Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business

Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business

Blog by Wayne Visser

After graduating in business studies from Cape Town, in 1992 I started a 4-month management traineeship programme with the Royal Bank of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. During this time, I came across the inspiring research of Professor Greg McLeod from Cape Breton University, written up in his Community Business Series booklets (and later, in From Mondragon To America – Experiments In Community Economic Development). Having worked in community development for over 30 years, McLeod was concerned about rootless capital – the trend of companies funded by absentee investors with no stake in the communities in which the business operates.

This is when I first learned of the amazing experiment in community business that had being going on for decades in Mondragon, a small town in the mountainous region of north-eastern Spain. Here, based on the teachings and initiatives of a Roman Catholic priest, a business comprising one electric stove manufacturer with five employees established was in 1955. Today, the Mondragon corporation is a complex of co-operatives with €36 billion ($46 billion) in assets and €13 billion ($17 billion) in sales, employing 80,000 people – all of which actively pursue a philosophy of local community development based on the values of co-operation, participation, social responsibility and innovation. With companies operating across four divisions (finance, industry, distribution and knowledge), Mondragon is today the foremost Basque business group and the seventh largest in Spain. For those who are interested to know more, there is a great series of blogs about Mondragon by co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, Jeffrey Hollender.

Of course, not all community businesses are large. A much smaller-scale venture that interested me at the time was New Findhorn Directions (NFD), established in 1979 as an umbrella body for businesses operating from the Findhorn Foundation eco-community in Scotland. As it happened, I visited the community after my traineeship in Canada, and again in 1996 when I began my Masters in Human Ecology in Ediburgh. The businesses in place at that time included the Wood Studio, Bay Area Graphics, Findhorn Bay Apothecary, Weatherwise Solar and Alternative Data. They also had a pioneering eco-housing project (which included houses made from whisky barrels). What united these diverse companies were that they were all trying to demonstrate a broader community philosophy of ‘spiritual management’ and ‘work as love in action’.

What can we learn about corporate responsibility from these somewhat eccentric experiments in community business? The first point to note is that these businesses exist within a different (some might say counter-mainstream) micro-culture. The common objective in places such as Findhorn in Scotland and Mondragon in Spain is community and environmental improvement, including through enterprise. They are not hungry for short-term profits; rather, they are pursuing long-term sustainable development strategies. The desire is to be autonomous and self-sustaining and, most of all, to promote local self-development rooted in history and tradition. These two examples serve to illustrate that success stories in alternative ways of doing business do exist. The details of exactly how they are different, however, still need more thorough exploration …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2013) Ties that Bind: Experiments in Community Business, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 10 July 2013.

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