Schulze-Delitzsch – the Co-operative Idea
Schulze-Delitzsch – “merely” the founder of the co-operative idea or still a visionary?
In 2008, the co-operative banks were discussing the question of whether the co-operative idea is still sustainable and will still be applicable in future. Private sector institutions report increasingly large profits, federal state banks are operating on an international level. However, at the same, time dark clouds are gathering over the financial market. (Lehman Brothers collapsed 3 weeks after the speech). This might indicate that co-operative principles are not yet “out-dated” but still competitive. If yes, how so?
When founding the first co-operatives, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch focused on basic principles like self-help and self-responsibility. His message was: “The existence of the individual and thus the existence of the society are based on freedom and the responsibility of making use of it.” Today, we are asking in how far this basic co-operative idea is still up-to-date und thus relevant for competition. Is it possible to evaluate predictable value developments and, based on that, draw conclusions for the co-operatives that would strengthen their position on the market?
Based on findings made by GIM Value Research and above all in the Delphi study “Vision 2017”, the following results and conclusions for the co-operative idea can be expressed:
Responsibility on the one hand and freedom on the other: a contradiction in terms or a current challenge?
At GIM, research with values has a long tradition. There is an ever-recurring discussion in society about the connection between freedom and responsibility. Three typical theoretical models were identified with this respect:
- Freedom and responsibility are insoluble contradictions and have nothing in common (fatalistic model).
- Freedom and responsibility are antagonists: more responsibility always means less freedom and vice versa (polarizing model).
- Freedom and responsibility are closely intertwined. This integrative model suggests that freedom and responsibility cannot exist without each other.
Schulte-Delitzsch’s understanding was in line with the third, the integrative model and is thus still very up-to-date today. However, the question is: how can the model be interpreted in a way that it will still be relevant in future?
Which conclusions for the associated co-operatives can be drawn from the Delphi study Vision 2017?
The five basic orientations that were found in the scope of the GIM study Vision 2017 lead to the following conclusions for the co-operative banks:
- “Managing Dutility” (Functioning in the system): taking an opposite position to direct banks, address clients that need more than just best conditions. Consultation = “Understanding the system of the client’s situation”.
- “Living Substance” (Back to the essential): emphasising company’s continuity in order to increase the already existing credibility advantage, communicate AND practise reliability. Consultation = “Create transparency and order on a non-transparent market, support the search for the right product”.
- “Embedding Individuality” (Less Me – more We): Establishing community-related (“We”-related) products that enable the client to also include others (e.g. whole family). Consultation = Partnership based on relationship, focusing on the value of responsibility”.
- “Creating Liveholder Value” (Designing and participating): Revival of the co-operative idea of self-responsibility: responsibility and participation as incentive for qualified management employees, changed communication with an increasingly knowledgeable client (client as PARTNER who participates in planning process).
- “Engaging in a Sane Society” (Sustainability and social responsibility): plan and communicate CSR and sustainability activities. CSR must be more than a monetary donation but should comprise projects that show that the company takes on responsibility! Think about financial products that are evaluated positively on a social and ecological level. Practise responsibility!
These findings lead to the following guidelines for concrete actions that could be taken by the co-operative banks:
- Client: needs transparency, someone who accompanies his/her “life system”, a clearly defined brand.
- Sales: positioning as “navigator”, meaning: the client defines the aim, the sales department shows the way.
- Employees: more responsibility not only in the personal area of work. Enabling them to also contribute to the brand’s success – with the client and within society.
- Society: position co-operative banks not only as responsible companies but above all as companies that take actions in this field.
In this way, Schulze-Delitzsch’s “integrated theoretical model” of freedom and responsibility can still be applied in future in an expedient and sustainable way.