Innovation and Cooperation in Mondragón

This past summer, Jessica Kort traveled to Mondragón, Spain to learn about the role of the environment and community in innovation and entrepreneurship. Please enjoy reading her perspectives on the philosophy of business, leadership, and life.

“It is extraordinary that this course on Models of Participatory Leadership is offered in Mondragon. Beyond being a unique yet entirely enlightening topic for students of business, it is invaluable to learn about this style of leadership that is uncommon for us in the United States. Were Mondragon 2it not for the financial aid, I would have been unable to travel and study in Mondragon. I truly treasured the experience because being immersed in the culture that generated this philosophy of business and leadership added complex layers to my understanding of it.

It was one thing to read about Mondragon cooperatives’ competitive advantages and astounding success from campus in San Diego. It was another entirely to see where it all began, speak face-to-face with beneficiaries of this way of business and of life, experience the culture that inspired it and watch its creations in action. Visiting the headquarters of the cooperative umbrella corporation, the cooperative factory floors and cooperative university brought theMondragon 9 narratives to life. We digested the forces and motives that drove visionaries to create cooperatives in the Basque region while sharing traditional Basque meals with beneficiaries of their foresight. We studied the economic theory behind cooperatives and walked the halls of a stunning university later created to teach and embody that cooperative structure. We mulled over how Catholic Social Thought laid the foundation of values that inspired the cooperatives’ founders to construct something better for their community in the 1950s, and trekked to a symbolically designed basilica erected and dedicated to the community in that same decade. We learned about another people’s perspectives on wealth, happiness, progress, independence and fairness.
Mondragon 1The course content gave me much to consider as an entrepreneur, and the trip reminded me that our environment has as great a role in our creations as we do. We cannot design or innovate in isolation. We must observe our surroundings and take stock of other people’s needs and perspectives to generate workable solutions and community change. I am currently applying what I learned to my nonprofit work. I’m drawing useful comparisons between cooperatives’ growth in their cultural environment and collaborations in the San Diego social sector. I will remember what I heard from cooperative workers as I look for ways to incorporate qualities they cherish about their professional environment. It was so inspiring to witness their commitment to and belief in the cooperative model, and I hope to emulate those feelings of dedication to work and livelihood here.”

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To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

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