Judy Halter traveled to Mondragón, Spain this past summer, studying the models of participatory leadership in a global context. Please enjoy reading her perspectives on business, philosophy and the importance of the cooperative model.
“Now having an increased knowledge of the many positive social outcomes for cooperative management, I ask how can we incentivize people to work for cooperatives again? An economist made a presentation for us during the week and mentioned “that it would be rare for anyone to currently create a startup in the coop model.” The dynamics that were in place in the late 1950s when MCC was created were very different than today’s environment. We learned that even by the 1990s, people were joining coops for practicality reasons, not for higher purpose or perceived societal benefits. Though I personally believe and appreciate the positive societal outcomes from people coming together to work for each other instead of an individualistic approach, my beliefs are not the norm. So I ask, what is going to bring the appreciation of solidarity and democratic management back into favor?
I feel that our changing employment demands could possibly create a scenario where people will appreciate the work and be willing to sacrifice the funds for the greater good. Gallop in May 2016 reported that 13.7% of people are underemployed in the US. Underemployment is a form of cooperative tenets taking place in the sense that people want to work so much they willing to take jobs beneath their skill level in hopes of future mobility. As our economy continues to be disrupted by technological advancements, our employment avenues are changing rapidly. Will there be a time of retraining workers? How long will that take? Will workers, in hopes of belonging to a community and making a contribution, consider a cooperative model? Possibly, only time will tell. I truly concur with Dr. Herrera’s belief regarding man’s need to contribute and evolve through his work. The cooperative model may be one of the more acceptable means of providing full employment when jobs are declining in availability. Allowing more people to work for less and spread the opportunity to work, might be one of the solutions to keeping people engaged, contributing and connected. I also believe that the cooperative pay scale could be one of the quickest ways to solve income disparity if applied in corporate America. That being said, capitalism is one of the founding pillars of American society, but my hope is that we can dial back our consumption in an effort to put people before profits, which is the foundation of the MCC.
I am so thankful for the enlightening week in Mondragón. The cooperative tenets align with me philosophically, and I believe corporate America has an opportunity to integrate some of the best tenets of the cooperative model: equity, democratization, participatory leadership, and education. Some of our best companies in the US (ie. Google, Wegmann, Boston Consulting Group) maintain some of the cooperative tenets. They receive high marks from their employees on “best places to work.” Utilizing a system similar to the cooperative model, these American companies have created a strong, unified culture where people take pride in their work and collaborate. I believe this engaged dynamic occurs because the companies strive to put their employees before their profits similar to the cooperative principles of people before profits. In America, we have leadership that implements similar philosophies; we just need other leaders to be inspired as well.”
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