Tag: Basque

Mondragon Miracle Part 3 of 3: Lessons Learned

“Nothing differentiates people as much as their respective attitudes to the circumstances in which they live. Those who opt to make history and change the course of events themselves have an advantage over those who decide to wait passively for the results of the change.”

SisyphusOver and over, I see commentary asserting we are stuck with our current cultural norms. The “rational” people of the world patiently explain to me how I am too idealistic. I am na├»ve and believe too deeply in the good nature of most people. Yet, the rational people only have their assertions to stand on. History is fraught with examples of people who fought for and won real change. People like the Basques in Mondragon. They created lasting change under deplorable conditions. Even a cursory review of history shows change occurs when and where people decide to change. You don’t live in a feudal monarchy rife with slaves and infanticide-all well ingrained institutions the Ancient Greeks considered necessary evils of civilization-because people decided to change.

In the first part of this series, I described how a Jesuit priest named Don Jose created a Basque cooperative–Mondragon. He could hardly have started from a more impossible position. Basque was severely oppressed, poor and under a harsh dictatorship. His Church considered him a pariah, and he was a poor speaker and sermon writer. Yet, he refused to dwell on his disadvantages, concentrating on finding Basque strengths, instead.

In part two, we examined Don Jose’s unique genius in organizing his local society. He felt it was never necessary for someone to win while someone else lost. That scenario showed a lack of ingenuity. He examined problems until he saw a solution allowing the common good for everyone.

Some argue Mondragon arose from Basque because a specific set of non-reproducible circumstances existed. To me, that sounds like rationalization to let ourselves off the hook for not seeking to better our world. While I agree Mondragon originated in Basque due to a specific set of circumstances, clearly those factors are not needed to reproduce cooperative society.

What may be necessary is a certain environment in order to affect positive change. This post will look at some of the factors influencing people’s willingness to change during the creation of Mondragon and how to use those factors to enable change in our own culture.

Mondragon Miracle Part II of III: The Genius of Don Jose

It’s been a rather tough week for capitalists. With people waking up from the illusion of money and riots erupting in otherwise reserved England, I almost feel a little sorry for the advocates of Milton Friedman. Almost.

As you scrape together your last dollars to exchange for gold and throw another bucket of water on your burning London flat, have you considered abandoning this system? There is a choice, you know. We choose to have this system and all the pain that comes with it. Not offering opposition to a bad system is making a choice to continue with the dysfunction.

What’s that? You didn’t know you had choices? No one has explained to you the alternatives? Well, if you don’t feel obligated to ride this sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean, come along with us as we start talking solutions.

In Part I of this three part series, we discussed the history of a little known cooperative venture called Mondragon. This company went from a twelve-man paraffin stove manufacturing plant to a conglomerate that holds Wal-mart at bay in miniscule country of Basque, and employs 130,000 people. The cooperative has a remarkable 80% success rate in business ventures, far outstripping the typical success rate of 20% (less in this market). It has consistently helped the Basque people strengthen their communities with education, health care, housing and a robust social safety net.  It creates jobs where none existed before, stabilizing their economy while nearby Spain and Portugal flounder.

How could this one company achieve such miraculous results? Well, it may actually be a divine intervention–through a Jesuit priest named Don Jose. In this segment, I delve deeper into Don Jose’s unique genius in devising the Mondragon system.

Mondragon Miracle, Part 1 of 3: Building the Road We Travel

1941, Office of the Archbishop of Spain:

“They just released you?” Archbishop Balbino Oliver eyed the priest standing before his desk with suspicion. Something about the young man unsettled him.

“I believe it was in error. They did not realize I had written so much against Franco. When God spared my life, I enrolled in the seminary.”

He possessed humility. Good. Yet something about the eyes… “Even under the care of the church, Franco may not let you go so easily.”

“Yes, it is best if I left Spain. I could continue my writing in Belgium. I think I can…”

“God granted you a precious gift, my son.” The Bishop leaned back, considering. His left eye. That was it. “It would be unwise to waste the gift with further agitation of forces beyond your control.” Yes, his left eye stared back slightly wider, giving him a permanently quizzical expression. Father Bertolli had mentioned him losing his eye in an accident.

“But the work I’ve been doing…”

“Is against Church official policy.” The Archbishop leaned forward to study the documents the priest had presented him. “You are Basque, no?”

“Yes, but in Belgium…”

“Father Tillous requested an assistant in Mondragon, only 50 miles from where you grew up. Franco is unlikely to bother you, there.”

“Out there, he is unlikely to need to.” The young man bowed his head curtly, murmuring the obligatory goodbye.

The bishop’s gaze followed his receding figure. Even with his back turned, the young man disturbed him. Perhaps something other than his eye then…

Balbino had no way to know, he had just set Don Jose on course to change the world.