************************* WORLD OVERVIEW ************************* ***Austria*** Konsum-Migros Partnership under Review According to press reports, the Swiss consumer co-operative Migros is studying the possibility of increasing its 25 percent ownership of the Konsum consumer co-operative network in Austria. According to Migros officials, the "reconstruction" of Konsum will require three to five years. The 1994 losses of Konsum are reported to be 160 million Swiss francs, and the chain is under pressure from its bankers to sell some of its assets. (Hebdo, January 1995; Journal de Geneve, January 1995) STOP PRESS: According to latest information received Migros has withdrawn its offer to buy shares in Konsom. ***Canada*** The Conseil Canadien de la Cooperation (CCC) agreed at its Annual General Meeting to invite the International Co-operative Alliance to meet in Canada in the year 2000 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Desjardins movement. ***Cyprus*** Co-op Blood Last year the Pancyprian Co-operative Federation of Nicosia, Cyprus, celebrated the 72nd International Co-operative Day by organising a blood donation activity, inviting all co- operative members and colleagues to participate. The event was held at the Blood Banks of General Hospitals in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca and Paphos, where more than 150 co-operative members including Manolis Christofides, the Minister of Health and Erotokritos Chlorakiotis, the Registrar for Co-operative Societies and Co-operative Development, participated. The event was covered by the local media. The committee of the Pancyprian Confederation has decided to repeat the blood donation activity every year to celebrate International Co-operative Day, which is an initiative which other movements may like to emulate. (Source:Pancyprian Co-operative Federation of Nicosia, Cyprus) ***Egypt*** Help Sought by Egyptian Movement In response to the massive flooding in upper rural Egypt, CACU. is appealing through ICA for aid in cash or kind and contributions. As a result of the severe flooding, farmers lost US$ 1.7 billion, 50,000 acres of arable land were destroyed, and 13,500 farmer's houses were demolished. A fund-raising campaign has been suggested in order to respond to these tremendous losses. Donations should be sent to M. Idris, President of CACU, Fax: 303 360 8256. (Source: CACU, Egypt) ***Finland*** SOK Honours the Rochdale Pioneers SOK held a Seminar at its headquarters on 13 December last year to honour the 150th Anniversary of the Rochdale Pioneers. Esko Aho, Prime Minister of Finland expressed greetings from the Finnish government. He spoke of Finland's need to incorporate the morals and spirit of the Rochdale pioneers especially in light of Finland's present economic situation. He referred to the Rochdale Pioneer's main operating principles printed on each side of the front door of the Rochdale store stating its Objectives as the improvement of the social and economic situation of members through cash trading only. The Pioneers wanted to urge people to help themselves through mutual aid, he said, an essential condition of this was to get rid of the disastrous debt trading. This was a message for those who were worried about the future of their welfare state. A welfare state must continue to work for social equality, he stressed, but through the principles of self help and entrepreneurship. Ivano Barberini from ANCC (National Cooperative Association of Consumers), Italy, was also represented at the Seminar. (Source: SOK, Finland, January 1995) ***Gaza*** Housing Loans to Be Offered The Co-operative Housing Federation (CHF) has initiated a home improvement loan programme in Gaza. The programme will help address the overcrowded and substandard housing conditions existing outside of the refugee camps in the formerly occupied territory. The physical, social, and economic infrastructure in Gaza is currently deteriorated, and the institutional capacity to meet the demand for new and upgraded housing units is sorely lacking. Previous political and financial constraints resulted in limitations on improving homes in Gaza. Now, with political barriers removed, the region is poised to develop a thriving home improvement and new home construction industry in open financial and real estate markets. The US Agency for International Development is investing five million dollars over a two-year period for a home improvement loan program designed by CHF. Under the program, eligible low-income families will obtain loans to upgrade or expand their living quarters. CHF will implement the programme in collaboration with the Bank of Palestine and the Palestinian Housing Council. It is hoped that the pioneering home improvement loan program will pave the way for future investments in Gaza's housing sector and in the human resources required to administer lending programs such as this one. It is designed with an option to continue for a third and fourth year and to expand to meet the needs of residents of the West Bank as well. (Source: Alicia J. George, Co-operative Housing Foundation) ***Iceland*** Samband's Settlement Receives Approval On September 6th of last year, the District Court of Reykjavik gave its final approval to Samband's negotiated settlement with its creditors. For the last five to six years, Samband has been engaged in a massive sale of assets, in order to pay debts. At the time of settlement, just over 97% of the debts had been paid, based on the historical high of 13.7 billion IKK in Dec. 1988. "It is a matter of great relief that Samband will not go into liquidation. We shall have full control over all our records, some of which are of great historical value. And there is no reason why Samband should not continue to be the national federation of Icelandic co-operatives as it has been for over 90 years. Samband will not be engaged in any trading or business activities as these have been transferred to a number of joint stock companies," according to Sigurdur Markusson, Chairman of Samband of Iceland. (Source: Sambank Islenskra Samvinnufelaga) ***Italy*** The President of the Italian Lega Nazionale delle Cooperative e Mutue and member of the ICA Board, Mr. Giancarlo Pasquini, has informed the Alliance about attacks suffered by the Italian co-operative movement under the Berlusconi government during 1994. The former Italian government wanted to impose general taxation laws on the co-operatives, in some cases retroactively including taxes on the indivisible undistributed reserves and the capital from the loans which the members make to their societies. The government refuses to take into account the particular characteristics and nature of co-operative enterprises and the constraints imposed on their investments and capital formation. The LEGA hopes to improve their relationship with the technocrats headed by Dini. (Source: Lega Cooperatione) ***Japan*** Credit Unions Rescued by Bank of Japan The Bank of Japan, Sumitomo Bank, and the National Federation of Credit Co-operatives have set up a special bank to rescue two Tokyo-based credit unions which experienced severe difficulties due to non-performing loans. The three partners will capitalise the new bank, which is expected to be joined by other private banks in the future. (Japan Times, 14 January 1995) First "Rochdale Club" Opened in Osaka Osaka-Izumi Consumer Co-operative society established the first Rochdale Club in 1987. The club is located in one of the buildings of the co-operative society. There are rooms open to members for their cultural and social activities. Apart from using these facilities for such events as concerts, seminars etc., members may also rent the space for parties. Mr. Nishi, Vice-President of Osaka-Izumi Co-operative, invites worldwide co-operatives to start their own Rochdale Clubs. He introduced the idea at the ICA Regional Assembly for Europe in October 1994, as part of a campaign for an international network of Rochdale Clubs, an idea released 150 years after the Rochdale Pioneers started their activities. The Co-operative Societies in Prague have already decided to start their own Rochdale Club and other ICA members have expressed an interest. For more information please contact Mr. Nishi, Osaka-Izumi, fax no. (81-722) 325074. (Source: Mats Ahnlund, Co-op Network, March 1995) ***North Korea*** State Control over Co-operatives In a letter addressed to the National Conference of Agriculture in February, 1994, Mr. Kim Il Sung, the new leader of North Korea, announced the objective of transforming the property owned by agricultural co-operatives into collectively-owned people's property. Co-operative farms are to be transformed into state farms, based on the district level and amalgamated where necessary in order to increase their efficiency. This transformation will be carried out progressively, according to the letter, in view of its historic role in providing a 'definitive' solution to the rural question. ***Russia*** Credit union movement in Russia Within the past two years, 23 credit unions have been registered in Russia, serving more than 15,000 members. One of the first steps toward starting a credit union movement was the creation of the Russian Committee for Credit Union Development (RCCUD) in early 1992. During January 1994, this group of Russians met with WOCCU officials to review RCCUD's 1993 accomplishments and the 1994 work plan, and subsequently made several decisions, termed the Chelyabinsk Initiatives. Among these initiatives were to create five to seven regional training centres and to apply for associate membership within the World Council. Another crucial objective for RCCUD is to get credit union legislation passed in Moscow. Although two regions had already legally approved credit union operations, the new Russian government wants that all laws must be passed in Moscow and not through a provincial government. World Council's members in Australia, Ireland and the US, including insurance companies of the latter two countries, have provided assistance to the Russian movement. ***Slovakia*** 150 Years of Co-operation The Slovakian co-operative movement celebrated its 150th anniversary on 8 February 1995 with a seminar in the village of Sobotiste, where one of the European continent's first agricultural credit co-operatives was established less than two months after the founding of the Rochdale pioneers' consumer co-operative in England. The Co-operative Union of Slovakia and the Union of Consumer Co-operatives, in collaboration with EUROCOOP, also organised a seminar on the role of co-operatives as consumer organisations, which was attended by Members of Parliament from the European Union, Britain, and Slovakia, as well as co-operative leaders from Eastern and Central European countries. The various activities generated considerable national media exposure for the Slovakian co-operatives, which have now completed their transformation process and are maintaining a significant economic presence in the consumer, industrial, agricultural, and housing sectors. ***South Africa*** Southern Africa Comes Defines Strategy Grassroots credit union development has become important in Africa within the last two years. To ensure they are on the right track, some 30 credit union leaders from nine southern African countries met in Swaziland last November. During a seminar sponsored by the Canadian Co-operative Association, participants learned more about Plan Africa 2000, the programme designed to strengthen local credit unions, and discussed a planning process for each country that was present. According to World Council Africa Regional manager, Rowland Thurlow, "The World Council's role at the workshop was to help determine and measure the awareness, acceptance and impact of Plan Africa 2000." The World Council, along with International Co-operative Alliance and Co-operation for Development, served as observers. Participants agreed to put into effect Plan Africa 2000's three major objectives of safety and soundness, institutional strengthening, and product and services development at the local and national levels. They also supported setting dividend and interest rates at market levels. During the next few months, participating countries will begin implementing their country- specific action plans with monitoring and support from ACCOSCA, the African Confederation. (Source: WOCCU) ***Spain*** Mondragon Targets Central-European Market The Mondragon Group's division for electronic and household appliances, in collaboration with seven of its industrial co-operatives, has established a company, based in the Czech Republic, to serve as a base for its commercial activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The Mondragon Co-operative Corporation, which currently realises 65 percent of its sales from exports, also has offices in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, U.K., and Hong Kong. ***Sweden*** European Youth Parliament for Environment The Natural Step Foundation is organising a European Youth Parliament for the Environment with the support of the Committee for the Environment in the European Parliament. The Foundation, which has several Swedish Co-o-operative Federations as founding members, wishes to collaborate with co-operative organisations and other companies who can include this activity in their own environmental strategies in their respective countries. The Natural Step Foundation in Sweden is an environmental organisation which has met with outstanding success. It was started six years ago by leading cancer specialist, Prof. Karl- Henrik Robert, who enlisted the assistance of a large group of scientists from different disciplines. The network of scientists has assisted in the production of educational material for a nation-wide campaign, produced several consensus documents on various subjects, and produced an encyclopaedia on environment, which is a supplement issue to the Swedish encyclopaedia, which is under production. (Source: The Natural Step) ***United Kingdom*** A Brighter Future Dawns for Stanford Hall The British Co-operative Union has appointed a new Board of Management to direct the activities of the Co-operative College at Stanford Hall in the English Midlands, following a major independent review of education provision for co-operators. Staff at the College have been reassured by the new Board that necessary action is being taken to deal with recent financial problems, and implementation of an earlier decision to put the Stanford Hall buildings and estate on the market and possibly relocate the College has been deferred. "The future of Co-operative Education and the role of the Co-operative College was never in doubt," commented Lloyd Wilkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Co-operative Union. "Now a business plan is being developed to secure new markets, and the recent award of Government contracts for the use of Stanford Hall should assist the recovery process." Courses for overseas students will continue to be provided at Stanford Hall and plans are being drawn up for an expansion programme directed towards the improvement of training programmes and facilities. Stanford Hall is a converted country mansion situated in beautiful parkland, and it was acquired for the Co-operative Movement in 1944 as part of the centenary celebrations of the Rochdale Pioneers. Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Houlton, Chief Education Officer and College Principal, has taken early retirement and his deputy, Mr. Robert Wildgust, has taken on his responsibilities in an acting capacity. (Source: Co-op Union, March 1995) Take Over by CRS The Co-operative Retail Society (CRS) has taken over 101 Lo-Cost stores, in a move to arrest the continuing decline of the Co-operative Movement. Harry Moore, Chief executive of CRS said the take over is "a clear message to our competitors that the Co-operative Movement is not going to contemplate continuing decline". Lo-Cost is the biggest ever acquisition by the Co-operative Movement. It will increase the Co-operative Movement's food turnover by 5.7 per cent, thus preventing the co-op market share falling below the 4 per cent landmark. This will also allow CRS to capture trade from competitors by being better retailers. In view of the merger of CRS and CWS, the Lo-Cost stores could act as better retail outlets. (Co-operatives News, Nov.29,94 PBS transmission) ***USA*** The Spirit of Co-operation The Spirit of Co-operation, the story of co-operatives in America, was transmitted for a second time to PBS stations on Sunday, 25th December, according to a Press Release issued by the National Co-operative Business Association in Washington D.C. The hour-long documentary tells how co-operatives have helped America and how they will continue to meet the country's needs into the 21st century. The Spirit of Co-operation blends history, economics, co-operative examples and interviews with members of co-operatives to demonstrate how co-operatives work. The show's distributor, the Southern Educational Communications Association, has been impressed with the number of stations that have taken the show already. A video by the same name, The Spirit of Co-operation, is also available now. The video is available in VHS format for $39.95 each or $29.95 each for quantity orders of 100 copies or more. Send orders to Jill Stevenson, Co-operative Development Foundation - video, 1401 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 2005., USA. Co-operative Expansion Ithaca, N.Y. - Co-operatives are a silent giant in the Northeast economy, spreading into areas as diverse as aquaculture and high-tech manufacturing, according to a new Cornell University study. Co-operatives- organisations owned and operated for the benefit of their members- range from local farmers markets to multibillion-dollar groups of supermarkets that pool resources for purchasing goods and services. New ones have formed to produce and market speciality vegetables, venison, lamb, rabbits and farm-raised trout. At least 9,955 co-operative enterprises throughout the region serve 9.9 million members and account for $37 billion in business activity, said Brian Henehan, a Cornell Co-operative Extension associate, and Andrew Ferguson, a co-op development specialist. (Cornell University Gopher, January 1995) NCB Releases Top 100 Co-operatives The National Co-operative Bank (NCB) has released the NCB Index of the Top 100 Co- operatives of America. These 100 co-ops have contributed $87.2 billion to the economy last year and employed more than 750,000 Americans. The report was created by the NCB in 1993. The Index provides a listing of revenues for the past two years for co-operatives with revenues over $200 million, as well as employment figures for the companies. The report was designed to bring attention to the co-operative sector and create awareness of the contribution co-operatives make to the U.S. economy, according to NCB President and Chief Executive Officer Charles E. Snyder. Co-operatives in the U.S. generate more than $ 100 billion in economic activity each year and serve over 100 million Americans - 40 per cent of the population. "Co-operatives are not alternative companies, but mainstream business structures formed to create economies of scale for the small businesses and consumers they represent," said Mr.Snyder. (Co-operative Business Journal, Vol.8, No.9, Nov.,94) NCBA Establishes Grant Programme In recognition of the Co-operative Month, Russ Notar, President and CEO of the National Co- operative Business Association (NCBA), today announced a new matching grant programme which will provide funding for co-operative economic development projects throughout the United States. This new NCBA programme is designed to be a catalyst for local co-operative development projects, using the NCBA fund and local co-operative development funds. By participating in the United Co-operative Appeal Programme, and designating the NCBA Fund, co-operatives become eligible for the matching grant programmes. The grants can be used to expand existing co-operatives or help organise new co-operative activities.