Overview of ICA Activities in the Americas (1994-95)

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    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
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                         January 1996
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          Report of the Vice-President for the Americas 
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to the ICA General Assembly, Manchester, 22-23 September 1995
                    by Roberto Rodrigues*

Two years ago in Geneva, I commented on a set of concerns, a
number of ideas and the many hopeful expectations I had when I
took up my post as Vice-President of the ICA for the Americas.
Today, it is my duty to tell you about the course we are taking,
and how far we have got.

I must say that one of the toughest responsibilities I have in
the ICA is the one I am tackling now - having to summarise two
years of work in less than ten minutes.

Many things have happened and we have many tales to tell, but I
suppose that if our renowned author Garcia Marques can recount
100 years of the history of Macondo in 400 pages, I should be
able to present my report in three.

Let us put ourselves on the map. The Americas: North America,
Central America, South America and the Caribbean: a region made
up of 48 countries and territories, 5 trading blocks, 600 million
inhabitants, 4 main languages and several dialects. A
heterogeneous region to be sure.

And like the rest of the world, our region is facing increasingly
rapid political, economic and social changes on the stages on
which our co-operative enterprises operate. This has produced new
situations, new problems, and new questions. The most striking
question, because the answer involves all the co-operative
structures, is "What use is membership to us?". The associates
are asking the co-operatives, the co-operatives are asking the
Federation, and the Federation is asking the organisation at the
top of the pyramid; we are all asking the ICA.

This is my starting point for telling you about the process and
the results we have achieved so far.

First, three aspects of reality that are not what I thought they
were two years ago. Number one, shortly after starting my work I
reached the conclusion, which today is irrefutable, that the
position of Vice-President is not really a political post, it is
that of a social communicator.

For the past two years, wherever there was an idea that we wanted
to promote among our membership, the process has been the same:
consult, listen, propose and agree. It is the quality and
frequency of our communications that governs the degree of
commitment we achieve.
Second, the differences in background across the continent,
between north and south, and south-south, which we thought were
going to make joint work difficult, have turned out to be one of
the great strengths of our co-operative project and the
foundations of the proposals for strategic alliances that we are
now promoting.

Third, and this is something different, it is not that obvious to
all the co-operatives and their leadership that co-operatives
exist to serve their members and that, in order to do so, they
must necessarily be competitive enterprises in their respective
markets. The threats from the market to our co-operative
enterprises have to be faced on the basis of productivity; they
cannot be repelled with political artifices.
So, given these realities and questions, the challenge was to
define how the ICA would support its members in the Americas or
to establish, correctly, what role the members want the ICA to
play. It being understood, of course, that the ICA will do
everything our members want in the Americas, on one condition:
our members cannot want us to do everything.
The first task, therefore, is to define the direction to take and
on what and up to what point we can work together; to know where
we want to go, so as to know if we are moving in the right
direction. If you don't know where you are going, wherever you
get to is the right place. 

Continuing the process, we went out first to consult our members.
What do they expect from the ICA? We listened and, on the basis
of all the recommendations, we proposed a menu of topics to
choose from.

To get proposals, we invited all our members to be imaginative,
to look beyond the everyday. To say to themselves, like Bernard
Shaw, "You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that
never were; and I say 'Why not?'"

To choose, I asked them to be practical. You can agree and assume
commitments only on real foundations.

With those two watchwords we went to our first Regional Assembly
of the Americas in November in Sao Paulo. There we forged the
common commitment of our members on three topics that constitute
what we have called our Agenda for the Future: first,
Co-operative Principles and Values; second, Human Resource
Development; and third, Co-operative Business.

The course was set.

In the Americas we firmly believe that one of the ICA's inherent
functions is the defence and promotion of Co-operative Principles
and Values as the distinctive elements in and support of our
identity. We cannot imagine a more important and urgent task in
current circumstances.

And I believe that the statement on a co-operative identity that
we shall be adopting here in Manchester is like a musical score.
It will be for each national movement, each sector, each
co-operative, to start  to play it in the key of its specific
geographical, economic and cultural context. They should adopt
the statement, overlay it with their own rhythm, and play it
forte, because everyone must be able to hear it.
Human resources, as the source, centre and end of all
co-operative action, are recognised by our membership to be the
decisive factor in the ability of the co-operative enterprise to
compete now and in the future

Being effective in this area means that we see the results on the
faces of our associates, leaders and employees, and also on the
balance sheet of the enterprise. Everything must be brought
together to bolster the competitive effort, and competitive
ability must in turn be harnessed to serve our members.
I am especially concerned with the case of women and young
people. I am personally committed to bringing about radical
changes in the way that we have treated those two sections of our
membership. For me, it is ridiculous for us to start talking of
the future without remembering that it is the young people who
are the only ones who can assure that future; young people were
the keynote of our first Regional Assembly.

Women are to be the keynote of our second Regional Assembly.
Because if we cannot overcome gender subordination in the
co-operatives of the Americas, there can be no talk of democracy,
and still less of participation.

And our third topic: Business. Our members require - dem
that we use our capability as a continental and world network to
help them gain better market positions, to innovate in capital
formation, to expand their relations, and to improve technology.
Our members hope that the ICA will help them to do better
business, so as to be able to serve their members better.
Those are the three topics on which we shall be focusing our time
and energy in the next few years and they should be seen as a
single unit since they interact to define the future of the
co-operatives as enterprises and co-operation as an
organisational option.

With the course defined, we now need to press ahead to prove, to
make it visible to our members, that we are following the course
we have defined.

At the structural level, the Regional Advisory Council has been
set up and is in operation, with one representative from each
country.

he Regional Office that was in operation in Costa Rica for
Central America and the Caribbean has, pursuant to a decision by
the members, become the Regional Office for the Americas and
already has very good close relationships with the countries to
the south.

The regional chapters of the Banking Committees are already in
operation, as is the insurance network that we had before, and
the Regional Energy Committee has been formed. We are currently
working on the formation of the consumption, housing and
agricultural committees, which should be in place by the end of
this year. The setting up of the women's  and tourism committees
is scheduled for 1996, as is the consolidation of the INCOTEC
network.

We are now concentrating on preparing a strategic plan that will
make it possible to define how we will be working on each and all
of the three components of the Co-operative Principles and
Values, Human Resource Development, and Co-operative Business.
Our 1996 Regional Assembly's main item will be the adoption of
this plan, which we should view by and large as our passport not
only for getting into the next century but, what is more
important, for getting there in time for the meeting with the
third millennium.

The strategic plan for 1996-2000 must reflect our idea of
building the largest organisational network of the continent:
electronically interconnected; with strong sectoral co-operative
integration at the country and region level, based on business;
with political structures that are light but flexible; 
co-operation with the power to negotiate in the processes of
adjustment and to make proposals as an actor in civil society.
As you can see, we are still a long way from where we want to be.
But we are moving forward. And we are listening, proposing,
agreeing. We shall get there.

My friends, I would like to conclude by saying in brief that the
work we have been doing so far, and everything we are going to
have to do in the future in the Region of the Americas, has but
one purpose: to deliver added value to our membership. That means
giving positive answers to the questions raised by associates,
councils and managers - a meaningful answer to the question "Why
are we members of the ICA?".

* Roberto Rodrigues is President of Eximcoop, Organisation of Co-
operatives of Brazil, ICA Vice-President for the Americas and
former Chairman of the ICA Agricultural Committee.