Report of the Vice-President for the Americas

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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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      Report of the Vice-President for the Americas
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by Roberto Rodrigues*

Two years ago in Geneva, I commented on a set of concerns, a number of
ideas and the many hopeful expectations I had when I took up my post as
Vice-President of the ICA for the Americas. Today, it is my duty to tell
you about the course we are taking, and how far we have got.

I must say that one of the toughest responsibilities I have in the ICA is
the one I am tackling now - having to summarise two years of work in less
than ten minutes.

Many things have happened and we have many tales to tell, but I suppose
that if our renowned author García Marques can recount 100 years of the
history of Macondo in 400 pages, I should be able to present my report in
three.

Let us put ourselves on the map. The Americas: North America, Central
America, South America and the Caribbean: a region made up of 48 countries
and territories, 5 trading blocks, 600 million inhabitants, 4 main
languages and several dialects. A heterogeneous region to be sure.

And like the rest of the world, our region is facing increasingly rapid
political, economic and social changes on the stages on which our
co-operative enterprises operate. This has produced new situations, new
problems, and new questions. The most striking question, because the answer
involves all the co-operative structures, is "What use is membership to
us?". The associates are asking the co-operatives, the co-operatives are
asking the Federation, and the Federation is asking the organisation at the
top of the pyramid; we are all asking the ICA.

This is my starting point for telling you about the process and the results
we have achieved so far.

First, three aspects of reality that are not what I thought they were two
years ago. Number one, shortly after starting my work I reached the
conclusion, which today is irrefutable, that the position of Vice-President
is not really a political post, it is that of a social communicator.

For the past two years, wherever there was an idea that we wanted to
promote among our membership, the process has been the same: consult,
listen, propose and agree. It is the quality and frequency of our
communications that governs the degree of commitment we achieve.

Second, the differences in background across the continent, between north
and south, and south-south, which we thought were going to make joint work
difficult, have turned out to be one of the great strengths of our
co-operative project and the foundations of the proposals for strategic
alliances that we are now promoting.

Third, and this is something different, it is not that obvious to all the
co-operatives and their leadership that co-operatives exist to serve their
members and that, in order to do so, they must necessarily be competitive
enterprises in their respective markets. The threats from the market to our
co-operative enterprises have to be faced on the basis of productivity;
they cannot be repelled with political artifices.

So, given these realities and questions, the challenge was to define how
the ICA would support its members in the Americas or to establish,
correctly, what role the members want the ICA to play.

It being understood, of course, that the ICA will do everything our members
want in the Americas, on one condition: our members cannot want us to do
everything.

The first task, therefore, is to define the direction to take and on what
and up to what point we can work together; to know where we want to go, so
as to know if we are moving in the right direction. If you don't know where
you are going, wherever you get to is the right place.

Continuing the process, we went out first to consult our members. What do
they expect from the ICA? We listened and, on the basis of all the
recommendations, we proposed a menu of topics to choose from.

To get proposals, we invited all our members to be imaginative, to look
beyond the everyday. To say to themselves, like Bernard Shaw, "You see
things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say
"Why not?""

To choose, I asked them to be practical. You can agree and assume
commitments only on real foundations.

With those two watchwords we went to our first Regional Assembly of the
Americas in November in São Paulo. There we forged the common commitment of
our members on three topics that constitute what we have called our Agenda
for the Future: first, Co-operative Principles and Values; second, Human
Resource Development; and third, Co-operative Business.

The course was set.

In the Americas we firmly believe that one of the ICA's inherent functions
is the defence and promotion of Co-operative Principles and Values as the
distinctive elements in and support of our identity. We cannot imagine a
more important and urgent task in current circumstances.

And I believe that the statement on a co-operative identity that we shall
be adopting here in Manchester is like a musical score. It will be for each
national movement, each sector, each co-operative, to start  to play it in
the key of its specific geographical, economic and cultural context. They
should adopt the statement, overlay it with their own rhythm, and play it
forte, because everyone must be able to hear it.

Human resources, as the source, centre and end of all co-operative action,
are recognised by our membership to be the decisive factor in the ability
of the co-operative enterprise to compete now and in the future

Being effective in this area means that we see the results on the faces of
our associates, leaders and employees, and also on the balance sheet of the
enterprise. Everything must be brought together to bolster the competitive
effort, and competitive ability must in turn be harnessed to serve our
members.

I am especially concerned with the case of women and young people. I am
personally committed to bringing about radical changes in the way that we
have treated those two sections of our membership. For me, it is ridiculous
for us to start talking of the future without remembering that it is the
young people who are the only ones who can assure that future; young people
were the keynote of our first Regional Assembly.

Women are to be the keynote of our second Regional Assembly. Because if we
cannot overcome gender subordination in the co-operatives of the Americas,
there can be no talk of democracy, and still less of participation.

And our third topic: Business. Our members require - demand - that we use
our capability as a continental and world network to help them gain better
market positions, to innovate in capital formation, to expand their
relations, and to improve technology. Our members hope that the ICA will
help them to do better business, so as to be able to serve their members
better.

Those are the three topics on which we shall be focusing our time and
energy in the next few years and they should be seen as a single unit since
they interact to define the future of the co-operatives as enterprises and
co-operation as an organisational option.

With the course defined, we now need to press ahead to prove, to make it
visible to our members, that we are following the course we have defined.

At the structural level, the Regional Advisory Council has been set up and
is in operation, with one representative from each country.

The Regional Office that was in operation in Costa Rica for Central America
and the Caribbean has, pursuant to a decision by the members, become the
Regional Office for the Americas and already has very good close
relationships with the countries to the south.

The regional chapters of the Banking Committees are already in operation,
as is the insurance network that we had before, and the Regional Energy
Committee has been formed. We are currently working on the formation of the
consumption, housing and agricultural committees, which should be in place
by the end of this year. The setting up of the women's  and tourism
committees is scheduled for 1996, as is the consolidation of the INCOTEC
network.

We are now concentrating on preparing a strategic plan that will make it
possible to define how we will be working on each and all of the three
components of the Co-operative Principles and Values, Human Resource
Development, and Co-operative Business. Our 1996 Regional Assembly's main
item will be the adoption of this plan, which we should view by and large
as our passport not only for getting into the next century but, what is
more important, for getting there in time for the meeting with the third
millennium.

The strategic plan for 1996-2000 must reflect our idea of building the
largest organisational network of the continent: electronically
interconnected; with strong sectoral co-operative integration at the
country and region level, based on business; with political structures that
are light but flexible;  co-operation with the power to negotiate in the
processes of adjustment and to make proposals as an actor in civil society.

As you can see, we are still a long way from where we want to be. But we
are moving forward. And we are listening, proposing, agreeing. We shall get
there.

My friends, I would like to conclude by saying in brief that the work we
have been doing so far, and everything we are going to have to do in the
future in the Region of the Americas, has but one purpose: to deliver added
value to our membership. That means giving positive answers to the
questions raised by associates, councils and managers - a meaningful answer
to the question "Why are we members of the ICA?".

* Roberto Rodrigues is President of Eximcoop, Organisation of Co-operatives
of Brazil, ICA Vice-President for the Americas and former Chairman of the
ICA Agricultural Committee.