Raiffeisen as Social Innovator

23 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2017

Date Written: September 2017


In recent years the term social innovation has become widely used by policy makers, yet important ambiguities remain. One of these concerns what has been called the paradox of embedded agency – how social innovators conceive of something new when working with existing social institutions. So far few writers have considered whether historical examples can, with benefit of hindsight, shed light on the relationships between social innovators and social institutions. This paper considers the example of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, creator of rural credit unions and agricultural co‐operatives in 19th‐century Germany. Raiffeisen was a social conservative who worked in many ways within existing social institutions. At the same time, his desire to meet social needs drove him to create new forms of action and organization that resulted in social innovation. Raiffeisen's process of invention shows that social innovation, particularly in transitional eras like his, need not be a matter of using logical‐deductive processes to address a social need, but may depend critically on values, will, a readiness to experiment, and an ability to find allies. These qualities enabled Raiffeisen to break through existing institutions to do something fundamentally new, and they may be qualities that provide new focus for social‐innovation research and policy.

Keywords: Social innovation, Institutional innovation, Cooperatives, Rural cooperatives, Raiffeisen F.W

JEL Classification: B31, O35, P13

Suggested Citation

Fairbairn, Brett, Raiffeisen as Social Innovator (September 2017). Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Vol. 88, Issue 3, pp. 425-448, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3018852 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/apce.12157

Brett Fairbairn (Contact Author)

University of Saskatchewan

College of Education
Saskatoon, S7N 5A7

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