Last week, my recently launched consulting firms –Jeffrey Hollender Partners and CommonWise – hosted the senior leadership team of the Mondragon Cooperative Cooperation for a discussion about the role cooperatives can play in addressing the social and economic challenges that increasingly dominate the globe.

In attendance were:

  • Arantza Laskurain Arteche, General Secretary of MONDRAGON Corporación;
  • Josu Ugarte, President Mondragon International;
  • Fernando Fernandez de Landa Ocharan Director of the Americas for Mondragon International; and
  • Michael Alden Peck, the Mondragon North American Delegate.

They joined a group of New York-based community development activists, entrepreneurs, foundations, academics and policy advisors.

We explored topics that included:

  • What are Mondragan’s most important accomplishments?
  • What can business in the US learn from the Mondragon experience?
  • Why is the cooperative movement so critical to a world facing an economic and social crisis?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing the cooperative movement?

This summer, I experienced Mondragon first-hand when I visited with members of the MIT CoLab.  During that time, our dialogue centered on a commitment to human dignity that is all but absent in most of corporate America today. While we have become immune to headlines that announce 5, 10, 20 or even 30,000 employees who are scheduled to be terminated, Mondragon, a $20 billion enterprise, agonizes over the loss of a single job.

Recently, Mondragon’s General Assembly, it’s largest body, voted to reduce wages across the board for all workers rather than put the jobs of workers at one of over a hundred businesses at risk. Of equal note is the fact that the senior management of the enterprise makes no more than seven times the lowest paid worker.

As we explored the unique attributes of Mondragon, its culture and education were central and recurring themes. The integrity of the whole cannot be guarded by a small group of individuals, but only through the commitment and ongoing education of the whole community.

While cooperatives play a significant role in our global economy, most of the companies that dominate the US cooperative landscape are not worker cooperatives. Our largest cooperative businesses are producer, consumer or purchasing cooperatives. These organizations are very different than worker cooperatives, in that true cooperatives are businesses that are owned by and managed by their workers.

It is worker cooperatives that are the most effective in the broad distribution of wealth and the democratic management that runs counter to our top down, hierarchical approach to designing organizations.

Everyone in the room was deeply touched by the passion and deep commitment to business that puts people first, before profits.

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