The Mondragon Experience Told by a Student

By Emily Lapp, MBA Student

I signed up for the Mondragon Experience (GSBA 594 Models of Particpatory Leadership) because I wanted to study abroad and receive 3 units of credit during the summer semester. I briefly glanced at the syllabus and read things like “cooperative” and “employee ownership” and thought to myself, “Well, this ought to be interesting.”

Allison Czapracki, Tracy Zetts, Emily Lapp and Betty Trinh on the pre-trip excursion to San Sebastian

Allison Czapracki, Tracy Zetts, Emily Lapp and Betty Trinh on the pre-trip excursion to San Sebastian

As someone who currently serves in the military, I was apprehensive about the “workers cooperative” part, imagining a 1960s commune. Well, it turned out that the “workers cooperative” bit was the major part, but I was pleasantly surprised that the workers cooperative I found at Mondragon in no way resembled the workers cooperative of my imagination. I found Mondragon to be far more professional and global than I had envisioned and far more focused on technical and real-world education.

USD students visit Mondragon University's Innovation and Knowledge Center

USD students visit Mondragon University’s Innovation and Knowledge Center

After this trip, I would no longer immediately discard the suggestion of a cooperative. I do not believe everyone in America should immediately abandon their capital companies for cooperatives, but I am convinced that, in certain communities and in certain industries, cooperatives make a lot of sense. I was intrigued during one our final presentations when Mr. Michael Peck, the Mondragon North American Delegate, mentioned cooperatives might be the answer for the financially devastated coal mining communities in West Virginia. The sense of community already present there would be a fertile ground for the next step towards the solidarity offered by a cooperative.

MBA students Stephanie McQuade, Emily Lapp and Allison Czapracki at the top of Mt. Udalaitz, overlooking the town of Mondragon

MBA students Stephanie McQuade, Emily Lapp and Allison Czapracki at the top of Mt. Udalaitz, overlooking the town of Mondragon

I was most surprised by how many similarities existed between Mondragon and the Navy. The Navy, being an entity not driven by profit, is far more cooperative in nature than I realized. From the common values of a clear mission, trust and participation, I found the two organizational cultures had more in common than I would have ever expected. Yet Mondragon’s emphasis on transparency and worker participation at all levels really stood out to me and are values that I hope to implement in my naval career and personal life.

Otalora

Enjoying the beautiful view from Mondragon’s Otalora Training Center

Lastly, the opportunity to visit the Basque Country in Spain was truly a once in a lifetime experience. While technically part of Spain, the culture and landscape is so different. Spending time with the friendly and hard-working people was such a pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed my Mondragon Experience and would highly recommend the class for anyone interested in learning more about organizational models and Basque culture.

To read more about the Basque Country click here.

What about you? Have you been to Mondragón? What did you think of it?

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