Alphonso Street, Dowlais. Please excuse the obscure post title. Alphonso Street is a place in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil.
Remarkable and exciting (for me anyway) because it’s where a Basque Community settled in South Wales in the 1870’s. I’ll explain more in a minute.
Mutual Benefits – cooperation between Wales and the Basque Country
On Tuesday I spoke at a conference (#WAOBasque) which was organised by the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange, The Wales Cooperative Centre and Cardiff University Business School. The purpose of the conference was to learn about some of the things they do in the Basque Country, that contribute to it being one of the most successful regions in Europe. The stars of the conference were very much six people from the Basque Country who visited us, their details are at the end of the post, Eskerrik asko!
I’ve also been a bit provocative. I opened my session by saying we should pay serious attention to our Basque visitors because they are; richer, happier and healthier than us, and they also treat each other better. Not exactly an opening to ‘win over the locals’, but I am very much a ‘native’, so I felt reasonably justified. I also had some evidence, proper statistics.
Richer, Healthier and Happier. The figures on the next few pictures speak for themselves. In terms of gross domestic product the Basque Country has one of the highest levels in Europe. Gross household disposable income is also high. Their average lifespan is almost 5 years longer than what you can expect in Wales and overall they are happier than the whole of the UK.
Performance in areas like education is close to the top of European standards. They are as good as what you get in places like Scandinavia , which I wrote about in this post on the Basque Ikastola Schools. I could go on…
The one statistic that really grabbed to me was a measure of inequality, the GINI index. If you like really complicated equations, have a look at this on what Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini created. Basically, it’s a measure of the differences between those with most and those with least in your society. The higher the GINI index number, the greater the inequalities in your society.
There’s a lot been said on how greater inequality leads to problems in society. For me, the ‘on the ground’ indicator was homelessness. When I’ve been in Bilbao this year I’ve been struck by how few homeless people there are, up to the point where I was deliberately looking out for them (you do find them if you search). This was in stark contrast to my experiences of walking the 1 km from Cardiff train station to my place of work. It isn’t unusual to see 10 homeless people on that walk; any day of the week, any time of day, any weather.
I think that my statement that the Basque People, ‘treat each other better’, was reasonably justified.
Can the Social Economy Save Us? One of my observations from time in the Basque Country was the strength, and diversity, of their social economy and cooperatives. Many people will have heard of the Mondragon Corporation, but there is a lot more to their ecosystem than just Mondragon. For example the ner.group, K2K Emocionando and cooperatives like Panelfisa, which I wrote about in this post, The Panelfisa Paradox.
Material from of the conference can be found the WAO Good Practice Exchange pages here: Mutual Benefits. Building a Cooperation between Wales and the Basque Country.
The outputs from the conference and three days of visits and meetings will be shared over the next couple of weeks. In addition there’s also a recording to follow of the 60 minute webinar where Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Cooperative Centre, interviewed me about my experiences and learning from my Churchill Fellowship travels.
Back to Alphonso Street. One of the main reasons for having the conference was to build connections and collaboration between Wales and the Basque Country. Based upon the events of last week it looks like things are going to happen. Hopefully I can report on the ‘what’ in future posts.
For the moment, I just want to point out that this could all be just a continuation of what was started in the 1870’s – just look at Alphonso Street in Dowlais. There are plenty of other interesting connections that can be included in future posts.
We are more connected than I’d ever imagined, and last week just confirmed that feeling. It was like reconnecting with family you haven’t seen for ages.
So, What’s the PONT?
- The Basque Country and Wales have many similarities and a long history of connection and collaboration.
- There are current differences though in relation to economic performance, health, well-being and inequalities in society.
- The Mutual Benefits conference helped to develop relationships that could lead to some interesting developments. Watch this space!
Getting back to the Mutual Benefits conference, here’s a quick summary of what the Basque Visitors were taking about, and links to presentations and other content.
Workshop one: Experiences of developing cooperative identity in Mondragon enterprises. Fred Freundlich and Leire Uriarte, Mondragon University
In the 1960’s and 1970’s Mondragon created three centres for higher education which joined in 1998 to form Mondragon University. It’s purpose is to support the development of the Cooperatives that make up the Mondragon Corporation through education and knowledge sharing. The workshop focused on collaboration work between the University’s Faculty of Business and the Institute of Cooperative Studies (LANKI) at its Faculty of Humanities and Education to develop cooperative identity within Mondragon Businesses.
Link to blog post from Mondragon University: The Mondragon Cooperative Experience
Link to Mondragon University workshop presentation: http://www.audit.wales/sites/default/files/seminar_documents/Mondragon-Uni-presentation.pdf
Workshop two: Co-creation, prototyping and people-centred design: 3 Keys to Foster Social Innovation. Rosa Fernandez, ColaBoraBora The workshop demonstrated the HOW and WHY of a three-key process; co-creation, prototyping and people-centred design. The need to be integrated and develop more innovative social practices, policies and services. Learning from projects developed by ColaBoraBora together with Basque Public Organisations. ColaBoraBora is a social cooperative that designs and facilitates innovation and collaboration focused on people.
Link to blog post from ColaBoraBora: Redefining the ‘WHATS’ and Transforming the ‘HOWS’
Link to ColaBoraBora workshop presentation: http://www.audit.wales/sites/default/files/seminar_documents/ColaBoraBora_workshop.pdf
Workshop three: GUREAK. Aizpea Barros Garmendia GUREAK is a Basque group of companies which generate and manage steady work opportunities, suitably adapted, for people with disabilities in the region of Gipuzkoa. They have a specific focus on people with intellectual disabilities. They employ almost 6000 people and currently, around 82% of their staff have a disability. They are financially sustainable with an annual turnover of €240 Million and for every €1 of public money they receive they return €3.1 to the economy.
Link to blog post about GUREAK: A Basque Social Labour Inclusion Flagship, ‘Here with Ours’
Link to GUREAK workshop presentation: http://www.audit.wales/sites/default/files/seminar_documents/Gureak-presentation.pdf
Workshop four: Mondragon Team Academy (MTA). Jon Azanza Atondo and Eder Guerra Muñoz. The workshop described the MTA approach to business incubation and innovation, how it is delivered and what it feels like to be a student. MTA has created a variety of businesses over the 10 years of its operation and developed cohorts of successful social entrepreneurs.
Link to blog post about MTA: Cooperative Entrepreneurs Bootcamp, Mondragon Team Academy.
Link to the MTA workshop presentation: http://www.audit.wales/sites/default/files/seminar_documents/Mondragon-Team-Academy-presentation.pdf
Workshop five: New Working Relationships – Basque Style. Chris Bolton, Wales Audit Office The workshop explained the transformation of a traditionally structured cooperative, Panelfisa (automotive fixings manufacturing) into an organisation of self-managed teams. These had greater; transparency, trust, productivity, customer satisfaction, profitability and wider social benefit. “The most important thing was not the screws”, but the change in working relationships that helped this happen. The role of K2K Emocionando in supporting this transformation and the ner group of 24 organisations and 2700 people, who Panelfisa are now part of was explained.
Link to blog post about Panelfisa: What Panelfisa teaches us about Sustainable Human Development.