The cooperative identity in the global context: Interview with Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal

30 Mar 2022

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal is the Global Head of Public Affairs at Mondragon Corporation in the Basque Country of Spain and the President of the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA), a sector organisation of the ICA. He also chairs the International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT) working group on the Cooperative Identity as a Competitive Advantage. We caught up with him to find out his thoughts on the cooperative identity.

What does the cooperative identity mean to you?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: The Cooperative identity is the true engine of our enterprises. It is what makes us different and better. Being cooperative members in the 21st century is a way of being in the world. A different approach to the problems of our society. 

How is the cooperative identity helping the MONDRAGON Corporation attain a competitive advantage?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: Cooperative identity is part of our DNA. It is our way of doing things. And this includes how to do them and also the "why" to do them. Our goal has always been to transform society, help the next generations to have a better future. And this has led us to invest in the future and to always bet on innovation.

How are MONDRAGON and its cooperatives raising awareness about its cooperative identity?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: We have always been very sensitive to competitiveness because it was the key to sustainability. If we want to stand the test of time, if we want to leave something better to future generations (what we at MONDRAGON call “the value of the legacy”) we must be competitive. But now with the great impact that the pandemic has had, the inhabitants of the planet have realised that we cannot continue doing things the same way because we do not have a planet B. Society, in general, is more sensitive than ever to the way in which things are done because it is not worth doing them at all costs, squeezing resources and using people without taking them into account. And this also applies to the business model. That is why we believe that it is a good time to value our cooperative business model that is fairer and more equitable, that takes into account the community and its members. When we speak of "markets" we speak of people who buy and sell. And I think these people are more and more aware that it is better to buy from cooperative enterprises. Because not only is a need satisfied, but many other social objectives (employment, distribution of wealth, etc.) are met at the same time.

The current name of MONDRAGON Corporation was adopted 15 years ago. Prior to this the group was called the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC). What was the reason for this change?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: Yes, this change was about looking for our true identity. That is why the most important part of the change was to add the tagline “Humanity at work”, which is the essence of what unites us. This claim has become a symbol and perfectly reflects our way of doing business. 

Does the nature of the cooperatives that are part of MONDRAGON provide an advantage when it comes to how the public perceives it?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: Unfortunately, the image of cooperatives is not always good depending on the country and the business environment. There is still a lot of ignorance with regards to what cooperatives are and even more when it comes to what we, industrial cooperatives, are. MONDRAGON is listed annually as the largest cooperative industrial group in the world and our business is international. In addition to being the first employer in the Basque Country and one of the top 10 in Spain, we have 140 production plants outside of Spain and that is where we check these stereotypes and preconceptions. I believe that the advantage, as I said before, may become more prominent in the future thanks to a change in global consciousness but so far it has not helped to increase our business significantly. 

How has being a cooperative helped MONDRAGON cooperatives overcome the global economic crises faced since being set up?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: Cooperative resilience is not a myth, it is a reality. And the reality is that cooperatives flourish in times of crisis. Why? Because when there is an economic or health crisis, solidarity flourishes. And solidarity is the foundation of our system. But it is not an idea; it is something measurable that is articulated through funds, investments and internal mechanisms of solidarity and benefit sharing. 

Has the crisis at de FAGOR Electrodomésticos in 2013 helped MONDRAGON develop solidarity mechanisms and be better prepared for COVID-19? What role did your cooperative model play in this? How do the reserves and solidarity funds help?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: The solidarity mechanisms were already in place and that is why the crisis did not affect employment since all the working partners were relocated. The strength of the system was demonstrated in this instance. But the experience served to realise that the important thing is not the names of the enterprises, no matter how important they were in our history, but the people who make up the project. And these people were integrated into other cooperative projects of the group and today they contribute their experience, which is very important so as not to forget that we do not know what the future holds but that unity is crucial to facing it with guarantees. 

What role does Mondragon University play in forming the next generation of cooperative business leaders?

Iñigo Albizuri Landazabal: MONDRAGON's work is fundamental, but so is that of each cooperative and, above all, that of the Knowledge Division within the university, professional schools and the ikastola (primary and secondary education). The training aspect is key and is one of the characteristics of our model and the basis of its success. When we think of the factories of the future, we imagine the university within the enterprises and closely connected to real problems. 



The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) knows that…