Reflections on the position and prospects of cooperative enterprises - The significance of Raiffeisen's ideas in modern times

01 Dec 2018

The 200th birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818-1888), the German cooperative pioneer, represents a good opportunity to explore the significance of traditional cooperative principles in the global society today. Compared to publications on – cooperative contemporaries of – Raiffeisen and case studies on cooperatives, this article takes a fresh and forward-looking approach. It draws parallels between past, present and expected global economic, environmental and social issues where cooperatives have been, are or could be part of the solution. Conceptually, the analysis fuses notions from various social sciences to paint a well-founded image and outlook for different types of cooperatives. The formulated views stem from real-life cases, contemporary scholarly analyses and international policy discussions on the one hand and generally recognised global trends on the other. Concretely, we look for the footprint of cooperative innovators in the agricultural and banking sector in Europe. Particular attention is paid to current issues and future prospects of rural coops and cooperative banks, both in Europe and other corners of the world. The paper pinpoints where the original cooperative ideas show up in trending and mainstream policy and academic discussions and publications on social innovators, social capital and the social economy. The paper also contains an exposition of the potential and viability of incumbent and newly emerging cooperatives outside the rural and banking sector. Taken together, our meta-study finds irrefutable evidence that the attention for and popularity of the cooperative business model gained global momentum since the outbreak of the Great Financial Crisis in 2007/8 as a result of a broad range of interconnected factors and long-term trends. The cooperative movement displays creativity and innovativeness as evidenced by its experimentation with new concepts such as social cooperatives, community cooperatives, business and employment cooperatives, labour intermediation cooperatives, multi-stakeholder cooperatives. This paper supports the notion that every society works best economically and socially with a diverse private sector.


By Hans Groeneveld

Working Paper, Tilburg University