(Note: This blog post is republished from the original, published on July 14, 2011, hosted by the MIT CoLab and accessible here.)
It used to be that dissatisfied Americans looked for ways to fix the economy when it wasn’t working for them, using policy adjustments and the like to make a current model better. In the last few years the approach has shifted — increasingly, people aren’t looking for an add-on ingredient to fancy-up their pre-made cookie dough; they’re looking to make a whole new cookie.
The mental starting point for many Americans thinking about the economy is now a square-one level question: What do I want the economy to look like, and what can I do with my life to make it look that way?
The generation that once turned to policy and law to win civil rights is now looking to the economy as the fundamental source for justice for disenfranchised people. At the same time, entrepreneurs are searching for, and experimenting with, business models that prioritize the quality of human life over profit.
Meanwhile, yesterday in Washington lawmakers engaged in fight over the federal debt ceiling that could, if not resolved, result in a government shut down. A shut-down might be palatable if, at the heart of the debate, were essential questions about the future of the economy. Unfortunately, the issue at the heart of the debate is this: each party’s future electability based on past barbs thrown at the opposite party.
On this note, a group of American community leaders, business leaders, and scholars are preparing to depart for Mondragón, Spain — home to an 84,000 employee-strong worker-owned cooperative. A Catholic priest, José Mª Arizmendiarrieta founded a technical college there in 1943. The college pruned business managers and engineers who, over time, founded and grew an incredible network of cooperatives.
MIT Community Innovators Lab has assembled a particular group comprised of its Mel King Community Fellows; as well as Seventh Generation co-founder Jeff Hollender and former Director of Corporate Consciousness Gregor Barnum; MIT professor Phil Thompson; UNH professor Ross Gittell; and several CoLab staff people to see what the Mondragón model can offer our various communities, and each other as a diverse group of actors.
In preparation for the trip we’ve assembled a reading list and a pre-trip exercise designed to flesh out the specifics of the local economies from which this trip’s pilgrims hail: Mongtomery, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; The Bronx, New York; Berea, Kentucky; and Boston, Massachusetts among them.
You can follow our thoughts and ideas over the course of July 17th – 23rd via: