(Source: ICA Review, Vol.91 No.2 - Annual Report 1997-1998, pp. 1-2)
ICA President’s Review of 1997-98
It will soon be one year since the members of ICA gave me the great honour of being elected as President of our world-wide organisation. Since that time I have done my best to visit member organisations where my presence was requested, to meet with international agencies in order to lobby for co-operative interests, and to work with the Director-General and his staff in Geneva and in the Regional Offices. In 1998 I will be traveling outside my home country of Brazil during half the year.
What have I learnt so far from my travels and visits? The first think is that co-operatives everywhere are facing unprecedented competition in the war for markets which the new global and liberal economy has created. Of course our sector is not the only one affected by these trends, but there is no doubt that we are all under intense pressure to improve our operations and to find better ways of serving our members.
The second thing I have realised is how poorly we are using our potential collective strength. It seems to me inevitable that, in order to become more competitive, co-operatives must make far greater use of mergers, joint ventures, and strategic alliances, not only with other co-operatives but even with some of our “enemies” of the past. These joint activities must also extend beyond national borders. There is no rule which says that co-operatives must be big in order to be successful. But in our new environment, I feat that co-operatives which do not grow are destined to decrease in size, to lose market share, and perhaps even to disappear. This would be a great tragedy for the members who depend on them.
I also see a danger that, in this fierce market environment, different co-operative sectors could interpret and apply the co-operative principles in different ways. The ICA Statement on the Co-operative Identity is designed to allow some room for flexibility of application, but we must avoid a situation in which our common co-operative identity is weakened or even lost.
All these factors explain why I have been placing such great emphasis on the theme of Integration. It is no longer just a nice philosophical exercise to speak about co-operation among co-operatives. It has become a market necessity.
One of the main tools to promote the integration that we so badly need is communications. ICA and its members all have a variety of communications vehicles, but I have the impression that they are not sufficient to enable us to exchange the most important kind of information in the fastest possible way.
We have always had difficulties in explaining the co-operative identity to public opinion and to governments. Today the challenge has become even greater, for co-operatives can no longer identify themselves as a “third way” between socialism and capitalism. We are clearly a part of the market economy, but with the objective of serving the interests of our members.
During the last meeting of the ICA global Board, in April in Japan, we spent considerable time discussing these issues. We decided that, when the Board meets again in October in Paris, we should concentrate almost exclusively on the changes which are needed within ICA in view of these great new challenges facing our members. We will look at how our governing bodies operate, the nature of our meetings, the priorities of our work programme, and our relationship with the Specialised Bodies. In short, we will be trying to make Co-operative Integration more concrete and more successful.
It is an exciting time to be involved in co-operative work, whether at the national or international level. I am grateful for the support which I continue to receive from my co-operative colleagues in Brazil, from ICA members, from the Board, and from the ICA staff. I look forward to participating in many more national and sectoral meetings; to joining continental leaders at the four Regional Assemblies which will be held this year in Zambia, France, Korea, and Uruguay; and to meeting co-operators from around the world at our great Congress and General Assembly in Quebec City, Canada, next year.