After years of working in the field of cooperatives and credit unions in the Dominican Republic, Scarboro missionary Fr. Harvey Steele went to Panama in 1962. There he established a study center to educate Latin Americans in the cooperative movement. This work led to the founding of the Interamerican Cooperative Institute (ICI) in 1964, which has provided leadership training to more than 3,000 men and women from nearly 800 organizations involved in grassroots development in Latin America and the Caribbean. At ICI, participants analyze their local situations, learn from each other’s experiences, and strengthen their skills in order to strengthen their communities.
Scarboro lay missioner Thomas Walsh, one of several Scarboro missioners who served as a director of the work of ICI, remembers: “Instead of bio technology and mono crops, ICI has advocated organic cultivation and crop association; instead of intermediaries and unjust terms of trade, ICI has advocated producer-to-consumer relations and fair trade; instead of globalization, ICI has encouraged strengthening of local economies; instead of exclusion, ICI has advocated gender equality and inclusion of minorities.”
In January 2010, after almost 45 years, Scarboro turned over the buildings, land, and responsibility for ICI to a new Board of Directors with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras as President and Carlos Lee, a well-known Panamanian lawyer, as Executive Director. At that time, the new Executive Director outlined a vision to create at ICI a Latin American Centre for the teaching and diffusion of Catholic social teaching.