New President for ICA (1997)

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This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.57-60)

New President for ICA
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Dear co-operative friends,

In 1971, when I took over the administration of a small agricultural
co-operative in the interior of Brazil, I never thought that someday I
would be ICA's president. As I never thought, either, that I would take
over other positions in these 26 years dedicated to  co-operation. I have
never pursued those positions, ever. But I have never refused any
challenges.

Thinking about that, I have found it very hard to choose the message to
convey to you I have thought a lot about the past, the battles, the victories
and the defeats; also about the difficult future ahead of us. I find it very
relevant to tell you about this: past and future, lessons and expectations.
However, the truth is that the only real time we have is the present. This
is our moment, this is our era and now is the time we have to make things
happen. Obviously we are going to look back in order to prepare the future.
But this is the only real time to take action. Thus,  I had better tell you 
something about  how to take action in ICA. Therefore, I have to show you
a little of my soul: show you my feelings and my beliefs, so you can get to
know me better.

Feelings? I shall point out three of them: gratitude, fear and hope.

I am deeply grateful to God for giving me this new challenge. I am grateful
to OCB and its president, my friend Dalpasquale, for nominating me. Also,
I thank dear president Graham Melmoth, from whom I have learned a lot
over the years he has been vice-president for Europe and a great president of
the ICA. I thank the dear board of ICA, the great vice-presidents Lars
Hillbom, Yang Deshou and Bernard Wolimbwa for their friendship and
important lessons. I am very grateful to my colleagues of the Americas,
especially the board members of my continent. I would not be here today if
it were not for them and  the support from the staff of the ICA in San Jose,
Costa Rica and the project offices in Brasilia and Buenos Aires. To all of
you, co-operative women and men of the world, thank you very much for
your support! We are a big family and I would like to embrace you as
emotionally, I embrace my family, my wife and children who are here
today; I want to thank them for the sacrifice I have imposed on them in
order for me to defend the co-operative movement. It is with gratitude to all
of you, and to Bruce Thordarson, representing the excellent staff of
Geneva, that I make, before you, the pledge of giving my very best to ICA,
because my innermost  values and beliefs join together for this assignment.

Now, the second  feeling I have is fear. I fear the immensity of  such a
position and of not being prepared for it. I am afraid of making mistakes, 
of failing and thus of not being worthy of your trust, support, friendship
and love.

I am frightened by the search for competitiveness at all cost, which means
an apparent contradiction to co-operatives, when  the economic aspect
prevails over the social. I am also frightened by the rowdy attacks we will
suffer from the competitors as we gain more and more markets. The need
to  "separate the wheat from the chaff" between co-operatives as well as
between  co-operators worries me. The enormous challenge of preserving
the pureness of the principles, preventing segments or regions from giving
them different interpretations is also daunting. Establishing the necessary
strategic alliances among co-operatives of different sectors and countries
and with corporations or non-co-operative organizations is another
challenge we face. Building relations with nations and international
governmental organizations is yet another

It is natural that I face these challenges with a certain amount of concern
because I do not take on the responsibility of President lightly. I want to
do the right thing. On the other hand, I have great hopes that I will not
disappoint you. This is because I will not be alone. On the contrary. I will
have an extraordinary board by my side, with valuable men and women that
have already given evidence of their competence. They will give me their
advice and support. I regret that Graham Melmoth, Raija Itkonen, Hasle
Nielson, Hakaru Toyoda, Ota Karen and Ivano Barberini are leaving. But
the vice-presidents, as well as Etienne Pfimlim, Yehudah Paz, B.S.
Vishiwanathan, Jens Heiser, David Miller and Claude Beland  will remain.
And several new people are joining the team.

I will be part of this team of winners and also know that I can count on
Bruce and his staff. We will be side by side with international organizations
incorporated and led by champions of the co-operative movement. Side by
side with members of ICA - the ladies and gentlemen gathered here today.

And because of all that, there is nothing to be afraid of. We are indeed
moving toward the end of this millennium with a civil society that is getting
disenchanted each and everyday, more skeptical about their leaders and
institutions and about their governments. But it is also true that people still
believe in their peers and hope that  their collective actions will be the
solution to their problems.

This is what I believe in: that the world's injustices can be conquered by
the joint conscious determination of men and women that allow us to move
forward through the co-operative experience. This is something we all
believe, and that is why we are here: co-operatives are not an alternative,
they are the solution. We are here because we share an ideal that the
co-operatives can create better living conditions for all.

Dear friends. I have told you about my feelings, hopes and beliefs. Now
it is time to tell you what has to be done.

I am particularly convinced that co-operatives are going through their
second phase in history: the first was the outcome of the industrial
revolution; this second is the outcome of the economic globalization, free
market and the huge mass of disadvantaged people that co-operatives have
to assemble. Today, as in the middle of the last century, we are the solution
for the preservation of democracy.

That is the reason why we need a long-term project in which the
co-operatives pursue their income/profit as a condition under
competitiveness; however, this income/profit must benefit their members -
owners, users, and investors.

We are all here because we are convinced that the more integration we have
among our organizations, their leaders and their businesses, the more
impelling and effective the power of cooperation will be.

ICA needs to be a co-operative network which organisations will want to
join in the search for benefits to their members. ICA must create personal,
organizational, commercial, and electronic bonds among our members: this
is one of ICAs duties, the reason for its existence - to serve its members.

I will send to our members a proposal of four basic ideas which I believe
can be one of the tasks of ICAs presidency.

To define those ideas, I have taken into consideration that it is necessary to
maintain what has been established so successfully by Graham Melmoth.
These ideas serve as the guidelines I will submit to all members so I can
incorporate their suggestions for improvement. I will discuss them with
the new board elected today soon after this Assembly and  with the staff
of Geneva and the regional directors and with the leaders of the specialized
organizations afterwards.

The priorities are:
* 	Strengthening of the co-operative identity
* 	Specialization and integration
* 	Participation of women and young people
* 	Africa as a geographical region

The co-operative identity, the singleness of its interpretation, regardless
of sectors, regions or countries is our original strength. Our doctrinal
platform is our distinction and it is fundamental that co-operative practice
be carried out under the concept of our doctrine all over the world.

The specialization theme is fundamental in the global economy, not
specifying the demands, be they from producers or consumers. It is
necessary to find efficient ways of meeting such demands. within the
specialized sectors. But the specialized sectors must also integrate,
strengthen and promote the principles. 

It is necessary to integrate, with our entrepreneurial efforts, the financial,
service and technological sectors, as well as human resources and gender.
We'll move toward this direction, approaching sectors and regions, and in
order to achieve it, we count on the eleven specialized organizations of ICA
and four committees dedicated to specific subjects. The idea is doing
business inside the co-operative movement.

As for the participation of women and young people, our progress in the
American Continent indicates that we are not dealing with a matter of social
sensitivity: it is a matter of organizational strategy, a combination of the
utmost political, economic and social elements of the co-op organization.
In the case of the young we have to ask ourselves: what is the future of a
social movement without young people?

Africa. Africa is our main geographical challenge as far as co-operative
development is concerned. A big challenge that gives us countless
opportunities. ICA has to firmly support  the improvement of  the
entrepreneurial conditions of African co-operatives, strengthening them
to be independent and autonomous institutions. This is the Africans' task
and we have to support them, in the name of the co-operative value of
solidarity.

Dear fellow co-operators, these are the ideas to pass on  to you: I have
wanted to show the person in its smallness before the challenges, but 
also the unbreakable faith in our union and principles as a way of facing
up to them.

I hope to be able to serve you and international co-operation, as I have been
doing during the past 26 years in my dear country, Brazil.

Finally, please allow me to mention the 150 Brazilian friends who have
come here to embrace me today. Brazil has only six votes  in the Assembly
but here are the leaders of the most important co-operatives of all the sectors
of my country. Here is the Minister of Agriculture, an old and good friend.
Here are some members of our Parliament. Their presence is a big honour
for me. 

Thank you very much my fellow countrymen! You are responsible for this
ceremony, you have brought me here. I hope not to disappoint you. Just as
I hope not to disappoint any of you gathered here today.

Thank you very much!

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Roberto Rodrigues addressed the General Assembly after his election by
acclamation on 16 September, 1997.