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“One for All, All for One”

How to Realize the Principles of Cooperative Associations

Mineo Nakagawa
Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives

The principles of cooperative associations that have become an intangible cultural heritage

Most people would recognize the motto “one for all, all for one” as something that embodies the spirit of rugby. But for the staff of cooperative associations, such as Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA), to which I belong, and the co-op, this is the motto that embodies the principles of cooperative associations. And for the staff of the JA, this is also probably remembered as Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen’s maxim.

“One for all, all for one” is a well-known adage not only in the UK, but throughout Europe, plainly expressing the spirit of cooperation and mutual aid, as a similar saying appears in the French writer Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.

The above-mentioned Raiffeisen was a German pastor, a regional statesman and the cooperative association activist born in 1818 (The year 2018 is the bicentenary year of his birth). His most important legacy was that he established credit associations for farmers who had no choice but to rely on high-interest moneylenders for funding to raise funds and savings from the members of the associations, and offered loans for the members with this funding as capital. This business model became widely accepted throughout Germany. Today, Raiffeisen Bank is available not only in German-speaking countries but also in Eastern Europe, supporting farmers and regional communities (e.g. construction of small-scale power plants).

In 2016, the principles of cooperative associations were registered as UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage (in Japan sadly this only made news amongst those associated with cooperative associations). This was the result of the application by the government of Germany, which is Raiffeisen’s home country. In Germany, there was also the historical context that another cooperative association activist by the name of Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch, a contemporary of Raiffeisen, was instrumental in establishing and expanding urban credit associations to develop mutual financing for merchants.

Origin of cooperative associations in Japan

What kind of history do the associations of mutual aid have here in Japan? From ancient times, there existed organizations of mutual aid such as in regional communities, and these were utilized variously for managing the commons, running festivities, ceremonial occasions, etc. and operated on a kind of microcredit system where the local residents would pay into it for communal financing. Microcredit system was achieved by Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, and it became well known when Grameen Bank and its founder Professor Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, but the idea itself had existed throughout the world from ancient times. As in Germany’s examples, also in Japan, money was exchanged on the basis of mutual personal credit between the men in the same trades or the local residents to enable economic developments. There were also those whose aims were to accumulate travel funds, such as Isekō.

In the late Edo period, were quite common and they included some representative examples such as Gojōkō (1814) started by Ninomiya Sontoku (Kinjirō), who is famous as the boy reading a book carrying a load on his back, for the Odawara clansmen and servants, and Senzokabukumiai (1839) started by Ōhara Yūgaku to help farmers in the Chiba region.

Ninomiya was not only a key figure in the administrative reforms of the Odawara Clan, but also left a great legacy in agricultural fields, such as agricultural engineering projects and farming guidance, whereas Ōhara was also instrumental in improving the agriculture itself and the quality of life in agricultural communities. These two can therefore be regarded as social entrepreneurs.

They were acting on their firm principles.

For Ninomiya, these were moral and economy: in work, do right things and produce profits as outcomes, thus they are both important. This idea of warning is similar to today’s idea of corporate compliance. Eiichi Shibusawa, who was influenced by Ninomiya’s philosophy, also left a similar phrase the Analects and abacus. Even today, quite a few staff of JA believe the philosophy of non-profit: Don’t benefit, but don’t make a loss, which is linked to moral and economy, as they learned it from their superiors.

Ninomiya also proposed the idea of Sekishō Idai (accumulate little things to achieve a significant one). This also expresses the same spirit of mutual aid as “one for all, all for one.”

Ōhara’s motto was jo proposed by Confucius, which means the heart that is not dissuaded, that is, consideration for others, and this was about whether one can interact with the people you come into contact with the spirit of jo.

Because the above-mentioned microcredit system and the philosophy of mutual aid were widely recognized, the Industrial Association that would later become the JA, credit associations, co-op, etc. was smoothly established based on the Industrial Associations Act (1900) – the first law of cooperative association in Japan based on the legal systems of Raiffeisen Credit Associations in Germany among other things.

The motto of the Industrial Association was Kyōzon Dōei, which was a freely translated version of “one for all, all for one” and this was also incorporated in the association’s emblem with the cherry-blossom motif.

From the point of ESG management, while there is nothing that corresponds to E [environment] (though it might be self-evident what E may be from the agricultural points), these forerunners’ philosophy may be summarized as follows:

S (society): one for all, all for one; jo; Sekishō Idai; Kyōzon Dōei
G (governance): moral and economy

Realizing the principles

The cooperative association principles based on the principles of operation of Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (UK) (1844) – the oldest cooperative association in the world – were formulated into the universal ideals of the cooperative associations worldwide by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1937. After two updates, the current version of the principles was adopted in 1995 and reads as follows:

Principle 1: Voluntary and open membership
Principle 2: Democratic member control
Principle 3: Participation in association’s finance
Principle 4: Independence, self-reliance
Principle 5: Education, training, and information
Principle 6: Cooperation among cooperatives
Principle 7: Concern for community

The legal systems concerning cooperative associations in each country as well as the management philosophy of each cooperative association are built upon these principles. For example, the JA enacted the JA Manifesto as the common principles for both association members and officers in 1997, based on the revised cooperative association principles of 1995, and the association has the custom of members reading it out together at the beginning of meetings, etc. It reads as follows:

We will:

  • Develop agricultural industries in regions to protect food, nature, and water of our country.
  • Build local communities where people can live a safe and bountiful life by making a contribution to the environment, culture, and welfare.
  • Achieve cooperative results through active participation in and solidarity with JA.
  • Ensure sound management of JA and strengthen confidence in JA in accordance with the principles of independence, self-reliance and democratic management.
  • Pursue the achievement of meaningful lives together through learning the spirit of cooperation and implementing cooperative activities.

As seen here, the cooperative associations are governed through various principles and manifestos based on their philosophy, and they support the organizations’ compliance stances. And putting these principles into practice will generate ESG management in turn.

We would like to pursue how to utilize “one for all, all for one” in work through practical use.

Mineo Nakagawa
Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives
Mineo Nakagawa was born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1968. After graduating from the Kyoto University Graduate School of Agriculture in 1994, he was employed by the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA-Zenchu) and worked in various departments including human resources development, public relations and audit. In 2015, he started his studies at the Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (CBS) as the 8.5th generation student and completed the course in 2017.