A presidential moment

It’s not often the co-operative movement gets to meet a real live celebrity – with the possible exception of Australian co-operators, who include Hugh Jackman among their numbers....

It’s not often the co-operative movement gets to meet a real live celebrity – with the possible exception of Australian co-operators, who include Hugh Jackman among their numbers.

But judging from the response of the Mexican participants in this week’s General Assembly, President Felipe Calderon is about as famous as it gets.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon addresses the ICA delegates

The arrival of the Mexican president this morning rivalled that of a movie star at the Academy Awards. Our purses and laptop cases  were checked by security before we could enter the convention centre; a team of advance men (and they were pretty much all men) dressed in white awaited us in the massive hall; and television cameras were much in evidence.  Moreover, the Mexican government had asked that male participants dress casually (they said nothing about the women) – something about security and business suits.

When he finally arrived, accompanied by his wife, Margarita Zavala, the excitement of the Mexican delegates was palpable.  They engulfed him in a sea of handshakes and camera flashes, making it hard to see the slight, bespectacled man make his way to the front of the hall. Sure enough, he was wearing a casual white shirt adorned only with light-blue trim and a small Mexican flag pin.

When he finally reached his seat next to ICA President Dame Pauline Green, the hall resounded in a rousing rendition of the Mexican national anthem.  It’s a majestic piece of music and well-suited to the occasion; it made me wish I had a songsheet so I could sing along.

Next came a promotional video entitled “Mexico is opportunity”, extolling the country’s economic competitiveness, commitment to innovation, technological advancement and business success.  It was hard not to think about the contrast between this vision of modern Mexico and the mock-up of a Mayan temple which graced the stage.  But like the co-operative movement itself, Mexico honours its past and looks forward to its future, and after a week of hearing countless references to Mexico’s heritage, the video provided a refreshing change.

The Mexican co-operators also seemed delighted with his speech, in which he pledged to support the co-operative business model and the International Year of Co-operatives.

“I know about the  value – not only the economic results, but also the social value – of a co-operative,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “I see how co-operatives bring together the most human part of the social side and the most human part of the economic side.”

After his speech, he left the hall as he arrived – shaking hands and posing for photos, accompanied by the applause of the crowd.

President Calderon wasn’t the only speaker this morning — the session’s first speaker was also a celebrity of sorts.  Philippe Cousteau is the grandson of the famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau.  He’s young, good-looking and both a committed environmentalist and an accomplished filmmaker.  His subject was the power of telling stories  to create social change, and he punctuated his remarks with video stories of his own: about environmental conditions in the ocean, the Arctic and the Nile River.  He said the key to promoting co-operatives is to tell “compelling human stories of how you and your work is changing the  world.”

Environmentalist and filmmaker Philippe Cousteau

Next up: the General Assembly business meeting, where delegates vote on issues of importance to the global co-operative movement,

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