This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the key figures of the co-operative movement, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818-1888).
Considered the founding father of credit co-operatives, Raiffeisen was mayor of the German village of Flammersfeld at a time when the rural population was fighting poverty.
To improve the lives of the local residents, as well as to put an end to exploitative loan shark practices, he founded the first co-operative lending bank, in effect the first rural credit union, in 1864.
Two years later he published a book containing the premises for an agricultural co-operative bank. The model influenced the creation of similar co-operative banks in Netherlands starting from 1895.
To honour its founder, financial co-operative Raiffeisen has declared 2018 as the Raiffeisen Year, during which it will aim to celebrate and enhance the co-operative model. The group launched a dedicated website, where it is collecting information about its founder and co-operative banks.
Other co-operative banks are also supporting the initiative, in an attempt to raise the profile of the co-op banking model.
Inspired by the anniversary, French co-op bank Crédit Mutuel is running a design contest for youth between 6 and 17 under the theme: Inventions change our life. Young people are asked to share their designs via Instagram.
In Belgium, co-op service organisation, Cera CoopBuro is hosting a conference on the theme of the anniversary on 17April in Louvain.
Dutch co-op bank Rabobank launched a special webpage paying tribute to Raiffeisen. Rabobank started as a collection of small local agricultural co-operative banks based on the model pioneered by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen.
The European Association of Co-operative Banks is holding a celebratory session and cocktail on 20 March in Brussels.