The Mondragon federation of co-operatives has been the foundation of the economy in Spain’s Basque country for decades. It was founded back in 1956 by a priest – José María Arizmendiarrieta – who believed that the best response to the hostility and neglect of the region by the fascist dictator Franco was to develop co-operatives that relied on mutual self-help and independence.
Today there are 96 co-operatives which are members of the federation, employing more than 81,000 people. The federation includes manufacturing businesses, financial institutions, retailers and its own university – which operates as a knowledge, research and development centre for the group. Mondragon is the largest business operation in the Basque region and one of the ten largest commercial organisations in Spain.
There are similarities and differences between the Basque region and Northern Ireland. It is the similarities that have led many people over the years to ask if the Mondragon example could inspire a comparable movement here. The positive experience of credit unions – financial co-operatives – in Northern Ireland provides hope that it might.
In the latest Holywell Trust podcast, Fred Freundlich, a professor at Mondragon University, discusses what can be learnt from Mondragon and whether its success can be replicated. The interview can be heard here. It is one of a series of conversations about what can be learnt from best practice in community and economic development elsewhere.
The Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts are funded by the Community Relations Council’s Media Grant Scheme.
Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.
Paul Gosling is editor of ‘Lessons from the Troubles and an Unsettled Peace’, author of ‘A New Ireland’ and ‘The Fall of the Ethical Bank’ and co-author of ‘Abuse of Trust’, the story of a child abuse scandal in Leicestershire. He is engaged by the Holywell Trust charity on peace and reconciliation projects and is Parliamentary Assistant to Sinead McLaughlin MLA, the SDLP’s economy spokesperson.