On the occasion of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen’s 200th birthday, the 22nd IGA anniversary was celebrated together with the South Tyrol Raiffeisen Association on 15th November 2018 in Bolzano at the EURAC research centre. The selected overall theme was,“An idea as a driving force for the future”. The vast number of participants enjoyed lectures from top-notch speakers. While the event naturally also included recollections on the development of Raiffeisen cooperatives, it was mainly – as the title suggests – focussed on the future. Therefore, the hosts were delighted to welcome students from the 4th grade of an agricultural secondary school to join the other guests, as the future lies in the hands of the young people.
Following words of welcome from the General Manager of the South Tyrol Raiffeisen Association, Paul Gasser, and from the Executive IGA President, Arnulf Perkounigg, Johannes Leitner, Director of the Audit Association for Vienna-Lower Austria, kicked off the lectures with his presentation on the topic,“F. W. Raiffeisen 200 – What is the real legacy of a great idea?” During his lecture, Leitner attached great importance to freedom. Freedom that leads to taking control of your own destiny. Freedom that leads to getting involved and committing yourself. Freedom that needs to align with the well-being of others. Rules can only be a framework, but must not threaten this freedom. Already, their structures make cooperatives suitable forms of business and activity – a business form that demands a lot from corporate management, as it needs to take ethical principles into account, if it is to be correctly understood. Back in F. W. Raiffeisen’s day, these were exclusively Christian values.
The Hans Heiss in his presentation, “Raiffeisen’s idea as an economic driving force within the history of Tyrol” enormous significance of the cooperative idea paving the way for wealth in Tyrol and mainly South Tyrol. The small-structured rural area was especially under terrible pressure due to societal changes at the end of the 19th century. The cooperative idea was a potential solution to counter these changes and it was utilised accordingly. Due to the separation of Tyrol and Italy’s annexation of South Tyrol, this success seemed to be questioned once again. This was also the time which consistently showed that the Raiffeisen network was of utmost importance as a social security provision. However, during World War II, this also started to shatter. Having escaped complete collapse, Raiffeisen cooperatives emerged from World War II even stronger. As a result of South Tyrol’s autonomy in 1972, they experienced another growth spurt. The strength gained became apparent especially based on their stabilising role during the banking crisis that started in 2008. Heiss closed by saying: “F. W. Raiffeisen would certainly not be dissatisfied with the results seen in Southern Tyrol as a continuation of his ideas.”
The next presentation was led by Andreas Kappes, Head of Department for International Relations at the DGRV (German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation) and Secretary General of the IRU (International Raiffeisen Union). He reminded the participants of how the cooperative foundations started out in F. W. Raiffeisen’s days. Under the heading, “Cooperative development work according to Raiffeisen’s tradition” Andreas Kappes painted a picture of regions, in which poverty, hunger, exploitation, loss of one’s own economic livelihood, as well as a lack of opportunities to participate (economically, politically, socially) are still widespread even today. The DGRV considers it their mission to provide sustainable aid to these developing countries, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, through cooperative development work to achieve self-help, self-government and self-responsibility. In this context, the International Raiffeisen Union (IRU), which also celebrated an anniversary in 2018 – its 50th – is playing a key role, at least that is the intention. This cooperative development aid is based on the conviction that sustainability for the future can only succeed through joint efforts.
The last presentation, “Cooperatives as innovative collaborations, modern networks and forward-looking platforms” by Theresia Theurl, Managing Director of the Institute for Cooperative Systems at the University of Münster, was about one of the main reasons why cooperatives are developed successfully. Cooperatives, which, based on their independence, their proximity and their rooting in the region, collaborate with others in a network, can realise major projects. Over the years since their formation, they have always proved that cooperatives are strong – especially in times of change. However, we must not forget that working in networks can pose significant challenges for the responsible parties due to their complexity. Therefore, especially nowadays, being characterised by rapid changes, cooperatives can be applied in a broad field of activity. It is not a big leap from networks to platforms, which threaten to virtually overrun us and put the individual market players, including cooperatives, under enormous pressure. In the spirit of F. W. Raiffeisen, we need to ask ourselves why cooperatives do not create their own platforms? This would mean that users can simultaneously be owners and could thereby harvest the added value from the platforms themselves. This is a concept that corresponds exactly to the original image of personal identity within cooperatives (customer = owner).
During the subsequent panel discussion , the individual presentations were further discussed and also challenged.
A conference transcript, in which the presentations and contributions to the discussion are published, is being drafted. If you are interested in receiving this, please get in touch with Arnulf Perkounigg at email@example.com. We will make a note of it and send you the transcript as soon as it has been printed.
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