organizations count about 6 million members.  So most Swedes 
are members of one or two or three cooperative organizations.  And we try 
to raise money among these members.  I could see it out here at the stands,
that, for example, we go out and say, "The Swedish Cooperative Center helps
cooperatives in Guatemala."  So we try to get these members to collect
money, to take away money from their salaries, to give money at holidays
like Christmas and so on.  Of course, we also hope that people give money
every month, and we work a lot inside the SCC organization to get a record
of members who are giving money regularly, and, of course, we all try to get
more members to give money, and to get those members who give to give more
money.  We collect that money among the members, and then we go to the
Swedish government, and just like the Canadian friend says here, the Swedish
government finds it is a very good way to support development in developing
countries by giving money to this organization. 

Movement to movement assistance, that's more and more a movement to movement
instead of government to government.  So, [for] every Swedish crown that we
collect among the members, the Swedish government puts in another four ones.
So we operate by money that we have collected among the members, and
governmental money.

But, of course, the resources don't allow us to operate everywhere,
and you see in Asia we are just working in Sri Lanka.  Most projects we
have are in East and South East of Africa, and in Central America.  Just 
one country in Southern America, that's in Uruguay.  We hope, I should
guess that maybe in one or two years, [to be] in Vietnam.  I hope we can 
do much more in South Africa, because we and the Swedish government 
really believe in cooperatives as a way, also, in the democratic development
in a country.  And, if you have been to South Africa, it's very obvious that
as soon as possible Nelson Mandela has got to have economic development in
the country, and we look for what can we do as cooperatives to assist such a
process in South Africa.

Middle East, is there anything that cooperatives can do to support the
peace process in the Middle East?  I know that there is great hope from
politicians in Israel, and among the Palestinian politicians, asking what
can cooperatives do on the Gaza strip, what can cooperatives do on the West
Bank to support their peace process.  So I hope we can do more in South
Africa, I hope we can do something in the Middle East, and I hope we can do
more in other countries in Latin America than just Uruguay.

Some words about our identity.  Of course, we go back to the member
organizations in Sweden and see in what fields are we, and I told you we are
in consumer cooperatives, farmers cooperatives, insurance cooperatives, and
so on.  And it's very important to have projects that members can very
closely identify themselves with.  That's very important when we try to
raise money among the members, to talk about, for example, the very good
consumer cooperative project that we run in Costa Rica.  It's very easy and
it's very important to get Swedish consumer cooperative members to give away
of their own money if we can point at good examples, and, for example, at
this consumer cooperative project that we run in Costa Rica.  And I already
talked about fund raising campaign.  From the 1st of January, 1995, Sweden,
like Finland, like Austria, become new members of the European union.  And,
of course, for example, in Sweden we pay about 20 billion Swedish crowns as
an entrance ticket to the European union, that is about more than 3 billion
U.S. dollars.  And, of course, the Swedish government today also tells us to
go to Brussels, to try to get some of the enormous money that they actually
have in Brussels for development projects in the Third World.  So we go to
Brussels now with an expert from our organizations, and see from what
programs in Brussels can we also collect money to support cooperative
development in Americas and so on.

We are just on the road to start a small project in Cuba, you talked about
Cuba, and Manuel Marino who is sitting here, and if you want to talk more
about details about the Swedish Cooperative Center and what we do in the
Americas, Manuel Marino is responsible in the Swedish Cooperative Center for
this part of the world.  He has now got the board of Swedish Cooperative
Center to say yes to his proposal that we start up a project in Cuba
together with a Spanish organization.  So we hope for more money from
Brussels too.

A changing world requires renewal of development collaboration.  I heard
that  before we had the coffee break, and of course very much has happened
all over the world through the last years, for example, very much in Africa.
Political reforms, more of democracy, economic reform programs, structural
adjustments and so on.  And that means that cooperatives in many parts of
the world, specially in Africa, have to change now from a situation where
they used to be, were forced to be the long arm of a government.  Now they
meet more of private competitors and they have to change the way they are
working, otherwise they will be like the dinosaurs that I see out here, they
will be dead if they don't change in time.  So, we put much effort on
business efficiency, that's what they have to do to survive and to still be
in the market.  In consequence with that, the Swedish Cooperative Center has
reviewed and revised our guideline for development collaboration, and I can
tell you that, when you do that we can't just sit in the boardroom in
Stockholm and say in what way shall we change our program.  We have to do
that together with the organizations that we work together with.  So we had
one discussion in the board, and then we took some experts from the
countries where we are working, Pacheco from this region was there in
Stockholm, Vivian Vargas from this region, Charles Kabuga from Uganda,
Africa, Upali Herath from the office that ICA has got in New Delhi, to pick
up some people from the organizations that we work together with and hear
their view of our thinking, and after that discussion it came back to the
board and a couple of weeks ago we have decided to change a little bit the
ways we are working.

Overall objective, I already mentioned it.  Economic development, important
part at democracy process, that, for example, being the case in many Central
American countries, ecologically, socially, that is to say, sustainable
human development.  The groups that we work together with, existing and
potential members of cooperative organizations, it can also be members of
more informal groups.  We try to give assistance directly to come closer to
the members, to get more women involved, at all levels, and by doing so we
get very much help from the Swedish government, they ask us that in all new
proposals that we put up, to answer the question: In what way will this
program assist the women in Guatemala and Honduras.

Bring youth into cooperative organizations: very important.  We had
a youth seminar when we had our centennial ICA congress in Manchester 
in late September.  There was a youth seminar with I think it was around 
60 young cooperators from all parts of the world, and they made a very
good work, good program, good impression.  When they presented what 
they had been doing during the week they said: Youth are not cooperators for
the future, we are here today, we are members today, don't forget that.

We are short of time, I will finish up very quickly now.  Of course, it
must be based on needs in developing countries.  I am talking about the
correspondence to the member organizations in Sweden, grass root
orientation, it's very useless to support and build up central organization
that the members in the organization get no use of, never hear of.  Help to
self help.  Partner organizations responsible for and in charge of
implementation, that's very important.  We are not coming from our Nordic
country and show and tell and force how to do it.  We are partners in this
process of building strong cooperatives in the places where we  are working.

Just give a quick picture of what we do in this region, this part of the
world.  I talked about these consumer cooperatives in Costa Rica.  
This is Costa Rica.  We started the consumer cooperative project in 
Costa Rica in the mid-eighties.  We are helping them to construct a
warehouse,  it should be the heart in the wholesale system of consumer
goods.  Now they are really successful themselves.  The societies are using
this wholesale machine, so to say, and it works out very well.  I mean, in
that case we can withdraw to take away our assistance, I mean, that's the
utmost goal with the way that we are working.  If the consumer cooperatives
in Costa Rica run by themselves we leave Costa Rica and go somewhere else.
El Salvador, we work with consumer cooperatives, we work with farmer
cooperatives, cooperative credit.  We are also working in Guatemala,
Honduras, Nicaragua, and as I said, some projects in Uruguay. 
I'll stop there and prepare to answer questions.