Dear Co-operative Friends:
It is a pleasure for me to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors in contributing some thoughts to this first edition of the Review of International Co-operation for the new year.
Some of you may recall that, when I spoke to the General Assembly after my election as ICA President last September, I described my feelings as a combination of gratitude, fear, and hope. Little has changed since then.
I am very grateful for the many messages of support, the countless invitations to visit, and the innumerable suggestions for action which I have received from co-operators around the world since my election. The ICA's web site has facilitated this communication, and it helps me to feel that Brazil is not so far away from the rest of the world in this new era of instant communications.
I remain worried, of course, about my own capacity and that of our co-operative institutions to deal with the many problems facing our world. It seems to me that unemployment, and particularly the problem of youth unemployment, is the single greatest threat to global stability, prosperity, and peace. At a recent ICA Board meeting my colleague Etienne Pflimlin informed us about the efforts of Credit Mutuel to create several hundred new jobs for young people every year in France. This shows what existing co-operatives, as well as new co-operatives in the production and service sectors, can and must accomplish.
In spite of all the problems which we all face, I remain hopeful and optimistic about the capacity and the future of the co-operative movement. When we look at Asia, we can see that the co-operatives have suffered much less than other institutions during the recent economic crisis for the simple reason that they have for the most part concentrated on their members' interests and avoided the speculation and reckless borrowing which has characterised their competitors.
In Europe the co-operatives are generally maintaining and even increasing their important market shares, often by going back to co-operative basics. In this regard I must pay tribute to my predecessor, Graham Melmoth, who has recently introduced a whole series of reforms in the CWS, Europe's largest consumer co-operative, which bode well for its future.
In many countries of the Americas region there is a new spirit of co-operative enthusiasm and growth. My colleagues on the ICA Board were impressed to see more than 1,000 delegates participating so actively in the ICA Americas' regional conference in Mexico last November. I am encouraged to see that our strong members in Canada and the United States continue to increase both their business and their development links with co-operatives in Latin America.
I also remain optimistic that co-operatives in Africa will continue to help their members cope with the great economic and social problems facing that continent. ICA remains committed to this process, and has even stationed its Director of Development in Africa in order to give first-hand support to co-operatives in the region.
Finally, I am pleased that my first presidential message in the ICA Review coincides with the publication of selected papers from last year's meeting of the ICA's Research Committee. This group, acting with secretarial support from ICA but otherwise completely through its members' own resources, is contributing in a very important way to the development of new ideas which co-operatives must study and consider. I am particularly glad that the Research Committee's theme in 1998 will be added value for membership, preparing the way for a substantive discussion on this crucial link between co-operative success and member benefit at the ICA's 1999 General Assembly and Congress.
1998 will be a busy year for co-operatives around the world, as it will be for ICA. I look forward to visiting as many ICA members as possible this year, and in particular to participating in the Regional Assemblies which will be held later this year.