Interview with the New ICA President

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

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          Interview with the New ICA President
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by Mahmoud Bassiouny*

As an old co-operative journalist, I have had sincere relations with the
ICA specifically since 1964 during my first visit to the ICA Headquarters
in London (11 Upper Grosvenor Street). It is worth remembering that through
my dear friend, Dr Jan Hanz Ollman, I got acquainted with all the ICA
objectives and activities and, of course, with its leaders. I have also
been writing and publishing a great deal about the ICA Congresses, meetings
and committees annually since the 26th Congress in Paris in 1976.
Furthermore, I have met and interviewed many international co-operative
leaders: Mrs Margret Digby, Dr R.L. Marshall, Dr J.H. Ollman, Mr H.
Campbell, Mr J.J. Musundi, Mr A.F. Laidlaw, Mr Y. Daneau, Mr O. Paulig and
Mr S.A. Book. I have also interviewed the ex-directors of the ICA: Mr W.P.
Watkins, Mr W.G. Alexander, Dr S.K. Saxena and Mr R. Beasley. As for the
Presidents of the ICA, I have met and interviewed Dr M. Bonow, Mr R.
Kerinec and Mr L. Marcus.

Moreover, our Egyptian papers and magazines of the Co-operative Association
for Printing and Publishing and Kwatian Co-operative Magazines, represented
in my articles, were the first window through which all the Egyptian and
Arabic co-operative readers got acquainted with the ICA and its activities.

As to the British Co-operative Movement, it was the first foreign movement
which I have known and studied through a UN fellowship of three months
field-study of co-operation and co-operative press in 1964, during which I
visited Manchester and Loughborough and many other towns in England as well
as in Wales and Scotland. My second visit to Manchester was in 1979 to the
Central Committee of the ICA. It is worth mentioning that from 1974 till
1981 I paid many visits to the Headquarters of the ICA in London.

Today, it is my third visit to Manchester, not only  attend and participate
in the ICA Centennial Congress and its second General Assembly, but also to
meet my old British Co-operative friends whom I missed very much.

I am now with Mr Graham Melmoth in his castle, the New Century House in
Manchester. It is not our first meeting, for we met in 1979 at the meeting
of the ICA Central Committee which I attended as member of the Egyptian
Co-operative delegation and he as the chairman of the organisation
committee of the ICA Central Committee. We met once again in Tokyo in
October 1992 at the ICA 30th Congress and later in Geneva in September 1993
at the first General Assembly. In April 1994, in a conference with the
Egyptian and Arabic Co-operative movements, we were honoured to receive in
Cairo our distinguished guests: Mr Marcus as the ICA President, Mr Melmoth
as the Vice President, and other members of the Board.

Today, in Manchester and after eleven of success, Mr Marcus is giving up
the presidential chair to his successor, Mr Melmoth, who is elected
unanimously.

Mr Melmoth kindly, and in spite of being very busy, answered my questions
giving me the honour of being the first Journalist to interview the new
president of the ICA.

Who is he?

First of  all, I would like to introduce to my readers the new President of
the ICA. A brief background of Mr Melmoth:
*    His name is Graham Melmoth, 57 years old, he is married to Jenny, has
two sons, and lives in Macclesfield.
*    He has been Secretary of the Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited
for nearly twenty years and is a long-standing member of the CWS Executive
Committee.
*    He was appointed a trustee of the New Lanark Conservation Trust, based
on Robert Owen's Model Community, in 1987.
*    He is a Director of the Co-operative Bank, Unity Trust Bank and
Co-operative Press.
*    He joined the Board of the ICA in 1992.
*    He was elected Vice-President of the ICA for Europe in 1993.
*    He was Chairman of the ICA European Council in 1994.
*    He is now ICA President Elect on 22 September, 1995.

Questions and Responses

As a new President of the ICA, I would like to know your feeling towards
your election to this international position, especially when it has been a
long time since an Englishman held the office?

If I am candid, I have hardly had time to reflect upon the presidency of
the ICA because of the immediate priorities of organising a successful
Centennial Congress. However, I feel very proud and honoured to be elected
president at this time. As an English- man has not held the office for
forty years, it will clearly provide a considerable challenge for me.

New Structure

Are you satisfied with the new structure of the ICA which has been agreed
upon in the last Congress in Tokyo? What do you suggest for keeping firm
links between the Board on one hand and the Regional Assemblies and the
specialised organisations on the other hand in order to guarantee the
cohesion of the ICA?

The reorganisation of the ICA led by Lars Marcus in Tokyo, '92, was clearly
right for the time. I think there is a lot of good sense in the regional
structure and in the provision for self-administered specialised bodies.
But I suspect that the ICA as a whole will need readjustment. We have to be
careful that its central core remains strong. What, however, the Board must
do is to ensure that the overriding cohesion of the ICA remains. It would
be a great pity if the degree of devolution which has taken place should
undermine the integrity of the ICA as a whole. It may be, therefore, that
the Board should establish firm links by having a liaison member of the
Board with each specialised body who will be responsible for coordinating
policies.

Revised principles

What in your opinion is the purpose of reviewing traditional co-operative
principles? And how far do revised principles differ from those of our
pioneers?

The ICA is, of course, the Trustee of Co-operative principles inherited
from the Rochdale Pioneers. This is the third time they have been reviewed
in this century. The identity statement which is adopted by the General
Assembly reflects today's conditions and refers to the basic values which
were the subject of a presentation by Lars Marcus at the Stockholm Congress
in 1988. The principal changes are:

a)  The first principle on voluntary and open membership makes special
mention of gender and racial discrimination.

b) The third principle will now make reference to the requirement to set up
indivisible reserves.

c) The fourth principle stresses the importance of independence from
Government, and

d) There is now a new seventh principle relating to concern for the
community and regard for sustainable development.

The principles in their revised form do not vary from the fundamentals
which have been handed down from the Rochdale Pioneers but they do reflect
the concerns of the 21st century.

Future priorities

What are your personal ideas and priorities in the future plans and
activities of the ICA? Where is Africa among these priorities?

The Board has scheduled a planning session in December, 1995. The
Director-General and his staff will be discussing with me their ideas on
the future direction and priorities of the ICA. I hope we will, therefore,
be in a position early next year to set our course for the next three years
or so. My personal priorities are:

i)    To concentrate on the co-operative movement in Africa, with special
regard to the Republic of South Africa. We would like to mobilise the
newfound energy of the Republic and its co-operatives to strengthen the
co-operative movement throughout the continent and spread the message that
co-operatives can play a significant role in the economic growth of
developing African countries;
ii)   To ensure that the ICA's global contribution to sustainable human
development is based on reality, action and achievement rather than
rhetoric;
iii)  To further the promotion of Eastern and Central European
co-operatives; and
iv)   Likewise if we are to have a 'gender' policy, i.e. equal
opportunities for men and women in co-operatives, both members and
employees, then we need seriously to engage with a policy to that end.

However, these thoughts are mine and we need to establish a Consensus of
the Board and the Director General.

Developing countries

How, in your opinion, can the ICA be  stronger and more active especially
towards co-operative movements in developing countries?

Personally I think that the strong movements around the world should be
prepared to contribute more significantly to the funds of the ICA, and to
do this directly by way of increased subscriptions and also through the
development fund to be set up pursuant to the resolution of the General
Assembly. The ICA should also continue to bring influence to bear on the
World Bank and the European Union to contribute funding for projects in
developing countries.

What is your impression about your last visit to Egypt and about the
Egyptian and Arabic co-operative movements?

I was very pleased in April, 1994, to visit Egypt. We had the marvellous
good fortune of seeing the pyramids and the antiquities in the Egyptian
Museum. The ICA has great respect for the Egyptian co-operative movement.
We are also told of the remarkable progress in the North African
co-operative world.


What he stands for?

Finally, I would like to record some of Mr Melmoth's words which
demonstrate his ideas, opinions and attitudes:

*   'I should make it clear that I shall be a 'Working President'. That
means I shall continue in my position here at the CWS. Representatives of
the world movement should not lose touch with their own organisations. They
must be able to call upon their help and resources.'

*  'Co-operation is nothing if it is not about working together
collectively. I believe fervently in the principle of co-operation amongst
co-operatives. As a Co-operative Manager in the CWS for twenty years, I
have subscribed to the principle of working with my colleagues as part of a
team. I intend to bring that philosophy to bear also within the staff of
the Alliance.'

*  'Membership and membership education have been important elements of my
co-operative make-up.'

*  'It strikes me that in life there is a meanness and a generosity of
spirit in equal measure in mortal combat. It won't surprise anyone to know
that I support the latter and regard that as an essential catalyst for the
application of co-operative principles.'

* Mr Bassiouny is Chief Editor, Agricultural Magazine, Co-operative
Association for Printing and Publishing, Egypt.