Posted July 14th 2011 at 12:00 pm by
in CoLab Philosophy, Mel King Community Fellows, Mondragon

The Mondragón Moment

A group of American community and business leaders is posting from Mondragón, Spain, home to a 100,000 employee-strong worker-owned cooperative, from July 17th to 23rd.

Photo by MONDRAGON-Corporation on flickr.

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.

Today the Mondragón Corporation, in addition to living a unique success story, runs a booming tour business. Groups like ours trek to the site in search of a better model than what they have at home.

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:

• our live blog feed at

• the CoLab twitter feed

• our RSS feed

• the CoLab facebook page

Post by Alexa Mills and Nick Iuviene of CoLab.

5 responses to “The Mondragón Moment”

  1. Nancy says:

    This is really exciting. I can hardly wait to read each post.

  2. Alex Rollin says:

    Wow, sounds great. Too bad the reading list is inside several expensive books.

    Anyways, I hope that there’s some real drive towards mutualism. It is the correction we need.

  3. Alexa Mills says:

    Hi Alex. Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of literature available about this model, and the literature out there isn’t in demand. Result: expensive books. CoLab bought a few copies of these books and would lend to anyone in the Boston area. Thanks for your comment, and I know many her are also hoping for more ‘mutualism’.

  4. dorothy bloom says:

    It sounds as if the Mondragon Cororation has found a way to utllize the many resources in the society that are not being utilized at thIs time. I’ll be looking for all the posts describing this visit from mit and hoping it will amount to lighting a candle.

  5. Joe says:

    Hi, here’s a fairly robust reading list of freely available articles – the library section of the American Worker Cooperative blog:

    Looking for a free introduction to the Mondragon Cooperatives in particular? The aging BBC documentary on the topic is still a good place to start:

    Have a great trip!