Speech at opening ceremony of the 33° World Cooperative Congress, in Seoul, Republic of Korea:

“Dear friends, dear colleagues, representatives of the cooperativism from the five continents.

Welcome to the thirty-third World Cooperative Congress!

I feel deeply honored to be able to welcome you to this Congress, a Congress that will be historic for many reasons, but fundamentally because it will seek to share learnings and build new proposals to deepen our Cooperative Identity in a World that has been crossed by a scenario still critical and uncertain in health, economic, social and environmental terms.

First of all, I want to share the painful fact that the pandemic, in just two years, has provoked more than 5 million two hundred thousand deaths worldwide.

For those loved ones, for those colleagues, for the partners of our organizations and for all of those who had lost their lives in this pandemic, I want  to propose, before starting this Congress, that we take a respectful minute of silence.


Thank you very much.


I was saying a few minutes ago, that we are facing a historic Congress, fundamentally, for  demonstrating an heroical commitment in the context of the worst health, economic, social and environmental crisis that has punished humanity in the global era.

To the pain caused by the loss of so many lives, an enormous uncertainty has joined  the economic and social future of the World and of each one of its countries and regions.

Indeed  economic activity has fallen, jobs have been lost, poverty, hunger and inequality have worsened.

The pandemic has proved the enormous fragilities of the human society.

I am referring to the social fragility of a world where the 10 percent of its population is  in a situation of extreme poverty. A figure that is increasing even in high and middle incomes, and that of course has been aggravated by the pandemic.

The social fragility of a world where discrimination and violence still exist on ethical, cultural and social grounds. Violence that we will only be able to overcome if we learn to build an economy from the cooperation, as the one proposed in the Rwanda, Kigali, Assembly where along with the convening of this Congress, we committed ourselves to build a Cooperative Agenda for positive peace.

Our Common House, our planet Earth,  suffers a remarkable environmental fragility, which  has direct links with this drastic health situation that we are still suffering.

Droughts and floods, increasement in the frequency of the climate disasters, fires… we have very clear signs that we are facing a borderline environmental situation.

And we also know that all of these problems are intimately linked to each other, which expresses in data such as, for example, that we are experiencing the worst migration crisis since WWII, or that more than 120 milllion people in poverty live in areas at high risk of flooding; or that most of those who are falling below the poverty line do so increasingly in overcrowded contexts and in urban peripheries lacking of decent conditions of living.

Cooperative friends from around the world, we arrived at this Congress after two years of much pain, plenty of worries and a lot of uncertainty… Our families have suffered, our associates have suffered, our communities have suffered…

But we also arrived to this Congress with great pride!

The pride of having demonstrated, once again, the enormous strength of our cooperative business model to face the crises. To give answers to the necessities of our partners and communities at the worst of times.

We have proved, once again, the resilience of our model.

This is no coincidence.. It is the result of the strength of our cooperative identity.

We have to be proud of our model and of our identity.

Once again we have proved that it is possible to build enterprises based on values such as solidarity and democracy, and that it makes us more effective in taking care of the people, our associates and our community.

This is not new. The Sustainable Develepoment has been part of our DNA for many decades and has been explicitly incorporated to our principles since 1995.

We are proud to have a business model that can take care of a positive social, economical and environmental impact, in each of our communities.

We are proud of our business model, because it fully adjusts to the paradigm shift that we must achieve if we want to be a sustainable humanity.

What we should take into acccount, centrally, is that not every business model works for every develeopment model.

We are also proud of the 126 years of history of the International Cooperative Alliance, a story dedicated to build and defend our Cooperative Identity.

When we decided to convene this Congress, we did so thinking that the 125th anniversary of the ICA, and the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Cooperative Identity in 2020, were an excellent opportunity to review and deepen our identity. The same way we did in the 30’s, the 60’s and the 90’s of the last century..

To begin the debate, the document entitled “Analyse the Coopeative Identity” was prepared, which was distributed some weeks ago in the face of this congress.

As our colleague Martin Lowery expresses in the prologue of that document, this Congress “will explore the implications of the Declatration of the Cooperative Identity in today’s complex global environment, and will mark the beginning of an intensive review of the declaration.”

Meaning that, the document invites us to start the debate on wether an upgrade of the Declaration of Cooperative Identity is necessary in the light of the 26 years since the Manchester Congress of 1995, and in the light of everything that has happened in that period, from the radicalization of the digital transformation process, to the pandemic and the deepening of the social inequality.

I am very excited for all the previous debates that have taken place on our identity framework. I believe there are topics that are ready, and that we will be able to move forward on perfecting the documents that expresses our identity.

However, we should never forget our responsibility to ensure the 126 years of history of the ICA.

We have the enormous responsibility to guard our cooperatives identity,  for which any modification must be carefully reviewed, debated and desired by the cooperative members from all regions and all sectors on a global scale.

Beyond this process, which we will begin at this congress, there are also other urgent and in-depth debates, which we will be addressing during these three days.

Personally I have two expectations, closely linked to one another.

First, I would like this debate to contribute to reinforce, in our minds and our hearts, the conviction that there is a narrow link between the cooperative identity and the sustainable development.

Secondly, and this is closely linked to what I mentioned before, we should also convince ourselves that the Cooperative Identity is a competitive advantage.

We know that our cooperatives are competitive as a result of the application of the Cooperative Principles, and not despite all the cooperative principles.

We are competitive because our companies are democratically controlled by their associates. That is to say, we are competitive by applying the second principle.

We are competitive, because we invest in cooperative education. We put resources into the development of our leaders, associates and workers capacities. That is to say, we are competitive by applying the fifth principle.

We are also competitive, because we cooperate with other cooperatives to provide the best services to our associates. That is to say, by applying the sixth principle.

Our competitiveness is built from the Cooperative Identity.

And that is what we need to show to be more competitive.

We should be proud to be companies that take care of work during crisis, and that strengthen the workers rights, even in a context of increasing job insecurity.

We should be proud to be companies capable of leading the digital transformation, but putting it at the services of users and workers.

We should be proud to be the most suitable business model to lead the unpredictable transformation of the agri-food system, because our model allows the active participation of those who are most committed to the environmentally sustainable and social development: consumers and producers.

We should be proud of being the most suitable business model for building a sustainable habitat, to build accesible housing and with renewable energy supply.

Of course it is not easy. The firsts thing that is needed, is the political decision of all the ICA members. The political decision to put our identity first, to work together for the deepening of the Cooperative Identity.

And the second thing, is to have suitable intelligence and  proposals to carry out this work.

Among them, deepen the cooperation between cooperatives at different scales; prioritize the training and the smart transfer of resources and capacities between different territories; taking into our hands the emerging needs of innovation in productive and institutional terms, to continue having an ICA rooted in the territories, held by each of its members, driven by the synergy of regional and sectoral integration, with the strong participation of youth and with a clear equitable participation in matters of gender; to continue moving forward in our positions as a leading actor in debates linked to global governance, showing our differential advantages with respect to other forms of organization of the economy and balancing, in each territory, the actions of markets and public authorities.

As we already indicated in our 2020 Vision and ratified for the decade that is now taking place, we are prepared to be well-known leaders of economic, social and environmental sustainability; we are prepared to be the peoples preferred model; and we are prepared to be the fastest growing type of business organization by 2030.

Us, Cooperatives have already demonstrated our nature in this crisis.

Now we are going to tell the world, strong and clear, that we have the most appropriate business model in the enormous challenges that we face as humanity.

That is what we are building every day. We will contribute to that task in  this World Cooperative Congress.

I want to emphasize, by the way, that this is the first Hybrid Congress in the history of the ICA. It is a Congress where we will develop new forms of participation, with a broader methodology, that will allow us to systematize the debate in a better way, and that will facilitate building consensus within the global cooperative movement.

And we must be deeply grateful to all of the people, organizations and governments that are making this historic thirty-third World Cooperative Congress possible.

I see here many friends from Africa, Europe, the Americas… Many thanks to all of those who have made the effort to travel, to come and share these days in person.

And, of course, to the colleagues from the Asia-Pacific Region, I see here many friends from this beloved region.

I want to give special thanks to our hosts.

To the government and cooperative movement of the Republic of Korea, thank you very much for having assumed the enormous responsibility of hosting this Congress in a situation as complex as the one we are going through on a global scale.

Without you it would not have been possible.

We know that the logistical, economic and institutional effort to make this dream come true has been enormous. Thanks to all the men and women of the Republic of Korea, thanks to the city of Seoul, thanks to those who receive us with such warmth and professionalism.

I would also like to thank the cooperative colleagues who are participating virtually. Some with a difference in time of twelve hours. Good evening to my colleagues, neighbors of the Americas region. I know there are many of you who are following us there.

To those of you who are making the effort to follow us in the middle of the morning, in Africa and in Europe. To the friends of the Asia-Pacific Region, who have not been able to reach Seoul but who are following us online, thank you very much too.

I am very grateful to all sectoral organizations for their constant commitment to the integration and and participation in this Congress. To the Committees, to the Youth Network, thank you very much for your work.

We count with the participation and commitment of each of you to reach the goal and achieve the success of this Congress.

Thanks also to the leaders of other organizations, the ILO, FAO, the entire United Nations system, SSE organizations, and so many others who will accompany us and rank the debates with their presence.

Finally, many thanks to all my colleagues on the ICA Board. Thank you for your work and for your commitment to carry out this very complex task, which requires building broad consensus with each of your organizations.

My deepest respect and eternal gratitude for the excellent work that my dear friend and colleague Martin Lowery has done, chairman of the Identity Committee of the ICA and the Preparatory Working Group for this congress.

Special thanks to the moderators and rapporteurs of each of the plenary and simultaneous sessions. Thank you for the previous organization of each activity, and thank you for the work that, during and after this Congress, you will be doing to build, together, the first conclusions of the debate.

Finally, I want to thank the entire professional team of the ICA, headed by our DG Bruno Roelants.

Dear cooperative friends, we are ready. After many months of isolation and uncertainty, here we are, ready to give the debate that will allow us to generate the necessary consensus to rebuild, together, our planet Earth, our Common House, as well as each of our territories.

I invite you to work hard in these three days to further deepen our Identity and to make effective our contribution to a more just, more peaceful, more inclusive, more democratic world…”