The power of a community – Mondragon

“Humanity at work” is the Mondragon motto. Mondragon is a corporate of cooperatives. Since the corporate’s establishment, 250 companies and cooperatives were founded, in the industrial, financial and retail industries. The Mondragon corporate employs 74,000 people, and has a revenue of 11 billion euros per year. The employees themselves are the sole shareholders, and each has one share and one equal voting right.

“Not only do people have a stomach and a few material needs, they also have a growing awareness to their self dignity” - this is one of the quotes by Father José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga who was the visionary and founder of the Mondragon cooperatives’ culture. He was only 26 years old when he was stationed in the battered town of Mondragon as a catholic priest. Following the civil war in Spain, the situation in the town was dire. Arizmendiarrieta understood that in order to rehabilitate the town, there was a real need to increase employment. He was a man of vision, who looked far into the future. On 1943, two years after his arrival to the town, he decided to establish the first polytechnic school that would be open to anyone, and would be based on the values of democracy, mutual surety and sharing economy (today it is a formal academic institute). Arizmendiarrieta established along with the first graduates of the school the first cooperative. Ever since, more and more cooperatives were founded, finally developing into one of the most successful corporation of cooperatives in the world. It has established and unified 257 companies and cooperatives in the fields of industry, finance, retail and education and employs 74,000 people.

The corporate is in fact a union of cooperatives, who are part of the local and global economic markets, as are any other commercial businesses. The corporate makes use of democratic tools in its conduct, creates jobs, promotes and develops employees’ professional and personal development. It is also committed to the development of the social environments it is situated in.

Once a year the whole corporation is assembled with 650 representatives that choose a governing committee that is the executing body of the corporation. Likewise, each of the cooperatives has a workers’ council that works alongside their co-op’s professional manager (the CEO). The only shareholders of the companies are actually the employees themselves.
It’s also worthwhile mentioning that although Spain’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe - between 17 to 27 per cent ever since the financial crisis in 2008 - in the Basque region, where most of the Mondragon corp’s economic activity is based, the unemployment rate is only 9 per cent (2012 data). Even during the crisis, almost no employee was fired from the corporation.