Address by Graham Melmoth, ICA President (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp. 15-21)

ICA President, Graham Melmoth, Addresses the GA

On behalf of the ICA Board it is a plea-sure to welcome fellow co-operators
and friends to the 1997 General Assembly of the International Co-operative
Alliance. There are over 600 delegates to this Assembly alone, and many
more attending the all important ancillary meetings which started last
Thursday with the Global Women's Committee. The newly established
International Health Co-operative Organisation has held its meetings and ten
other Specialised bodies will also meet by the end of this week, a record I
believe.  So too the European Council, and the ICA Board met here this
week. Our host city, Geneva, has been the home of the ICA Head Office
since 1982, and is thus beginning to develop a permanence which the ILO
and the Red Cross have in this important international city.  I am particularly
glad to welcome, on your behalf, the representative of Switzerland's very
successful consumer co-operative Co-op Schweiz, Dr. Markus Schelker
(shortly to retire as Chairman of the Audit and Control Committee) and
Michel Hansenne, Director-General of the International Labour
Organisation, our massive neighbour across the way from ICA headquarters
and long standing friend of the ICA, and Lars Marcus and his wife.

I hope during this Assembly we will be able to come to a collective view on
the merits of some of the initiatives stemming from the Board's planning
session in Miami two years ago.  We shall be bringing parts of the
constitution of the Alliance up to date.  Until now, fine tuning of the Rule
Book has taken second place to the work on the Statement of Identity and its
many translations and the establishment of the regional structure, which was
provided for the Tokyo Congress in 1992.

But first, let us track back to the Board's planning session of December,
1995.  ICA membership had been static for a number of years and
subscription income had remained flat.  The Board identified the need to
make ICA membership more attractive and to add value to member services,
to expand the membership base and to deepen its involvement in the
Alliance.  The ICA's mission to unite, represent and serve co-operatives
was never in question, but within this remit the Board determined on seven
priorities.  These were: (1) improved liaison and making best use of the
Specialised Bodies,  (2) gender issues, (3) communications, (4) the
Development Trust, (5) expanding membership, (6) reviewing the ICA
constitution, and (7) liaison with the UN system.

Taking each in turn, the Specialised Bodies have been key to serving the
needs of co-operatives in different sectors, but not all their members are in
turn full members of the ICA.  While part of the problem is bound up in the
tricky issue of subscriptions, the ICA has to decide how best to augment the
services to the Specialised Bodies and Mats Ahnlund, appointed as Senior
Membership Adviser, has been charged with this task.  At the end of 1996
he conducted a Members survey and his initial findings have been reported
to the Board and these will have wider dissemination later.  He was,
incidentally, supported in this work by Won-Sik Noh, an agricultural
specialist, seconded by the Korean movement to ICA Headquarters since
August last year.  Encouragingly, 29 new members have joined ICA in the
year 1996/97, bringing the total membership to 224 national members and 7
international members, representing 97 countries.  Taking our members'
statistics at face value the grass roots co-operative membership around the
globe amounts to 775 million individual members.  Few, if any,
organisations within the Civil Society on this planet can boast that kind of
mandate.  To facilitate the maintenance of effective liaison between the ICA
Board and each Specialised Body, a Board member has been appointed to
liaise with each such organisation and to serve as the interface between

Second, gender issues became something of a personal priority.  There has
been progress on this front but the pathway has been difficult.  Charles
Fournier, the French social theorist, wrote during the French Revolution,
"The extension of women's rights is the basic principle of all social
progress."  (L'extension des privileges des femmes est le principe general
de tous progres sociaux.)  What may have been an enlightened view when
all around were losing their heads - including women, not least Marie
Antoinette - has the appearance, two centuries later, of a somewhat modest

MariaElena Chavez has been appointed ICA Director for UN Liaison; she
provides the secretariat for the Committee for the Promotion and
Advancement of Co-operatives (COPAC) and acts as secretary to the ICA
Global Women's Committee.  MariaElena is thus a focal point of ICA
gender strategy and represents the ICA on the UN Commission on the
Status of Women.  A survey of members on gender, which I initiated with
the Board's approval, unsurprisingly showed that women are under
represented at senior levels in the domestic and international movements - in
management and amongst elected representatives.  The Assembly is being
asked to agree to the incorporation into the ICA objectives the promotion of
equality between men and women in decision-making within the
Co-operative Movement.  There is also a gender element in the new rules
for Board elections, which I shall return to later.

The third priority at Miami centered on communications.  There is still a
widespread lack of awareness of co-operatives around the world as well as
a misunderstanding of their role.

Therefore, as well as strengthening the information resources available
internally to members, it is also necessary to disseminate  information to a
wider audience in order to fulfill the ICA's mission to promote and represent
co-operatives.  The highly successful ICA Internet programme which was
initiated by Mary Treacy, ICA Communications Director,  has been effective
in this and its development continues.  A new section on the ICA web site
called "Co-ops for Kids" has been created.  ICA is encouraging members to
use Internet technology through a new Communications and Trade Network
(which meets this Thursday), and an Information, Education and Distance
Learning Working Group (meeting on Wednesday).  Information on the
Co-operative presence on the Internet can be found in the special issues of
the ICA Newsletter prepared for this Assembly.  In the past two years the
presentation of this and other official ICA publications has been redesigned
by the ICA Communications Department, and an ICA "branding" developed
based upon the Centennial Congress logo.  Like the rainbow flag -
introduced in 1924 by instigation of Charles Gide - the centennial logo,
incorporating the rainbow, is fast becoming the rallying emblem of the

In the last few months, further awareness of the ICA has been raised too
through a World Television initiative.  The Director-General will refer to
this in his report and will show the Assembly an example of an ICA news

When discussing Communications and Information the ICA Board noted
the development of databanks as a priority area. In March this year, ICA
Europe launched a project with the financial participation of DGXXIII of the
European Commission, to provide comprehensive statistics on
co-operatives throughout the region.  And there are ambitions to collect
more comprehensive statistics at a world level, including a development
project in Africa.  Arsenio Invernizzi and Mary Treacy at ICA headquarters
are overseeing this project which has required considerable input from
various  members of the Secretariat.  (In parenthesis, perhaps I might at this
point pay tribute to Bruce Thordarson and his committed loyal team here in
Geneva and in the Regional Offices for their work in implementing the
policies I have been describing.) Mary Treacy's department has done much
work in working out a strategy which ensures that a sustainable database
will be developed which will be of benefit to the entire ICA membership and
will allow for the production of viable statistics on a regular basis. This will
depend however on the will of the entire membership to provide the
Secretariat with data on their part of the movement.

It is relevant to turn to conditions in Central and Eastern Europe.  The three
resolutions submitted to this Assembly in support of co-operatives in these
regions of Europe hint at the damage done to the image of co-operatives
during the communist era.  Since its establishment in 1994, ICA Europe has
helped to counter the impression by adopting as one of its priorities the
strengthening of co-operative movements in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Network for Co-operative Development, under the presidency of Ota
Karen, supported this activity through the implementation of technical
assistance programmes. Since 1996, and the formal winding down of the
Network, ICA Europe, led by Vice-President Lars Hillbom, has been taking
care of development programmes.

Europe is learning some lessons from history; successive Lome conventions
since the 1970s have strengthened links between the European Union and
71 African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.  Negotiations for
amendments to Lome IV led to a European Commission Green paper this
year setting out the shape of the EU's relationships with ACP countries,
specifically on the matters of trade and aid.  The report noted that ACP
countries failed to maintain their EU market shares, in general being unable
to expand and diversify exports.  Provision of food aid has led to too little
partnership and too much aid dependence whilst efficiency rates of only 30
per cent have been achieved on agricultural projects and in rural
development.  The Green paper focuses on issues and identifies solutions
which the ICA and its development programme are confronting in these
countries.  I quote:

"The Commission stresses the need to help countries pursue integration
with the world economy, to improve levels of investment, and to open up
their economies to international trade.  Increased aid for private sector
development is considered very important.  For that, purpose, aid for
institutional and administrative reform is strongly recommended.  So too is
continued and improved assistance for Structural Adjustment.  Accounting
for only two per cent of world trade and one per cent of international
investment flows, ACP countries need to diversify export outlets and
production bases."

We have to accept it as an indictment that the report makes no reference to
co-operatives as a model engine for the necessary self help enterprise in
such countries.  And this underlines the imperative for the ICA to make an
impact on the institutions regulating the world's main trading blocs.  And in
this respect we all need to shout louder about what co-operatives are capable
of achieving in developing economies.  This in turn emphasizes the need for
effective communication.

It is salutary to identify a few concrete examples of the work which ICA
and/or its specialised organisations is supporting in the Regions on the
ground.  In South Africa, ICA served as the catalyst in bringing together
co-operatives from the black and white communities - the beginning perhaps
of much closer joint activities.

In Asia & Pacific, to be led by the Vice-President elect and long standing
Board member from the All China Federation, Yang Deshou, a five country
competitiveness study was embarked upon and a regional consultation
programme set in train on socio-economic change and gender integration. 
An ICMIF task force supported unification of the Philippines insurance
programmes, and in Japan research is being conducted on setting up a
natural disasters relief fund in collaboration with the ICMIF reinsurance

In the Americas Region, led by Roberto Rodrigues of Brazil, Vice-President
Americas and ICA President elect, structural adjustment guidelines have
been published.  Two strategic alliances conferences in 1996 helped
co-operatives in North and South America develop new business links.
The ICCO has been supporting a 4 year consumer co-operative development
project in 8 countries.

Here in Europe too, ICMIF has been conducting ground-breaking insurance
development work in Bulgaria, Latvia and Russia.  And this February a
Euro-Med co-operative network was established bringing together 12
Southern European, North African and Middle Eastern countries.

Each of these emphatically show the commitment of the ICA to sustainable
human development which the Board proposes be formally adopted as an
ICA objective.

Promoting sustainable human development means preventing hunger
through food security - avoiding aid dependency.

ICA works with some 30 international and national development agencies
and national ministries.  In terms of food security ICA has worked closely
with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International
Federation of Agricultural Producers in developing farming, fisheries and
forestry co-operatives.  ICA has joined the International Agri-Food
Network to improve co-ordination between various sectors of the food
chain and documentation on the Agri-Food Sector Associations was
published in the ICA International Co-operative Day information pack. 
Action on food security will continue here in Geneva on Wednesday with
the ICAO holding a seminar on agricultural inputs following up the FAO
World Food Summit.

Often, we see aid going west to east across Europe or from the Pacific rim
economies to Asia's high population countries.  Likewise, North America
funds projects in South America.  Africa does not have an internal
development revenue source.  In default, Europe, with its historic colonial
links with the continent, has and must continue to take a lead role for Africa. 
Indeed, the European Union and its member states are the biggest aid
providers for Sub-Saharan Africa contributing 60 per cent of funding.  The
ICA must encourage Europe to continue to make resources available to
Africa.  Our African Region is well served by a practical exponent of
co-operation in Bernard Wolimba of Uganda.  I am also delighted to see
a candidate for the Board from West Africa.

The ICA Development Trust, which was the subject of a resolution of
the Centennial Congress in Manchester, is now formally established in
Luxembourg.  It is an exciting departure and provides the means to protect
the ICA from the financial risk of conducting project work.  Furthermore, it
strengthens the ICA's fund raising potential.  It is one of three planks
intended to build on the ICA development function; the second is the
appointment of Bjorn Genberg as Development Director at the beginning of
1997 (working out of Nairobi he is a Swedish co-operator with many years
of development experience).  The third is the establishment of a
Development Trust Advisory Board drawn from representatives of ICA's
aid partners and which will  further enhance the credibility of the forty year
old ICA Development Programme.

All this means it becomes increasingly difficult to argue rationally against
co-operatives receiving their fair share of development funding.  But the
message must reach the right people and the right people must be listening. 
This brings us to the last of the seven priorities decided upon in Miami - that
of relations with the United Nations system.  We have come a long way
since the ICA was accorded consultative status with the UN Economic and
Social Council as an NGO.  Messages on the occasion of the International
Co-operative Day in recent years, from Dr Boutros-Boutros Ghali and now
from Kofi Annan, have done much to improve the standing of the
movement on the international stage.  Also, in July, 1996, a group of us
met with UN officials in New York, including the Under Secretary
General, Nitin Desai.  Following that meeting, the UN General Assembly
passed a resolution in December, 1996, recognising the enhanced role of
co-operatives in the light of new economic and social trends.  And in
tomorrow's seminar amongst our speakers we shall hear John Langmore,
Director of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, giving his view
on the role for co-operatives in working with the UN. 

I need not deal here at length with the proposals for changes in the ICA
constitution nor with the work of the Special Board Committee on Rules
and Finance which I chair and which consists of Raija Itkonen, Yehudah
Paz and Etienne Pflimlin in reviewing the ICA Rules and Standing Orders. 
Suffice to say that the Board was anxious to achieve greater representation
of women at Board level and from the Regions of Asia & Pacific, Africa,
and the Americas.  In order to bring this about the Board is proposing to
this Assembly that its size be increased from 16 to 20 members.  Should
this Assembly agree to these changes this afternoon, then tomorrow it will
be given the opportunity to elect 15 ordinary members of the Board in
addition to the Vice-Presidents and President.  Five Board members will not
be seeking re-election, namely, Ota Karen, Raija Itkonen, Hasle Nielsen,
Ivano Barberini and myself.  Commencing at 2 pm each candidate will have
an opportunity to introduce themselves briefly to this Assembly.
The General Assembly with its centre piece debate tomorrow to be chaired
by Dr. Yehudah Paz on the Civil Society - entitled "The Global Dimension of
Co-operatives" - will provide a useful focus for our world wide work.  We
can all profit from the creative thinking of a distinguished group of speakers
from institutions and co-operatives drawn from all of the world's

But that is tomorrow.  Today is all about our domestic business.  We have a
busy Agenda and so, without more ado, I invite Dr. Markus Schelker to
address this General Assembly.