ICA's Development Programme - An Agenda for the 21st Century

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         June 1995

               ICA's Development Programme  
               - An Agenda for the 21st Century 

                    by Jan-Eirik Imbsen*

The overall aim of the ICA Development Strategy is to
contribute to the effective implementation of the ICA Policy
for Co-operative Development, viz. "the establishment and
growth of independent, democratic and viable co-operative
organizations, in which men and women participate on equal
terms. These organizations must be capable of serving their
members effectively and contributing to economic growth and
social equity in their respective communities and/or

The ICA's current Strategy for Co-operative Development that
was approved by ICA's General Assembly in 1993, serves as a
practical guide for the organization's Development Programme.
However, socio-economic changes affecting co-operatives demand
that the ICA continuously reassess its strategies to prepare
it for the momentous challenges ahead, posed by an environment
characterized in the developing world by (inter alia)
structural adjustment, liberalization, and the disengagement
of the State.  

The Strategy, therefore, seeks to introduce an approach to
co-operative development that will address and meet the needs
of its members while responding to the increasing demands for
a sustainable as well as environmentally-safe development. 

ICA's Regional Offices will also formulate Regional
Development Plans, which should respond to regional concerns
and members' priorities. Relevance, sustainability, and
synergy between programmes are common denominators of these
plans which will give direction and focus to regional


The ICA Development Programme is implemented by the
Development Section in Geneva and by ICA's Regional Offices
for Asia and the Pacific, East, Central and Southern Africa,
West Africa, and the Americas. These offices co-ordinate and
implement development programmes and represent and provide
services to members within the region. Being extensions of the
Head Office, the Regional Offices report to Geneva.

The role of the Development Section at Head Office is to
promote co-operative development in general and ICA's
Development Programme in particular. It co-ordinates and
monitors the implementation of the various co-operative
development initiatives at the regional level and assists the
Regional Offices with planning and budgeting.  In addition, it
is responsible for establishing and maintaining contacts with
development organizations, identifying opportunities for
future collaboration and promoting and implementing ICA

Development Trust

The current framework has now been  changed to one that we
believe will enhance the sustainability of ICA's development
function as well as its capacity to support co-operative
development. The proposal calls for the establishment of an
ICA Development Trust that will be responsible for the
implementation of development programmes. The Trust will
consist of Regional Trusts, which will be the implementing
bodies of development activities in the respective regions,
joined together in one Global Trust whose function will be
coordinatory, promotional and supervisory. Both regional and
global Trust Funds will be established to finance activities,
the money raised only from development partners and members.
The composition of its Board will ensure control by the ICA

The restructuring suggests changes in the structural set-up
rather than in content (the role, function and activities). We
do not expect major changes in the mandate or modus operandi,
and the level of activity will continue to be determined by
our access to funds to carry them out. In other words we would
like to continue much as before, but with a bigger portfolio
and a structure better adapted to carry out our functions and


The ICA is receiving requests for increased support from
member organizations while having to contend with an
increasingly competitive environment for financial resources
for programmes in the South. Hence, the need for a coherent
strategy that enhances ICA's capacity to access funding on
behalf of its members. The ICA will therefore actively seek to
broaden its resource base. 

A recent study proposes a bigger role for the ICA in
development work with a corresponding increase in the size and
capacity of the development section. Whereas we in principle
endorse the view that ICA should be a leader in this field (in
collaboration and not in competition with our partners), it is
difficult to foresee any substantial increase in the short
term given the current prospects for the necessary additional
funding. It would be more realistic to look into ways and
means to better utilize existing resources (manpower,
involving specialized organizations, etc.). However, the
search for sustained additional funding remains a priority. 

The raison d` etre of the regional offices is their members
who also cover part of their institutional and project costs.
The importance of good member relations cannot therefore be
overemphasized. Whereas donor funding is vital for project
implementation, members' contributions remain a sine qua non
for the self sustainability of the offices. At the same time,
the non-financial support that the members can give to the
offices constitutes the very foundation of their existence.

However, it is a sad fact that without the benefit of external
support, the poorest movements will become further
marginalized. It is therefore imperative that development
partners continue to vigorously support in particular those
movements which have a reasonable chance of becoming viable.
In this context, co-operation between co-operators is viewed
as a matter of solidarity and partnership. At the same time
collaborative efforts are the key to the successful
achievement of our objective of sustained development.

Added Value to Membership

Dwindling membership, especially in Africa and Central
America, is a source of concern. Apart from a loss of income,
it also erodes the base and the support that our offices
depend on in the regions, and it diminishes their
representative basis. 

An essential question that goes to the core of the
organization and that we have to ask ourselves is of course
why co-operatives should want to become members of the ICA.
Our challenge is to find a meaningful answer to this question,
an answer that does not only emphasize ICA's role as a
provider of development projects. (In these days of an
increasingly tougher economic climate, the cost benefit of the
membership is inevitably looked at.)

It may be assumed that for at least some organizations a major
motivating factor for joining the ICA is the prospect of
programme assistance. Though understandable (an evaluation
report last year concluded inter alia that the ICA was the
perfect conduit for assistance at a regional level), it is
based on a misconception of the regional offices as being
primarily project offices rather than Regional (or
continental) Offices in the fullest sense. This image needs to
be corrected, and that requires a clear understanding of their
role in the region. 

Giving added value to the members therefore becomes the
organization's biggest challenge. This means being able to
respond to the needs of a multi-faceted membership. We know
that gaining access to a global network is an important
incentive for organizations to join the ICA, in addition to
the more "traditional" reasons such as representation,
information etc. Although ICA is not perceived as a business
organization per se, it may nevertheless be important for the
ICA network also to be recognised as a network with a business

An Agenda for Development

One important function is to facilitate collaboration and
integration between movements in the North and the South, and
to help create new alliances in the context of structural
changes. A priority in all regional offices is the alleviation
of problems caused by the rapidly changing environment brought
about by adjustment policies, liberalization of markets,
disengagement of the State, etc. This has necessitated a
review of strategies, one result of which was a study on
Co-operative adjustment in a changing environment in
sub-Saharan Africa. 

In Latin America the core project is one which aims at
enhancing the role of co-operatives as business enterprises.
(The major regional event in that region for 1995 will be the
ICA Regional Conference on Strategic Alliances and Joint
Ventures, scheduled for 6-8 December in Miami. More than 600
co-operative leaders are expected to participate in the
sessions designed to generate co-operative business and trade
opportunities. Conference sponsors include the World Bank,
Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, Inter-American
Development Bank, in addition to our long-standing partners
Developpement International Des-jardins, and Swedish
Co-operative Centre.)

As the world-wide apex organization of co-operatives, ICA
would like to assist co-operators in defining their
co-operative vision and perceived future role in
socio-economic development. It should also serve as a tool to
convert these into viable strategies and programmes for
sustainable development adjusted to local conditions.  A
prerequisite for this is a common ideological foundation based
on co-operative values and principles. Broad participation,
decentralization and democratization are all elements of a
strategy for sustainable development. They are also intrinsic
features of co-operation. The basic co-operative values and
principles are thus our best tools to realize true
co-operative development.

ICA will still continue to support member-based national apex
organizations that provide central leadership, guidance and
services to its members.  However, co-operatives without the
potential for resource and member mobilization and whose
primary functions are to serve as extensions of national
political structures or as conduits for external assistance,
will find it difficult to receive support. 

The growth of national sectoral co-operative organizations
with an income- generating base will be strongly encouraged.
Such co-operatives have succeeded in serving their members
even in conditions where ineffective apexes, established from
above, without a foundation in the membership, have failed.
The emergence and growth of non-traditional co-operative
self-help enterprises that can provide a wider range of
services, e.g. energy, health, communications, youth, school
and university co-operatives, should also be promoted. 

Although we agree that a primary level focus is essential in
co-operative development in general, we would advocate
supporting intermediary organizations that are capable of
providing vital services to their members. We are also of the
opinion that the ICA should not give direct support to primary
societies.  Such assistance, which we do not have the capacity
to provide (unless through national/apex/sectoral member
organizations), should be the task of co-operative donor
agencies. The ICA should rather implement regional activities
for which it is eminently suited. 
We agree to the principle of movement-to-movement support, but
at the same time we also recognize the importance of working
together with Governments in creating an enabling environment
for co-operative development. To that effect ICA maintains a
continuous and constructive dialogue with government
structures through Ministerial Conferences, meetings of
registrars and other fora.

The attainment of this appropriate co-operative-government
relationship is a major objective of ICA's Development
Programme. As the world-wide representative of co-operatives,
ICA is uniquely placed to influence government policy in this
direction. With the support of other international and
national organizations which support co-operative development,
this concept of co-operatives as member-driven, private sector
organizations is gaining widespread acceptance.

All of ICA's Regional Offices engage in regular policy
dialogue of this kind with national Governments, in
collaboration with national co-operative member organizations.
In two regions, Asia-Pacific and East, Central and Southern
Africa, the organization of regular meetings of Co-operative
Ministers has been a useful technique to promote greater
government/co-operative understanding. 

For example, since the 1990 ICA Ministerial Conference in
Sydney, significant improvements in co-operative policy and
legislation have been made or are underway in a number of
countries in Asia. These initiatives in the promotion of
policy dialogue should continue and be expanded.

Sustained co-operative growth requires an environment
sensitized and conducive to co-operative development.
Legislation constitute an important part of this environment.
A legal framework favourable to the development of
co-operatives as autonomous, self-help business organizations
will also have a beneficial impact on overall development. ICA
Regional Offices assist in national and regional efforts aimed
at providing legal frameworks that will permit the emergence
and progress of true co-operatives. 

ICA participation in United Nations fora provides another
means of accessing Governments and influencing policy.
Accorded Category I Consultative Status in 1946, the ICA is
invited to participate in UN meetings, receives information
and documentation on a wide variety of development questions,
and consults and co-operates with UN staff.

The ICA will continue to collaborate with the United Nations
Secretariat and a number of UN agencies including the
International Labour Office (ILO), the Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), and to work through the Committee for the
Promotion and Advancement of Co-operatives (COPAC), which aims
at improving co-ordination among members' activities for the
promotion of co-operatives worldwide.

ICA has made the point to the UN that the Co-operative
Movement is a logical partner for the implementation of
programmes and activities. This is now being reflected in
major UN documents such as the Declaration and Programme of
Action of the World Summit for Social Development. In future
the ICA will be requested not only to provide information on
the co-operative movement but to collaborate concretely with
the UN in the implementation of such recommendations and
become a true partner of the UN.

Sustainable development has been at the forefront of the ICA
co-operative development strategy. We recognize that
development is a complex process that embraces a range of
non-economic factors including those relating to social
development. At the same time we have to acknowledge that
economic growth is fundamental to the achievement of these

The ICA is convinced that the participatory approach to
development is the only way in which to assure sustainable
development. Therefore, the ICA Development Programme,
implemented through its regional offices, focuses on assisting
national co-operative movements to grow to meet the needs of
their membership which in turn supports the development of
their countries and regions. To further emphasise its
importance, sustainable development is one of the two main
topics at this year's Centennial Congress.

Co-operation among co-operators is an ICA principle. Such
co-operation should begin "at home". It is therefore essential
that horizontal collaboration between ICA's regional offices
be intensified. The introduction of electronic networking has
facilitated such communication within the organization. We
strongly believe that increased interregional exchange will
enhance the quality of our outputs.

ICA's bigger agenda may well prove to be its strength in times
of donor fatigue and tightening purse strings. Being part of
and representing a global body with a mission and objectives
that make them more than just providers of projects, the
regional offices have a mandate that by far exceeds that of
most donor organizations. This mandate is, however, not enough
to guarantee the continued existence of the offices unless it
has the necessary financial backing. 

Human Resource Development 

Being a prerequisite for co-operative development, HRD
constitutes the backbone of ICA's development programme and
aims to assist co-operatives in building up coherent and
sustainable systems for improving their human resource base. 

The ICA will assist in the development of regional and
national policies and strategies for HRD as well as in the
design of methodologies, training programmes and activities.
Such policies and strategies must be developed, implemented,
monitored and adjusted to changing needs. The focus should be
on activities like upgrading and updating managerial skills
(strengthening technical qualifications without neglecting the
value-oriented foundation of co-op business), and promoting
regional networking.

HRD programmes should contribute to the attainment of regional
development objectives as identified in office strategies and
plans. In order to have an impact on co-operative development
in the regions with our relatively limited resources, it is
absolutely essential that the HRD project supplement and
reinforce activities that are carried out within the framework
of identified priorities For instance in Africa the focus is
on assisting member organizations adjust to and survive in the
new economic and political environment. Only then will we
ensure the relevance, and enhanced effectiveness, of our HRD
project activities. 

Needless to say, the strategy and workplan should reflect and
address the concerns and needs of our member organizations.
This, in turn, presupposes a participative approach which
entails the active participation of member organizations in
needs assessment and the setting of priorities. Such an
approach will give our members a vested interest in what we
are doing and may serve as an incentive for member

The dependence on donor funds is a problem. We concur with the
principle of time limit for donor assistance, but would
advocate flexible limits in regard to certain activities that
rarely become self-sustaining, e.g. education and training.
Although most co-operative leaders seem to agree to the
importance of co-operative HRD, experience tells us that,
faced with imminent problems, few can afford to give priority
in their budgets to something that does not promise immediate

The Gender Issue

Co-operatives are a tested model of organized collaboration
which provide avenues for both women and men to pool human
resources, converting individual potential into a
socio-economic force. They are a form of organization which
women can use to help themselves. With their democratic
structure, co-operatives offer women as members and employees
opportunities for participation in and influence over economic
activities. Women gain self-reliance through this
participation, as well as access to opportunities which they
would not have been able to obtain on their own. 

ICA's Policy on Women in Co-operative Development calls for
the vigorous promotion of women's role and gender issues in
general, and for the ICA to be a catalyst and co-ordinator of
gender programmes, to identify and mobilise donor support, and
to assist in formulating policies, strategies and programmes
designed to advance the role of women in co-operatives. Given
the international nature of the organization which gives it
access to various fora where it can further advocate gender
issues, and its structure with its specialised bodies that act
as vehicles for the institutionalised promotion of gender
issues, the ICA should be well equipped to realize this

Gender programmes are being run at every regional office. The
former Secretary of the Women's Committee, deploring in an
article in the last issue of the Review the elimination of the
posts as women's officers in the regions, can therefore take
heart. Our very dedicated staff charged with the
implementation of these programmes organize seminars, produce
materials and carry out other activities that are geared
towards the participation of women in co-operative
development. Head Office is equally involved in this work in
which we enjoy excellent collaboration with a number of
international organizations.

Regional gender consultations have now been held in every
region. These meetings have enabled us to bring together
co-operators, men as well as women, to discuss gender
integration in co-operative development. These meetings have
not only contributed to increased gender awareness, but also
produced useful documentation on the status in the regions
(e.g. fourteen country studies on women in co-operatives in
conjunction with the Asia/Pacific consultation).

It should also be mentioned that the ICA is very involved in
the preparations for the Fourth World Conference on Women in
Beijing next year. We have so far participated in preparatory
meetings in New York, Jakarta, Mar del Plata, Vienna, and
Dakar. Our aim is to have co-operatives recognized as
institutions that contribute to the advancement of women.

Our job is to realize co-operatives' potential in improving
the position of women, and we must not be afraid to venture
into uncharted waters. The ICA has recently embarked on a
joint project with the World Health Organization which, if a
success, may validate the use of the co-operative approach in
"new" areas. The project is an intervention study to develop
and test an enabling approach to reduce HIV/STD transmission
in a fish trading community in the Luapula Province in Zambia. 
The objective will be to bring about social and economic
empowerment among marginalised women through co-operative
development which we hope will in turn contribute to reducing
HIV transmission. We would be very happy if we could show that
the co-operative approach can be a valuable supplement to the
standard approaches for HIV prevention.


In an article in the Review 35 years ago, Dr. Bonow (see page
86 of this Review) was quoted as saying that the co-operative
movement must do more to urge the national Governments to take
action and whilst the national movements acted at this level
the ICA must act at the international level through
non-governmental and inter-governmental agencies. He thought
that the co-operative movement was the most important
supplementary means of help for the developing countries
because it was encouraging self-help at the grass roots. He
concluded that the ICA must do all it can to ensure increased
efficiency from international aid for the co-op movements in
the developing countries.

As in the past ICA will continue to vigorously promote
co-operative development through ICA's Development Programme
which will faithfully execute the organization's policies and
strategies for the benefit of its members. The relevance of
our service delivery is also our justification. Retaining our
ability to respond to development needs and aspirations is our
challenge as we stand on the threshold of a new century.

* Mr Imbsen is Human Resource Development Director at ICA
Headquarters in Geneva.