It is very encouraging when co-operative members meet to discuss ideas, agree on proposals and outline strategies to build fairer, more democratic and solidary societies. It is even more encouraging when they do not close in on themselves but leave their door wide-open to dialogue with other social actors that also contribute to the construction of a fairer world.
We must realise our full potential, but not alone. It is necessary that governments at all levels listen to us and that we can knit strategic alliances with them for the benefit of our communities. It is necessary that universities train professionals capable of positively intervening in co-operatives, because they know them, understand them and can defend them. It is necessary that the workers, organised in unions, feel that they are brothers and sisters of those who organise themselves to manage their means of production. It is necessary that small and medium entrepreneurs understand that in co-operatives they can find tools for the development of their business and their communities.
You know well that it is not enough to say that we have principles and values, but we must not forget them either. WE are the only economic model that pursues economic actions based on mutual aid, responsibility, solidarity, equity, equality and democracy. We do not do social responsibility while pursuing profit. We put the people in the first place and this is the reason why we exist. We exercise social responsibility as something inherent to our business.
I began my life as a co-operator in my small hometown, Coronel Pringles, where thousands of people have energy, water and other basic services thanks to a group of neighbours who decided to form a co-operative. This happens in my country, Argentina, in more than a thousand towns where the state could not be present and where large companies that make profit with such services did not find profitability to carry out the business.
That’s why I soon learned that it is possible to manage basic services through a co-operative. It is not only possible, it is better. Because the users participate in the business, which is sustainable as more people are included at the lowest possible cost. It is very different from the logic of big capital, whose owners do not even live in the communities where they carry out the service and often leave the communities abandoned to their fate.
Co-operative work has given another example of this contrast. Maybe some people know that at the beginning of this century, in my country, Argentina, thousands of companies were abandoned by their owners because they were unsustainable, as a result of a great economic crisis. Workers recovered those companies, reopened them and organised themselves in a co-operative way.
From the ICA perspective, which I have the honour of presiding, I want to tell you that we are working with great enthusiasm to achieve a closer approach to our members, to listen to their proposals, their needs and to achieve greater integration in each territory. Globally, there are important challenges that call us to action today. We are strongly committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, because we understand that more than 170 years ago, near the place where you are today, a movement was born that has transcended governments, historical periods, economic crises, and has grown exponentially, faithfully following its principles and values.
Today, we are more than 1.2 billion people around the world. One in every six people in the planet. Can you imagine the potential of a movement of such magnitude if it works in an integrated way? I congratulate you for this meeting and for the task that you are developing. I am sending you warm co-operative greetings and I invite you to continue being part of this beautiful movement that has the wonderful task of building a better world every day.
Ariel Guarco, ICA President.