A Development Update

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source : Review of International Co-operation, Vol.89 No
1/1996, 91-94.

                      A Development Update
                       by JanEirik Imbsen*

1996 - A Turning Point
1996 is an important year for ICA's Development Programme.
While the Regional Offices are preparing important regional
meetings and finalising their strategy documents, a number of
other key issues are also on the development agenda. 

It is first of all the year of the second Regional Assemblies
after the introduction of the new ICA structure. These fora
have now become functional parts of ICA's administrative
structure. The Asia/Pacific Assembly hosted by the Malaysian
movement will be the first. An important item on the agenda
will be a discussion on the draft 4-year plan for the region.
The regional chapters of some of ICA's Specialised
Organisations will also meet in Kuala Lumpur (in the case of
the new HRD committee there will also be a meeting of the
global executive).

Next region out is Africa. This Assembly will be preceded by
a pan-African seminar on communication and training in co-
operatives which is being organised in collaboration with our
German partner, DSE (German Foundation for International
Development). Another highlight of the week from the point of
view of the Development Programme is the strategic planning
meeting for the West African region. This planning session
with our members in the region is expected to result in a
Regional Development Plan for co-operative development that
will take us up to the year 2000. Together with the positive
report of the recent evaluation of our programme in West
Africa, this document will in turn form the basis of a new
project document that will be submitted to our longstanding
partner, NORCOOP.

The American Assembly will take place in Costa Rica in
November. Again, the Regional Assembly will be asked to
discuss and approve the Regional Development Plan for the
region. A Women's Forum which will be held in conjunction with
this meeting will further emphasise ICA's commitment to the
promotion of gender issues.

Another regional meeting of considerable importance is the 5th
African Co-operative Ministerial Conference for East, Central
and Southern Africa. Preparations are already under way to
ensure a constructive dialogue between movements and
governments in Mauritius.

Development Priorities
A priority of the ICA is the promotion of co-operative
development in Africa. In June we will therefore meet with
representatives of co-operative movements from anglophone
Africa and co-operative promotion organisations to discuss
"Co-operative Development and Adjustment in Anglophone
Africa". This international conference which is organised
jointly by the DSE, ILO and ICA, will provide a forum for
discussion on the effects and consequences of adjustment
policies on co-operative development, and it will support a
reorientation of co-operative organisations in a changing
environment. The results of the conference will be presented
at the African Regional Assembly in Senegal in August.

The Regional offices will this year finalise their new
Regional Development Plans. The plans will map out strategies
and provide a platform for co-operative development into the
new century. This marks the end of a long process involving
our members in the regions. The participatory aspect is
essential to ensure the relevance of the plans, i.e. that they
reflect the concerns, needs and aspirations of our members.
This presupposes the active participation of member
organizations in needs assessment and the setting of
priorities. This will also give our members a vested interest
in our programmes and may serve as an incentive for member
contribution which in turn may translate into enhanced
sustainability of our regional programmes. 

A new operational system for the development programme is also
being launched this year. The new system has been designed to
provide a uniform and coherent framework for our development
activities covering every aspect of the programme from the
policy to the reporting level. In designing it, we took into
account the various requirements of present and potential
partner organisations, for instance in terms of reporting, as
well as bearing in mind its functionality as an administrative

Strategic Alliances
Joint ventures with partners are being actively pursued.
Recognising that the ICA is not the only actor on the
international co-operative stage, it is important to forge
"strategic alliances", or constructive working relationships,
with other organisations whose aims are similar to ours in
terms of co-operative development. Such cooperation will
ensure better programme impact, improved cost effectiveness,
and will benefit from competencies of scale.

In the area of HRD, for instance, ICA is represented on
resource groups involved in the development and implementation
of programmes that are being run by our partners. ICA's
participation in the consultative group established by the ILO
to oversee their Coopnet programme, and in SCC's resource
group which is involved in the development and launching of
the organisation's new Leadership Development Programme, 
serves to facilitate the coordination of related activities in
this area.

Office structures and programme approaches are also being
reviewed. In Africa, the ICA commissioned study "Co-operative
Adjustment in a Changing Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa"
and the changes taking place in the region are factors that
have necessitated a rethinking of the function of the regional
offices there. Modern ICA has not been known for excess
staffing, "small and beautiful" being the model for the
administrative set up of its development programme. Our
offices should have the required core and programme management
capacity, but otherwise build up and use networks of local
consultants. This has been the norm in West Africa and the
Americas and has led to a satisfactory ratio between fixed
(basically staff) costs and other costs (funding of

Focusing on the Relevant
Budgetary constraints will necessitate a careful selection of
activities. We just cannot afford to carry out activities that
are not "relevant" to our aims and objectives. (In the new
operational system every activity should refer to a specific
objective.) Careful monitoring and impact assessment as well
as proper follow up will consequently be essential. 

Synergy and relevance are other key concerns. In order to have
an impact on co-operative development in the region with our
relatively limited resources, better synergy between our
projects is an absolute must. Of equal importance is the
synergy between our visions, strategies and programmes and
those of our partners. Only then will we be able to address in
a comprehensive manner the human resource, legal, policy,
structural and other requirements in the promotion of
autonomous, democratic and economically viable co-operatives. 

The relevance of our programmes is obviously crucial. 
Development is increasingly becoming a question of supply and
demand, and our service delivery will become irrelevant unless
we can meet current demands. The need to become entrepreneurs
is no longer confined to our co-operative members, it very
much applies to ourselves. We shall need good products, and
the knowledge how and where to market them, if we want to
operate in an increasingly competitive field where tenders
have become the order of the day. We see this very clearly in
the Americas region, but the days of "traditional" development
aid delivery are numbered also in the other regions.

The perception of certain programmes is also changing. For
instance, the full potential of the HRD and gender projects as
support services rather than separate projects has not been
sufficiently explored. The HRD project should contribute to
the attainment of development objectives as identified in
office strategies and plans. It should furthermore supplement
and reinforce activities that are carried out within the
framework of the focus that we have already identified for the
offices; i.e. assisting member organizations adjust to and
survive in the new economic and political environment. Only
then will we ensure the relevance, and enhanced effectiveness,
of our HRD project activities.

Gender concerns should be a component of every activity.
Indeed, the new operational system provides for a gender
perspective in relation to every activity in the new planning
and reporting format.

We still recognise the need to carry out HRD and gender
specific activities, but it is expected that they will to a
larger extent than before be directly linked up with other
activities as a support element. Certain elements will be
deemphasised, while others will be given more importance to
reinforce the direction or focus of the office. Such a
restructuring of the projects will highlight rather than
reduce their position as core activities. 
Indeed, 1996 is a busy year. The tasks are many and big, and
the rapidly changing environment makes the work ahead all the
more awesome. 

Our challenge is to produce and provide services that are
relevant to our members needs, to do the right things as well
as to do things rightly. Our members' and partners' challenge
is to continue to support our efforts in order to achieve
sustainable co-operative development.

*    Mr Imbsen is the Human Resource Development Director at
     ICA, Geneva.