Mondragon, Focolare, and Inclusive Capitalism – Synthetic Pretenders Part 15B

Featured Image: Pope John Paul II with Chiara Lubich, Founder of Focolare Ecumenical Movement

This is the second post referencing refugee labor, charter cities, faith communities, cooperatives and tokenization. You can read it in full here or access a PDF here.

We’ll delve deeper in the next section when we discuss the model global cooperative Mondragon Corporation, but for now, make a note that while situated five hours across the peninsula on the Mediterranean side of Spain, Catalonia has synergy with developments in Basque Country.

For the past decade, the idea of applying collective ownership and governance principles to digital platforms has gained momentum, notably in the “rebel” ultra-smart city Barcelona where Francesca Bria, formerly of NESTA, vigorously promoted the digital sovereignty of citizens through cooperative ownership of data. In this scenario the “renegade” Left is used as a counterweight to establishment neoliberalism, shoring up the technological imperative to dominate the natural world into synthetic submission. They promise that theirs will be a kinder, gentler AI that really, really cares about us and about solving inequality – in a Fabian Socialist / Libertarian paternalistic kind of way.

Illustrative of this mentality is a May 2022 article featuring the “rebel city” touting adoption by their Urban Innovation Lab of coastal drone surveillance as a tool to “improve management of public space.” Sure, you can go to the beach, presuming you agree to follow an ever-changing list of rules. We’re supposed to feel reassured by the fact that the data is supposed to be anonymized. I don’t think people will forget, however, the use of drones to police social distancing over the past few years.

Source: Drones Flying Over Catalonia’s Beaches To Enforce Social Distancing As COVID Rates Soar, July 2021

The following is taken from “Building Digital Cities From The Ground Up Based Around Data Sovereignty and Participatory Democracy: The Case of Barcelona,” prepared by Francesca Bria in 2019 when she was Chief Technology Officer of the city having come from London where digital identity and social innovation were her areas of expertise:

“They can run smart, data-intensive, algorithmic public transportation, housing, health and education – all based on a logic of solidarity, social cooperation, and collective rights.”

“Barcelona is actively forging alternative municipal alliances of rebel cities, becoming a key site of struggles to fight climate change, build more liveable and just cities, and regain technological sovereignty.”

“Barcelona’s digital city efforts have centred on opening up governance through participatory processes and greater transparency. At the core of Barcelona’s model is a large scale participatory experiment powered by a digital participatory platform, Decidim (“We Decide”, in Catalan), which enables citizens to shape government policies by suggesting ideas, debating them, and voting on them. Decidim taps into the collective intelligence of citizens to create policies that better respond to their needs.”

“We focused on aligning the technology with the city’s core policy objectives selected through a large-scale participatory democracy process. In the case of Barcelona, affordable housing, healthcare for all, sustainable mobility, energy transition, increased public space and the fight against climate change are the top priorities.”

“Now the renewable energy operator is experimenting with distributed energy grid technology and with applications that allow citizens to own their energy consumption data.”

“The use of an open sensors city infrastructure called Sentilo and big data analytics makes it possible to define and predict better public mobility policies, and measure the urban impact of evidence-based policymaking.”

“Now, for instance, the municipality has a large contract with Vodafone by which every month the company is obliged to give back machine-readable data to the city hall, while also making sure they encrypt the data to preserve citizens’ privacy.”

“Alternative models of service provision are being fostered via the creation of special funds for platform cooperatives and digital social innovation, supported by an EU initiative that has channelled €60m in the last few years towards experimenting with next-generation digital platforms that work for the public interest.”

“Barcelona leads a network of rebel cities, “Fearless Cities”, that is adopting tools and experiments in open democracy and data protection. The first conference was hosted in the city last year, bringing together more than 180 cities from 40 countries and five continents.”

“Barcelona is the coordinator of the DECODE project, the biggest EU effort to establish a framework for data sovereignty, aiming to develop open source, decentralised, privacy-enhancing and rights-preserving technologies for citizens to decide what kind of data they want to keep private, what data they want to share, with whom, and on what terms. This proposes a new social pact — a New Deal on data that we hope will soon become a reality in many cities across the world.”

In addition to the city of Barcelona, DECODE’s partners include: Arduino – advanced cyber-physical infrastructure based in New York; ThoughtWorks – Chicago-headquartered Agile software consulting acquired by Ronald Cohen’s Apax Partners in 2017; NESTA – UK Social Innovation Lab; Thingful – search engine for IoT connected devices in a geography based in London;  University College London Information Security and Research Group – end-to-end cryptography for societal uses; the Economic Center of the Sorbonne (CNRS); Dribia – geolocation data analytics in Barcelona; Eurecat! – industrial technology R&D center with bio-tech in Catalonia; Open University of Catalonia – Human Computer Interaction and Digital Commoning; Nexa Center for Internet and Society in Turin, Italy; Amsterdam – the other pilot city; – open-source software foundry in the Netherlands; Privacy and Identity Lab at Radboud University in Nijmegen, NL; and Waag FutureLab – promoting a Planet B proposal for decentralized tech in Amsterdam. The framework DECODE lays out is aligned with assertions of data dignity and plural property being promoted by RadicalXChange, developers of Soulbound Tokens.

Bria has since left Barcelona to head the Italian National Innovation Fund and consult with UN Habitat on smart cities. They mean for us to become “sovereign” citizens of the planetary computer. They’re giving us two options: 1) allow tech giants to control our data or 2) agree to become data commodities inhabiting a world of total surveillance. Both models are grounded in digital empire and conquest of natural systems. There are other options that would not require us to submit ourselves to the AI gods, and we need to be advocating for them now. With all the talk of social credit scoring, we should remember that vulnerable populations, including children, are on the front lines of the social impact data commodities game.

With a deft sleight of hand, platform cooperative refugees could wind up contingent remote labor even as they’re publicly lauded as empowered token-holders with a stake in the brutal fiction that is the twenty-first century data economy. That’s what the “impact economy” looks like. Don’t get caught up in their manipulative interactive digital storytelling. Unfortunately, most of us are pretty easy to fool. We don’t want to face the horror that we may ALL end up living in a cross between Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” episode and Ira Levin’s “Stepford Wives.”

Source: Bringing the Platform Co-op “Rebel Cities” Together: An Interview with Trebor Scholz

Mondragon, Focolare, and Capitalism’s Catholic Makeover

Currently one of the largest companies in Spain, Mondragon Corporation started out in the 1950s as an effort of Catholic social teaching by Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta who combined technical education with a worker-centered model that remade the metalworking industry that had been the community’s economic engine since the middle ages. Laminates was one of their products – sheet metal, which is interesting given the ties to Lamina1 and lamins I wrote about in a previous piece.

The priest’s legacy is one of a vanguard entrepreneur who sought to go “beyond a mercantile and economic society dedicated to satisfying the private interests of its investors” to “spearhead a complex social movement based on principles of self-management, subordination of capital to labour and Christian communitarian ethics,” establishing a cooperative model that by the 1950s “included real estate, sports, educational, cultural and health services.” Sociologist C. George Benello includes a chapter on Mondragon in his 1993 book, “From the Ground Up: Essays on Grassroots and Workplace Democracy,” that traces Mondragon’s influence to the creation of a cooperative cabinet post in Mitterand’s France, projects with the Welsh Trade Council, England’s Job Ownership Movement, and the establishment of progressive Catholic worker organizations in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Boston.

The United Nations designated 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.

Source: UN International Year of Cooperatives

The online Christian newsletter Aleteia published “Mondragon and the Other Fr. Jose Maria.” The article opened contrasting Arizmendiarrieta with St. Josemaría Escrivá who founded Opus Dei, an influential and secretive fraternity of Catholic lay people and affiliated priests. Opus Dei began in 1928 and expanded to include the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross in 1943, the same year that Mondragon Technical College was started. Arizmendiarrieta was seventeen years Escriva’s junior; though the careers of the two Spanish priests coincided for three decades.

Elias Crim, author of the piece, sought to unite the distinct outlooks of the two men, one conservative and the other socially progressive (though within the existing capitalist model), under the umbrella of the Focolare Movement. Focolare translates to “hearth” or “fireside” in English and has the goal of universal Christian brotherhood. It was started by Chiara Lubich, a teacher from Trent, northern Italy, in 1943. The group was first acknowledged by Pope Paul XXIII, “the Good Pope” as the “Work of Mary.” During his period of leadership Paul XIII modernized the church; dialogued with communist nations and Eastern Orthodox churches; increased the number of bishops to 85 and appointed representatives from Africa, Japan and the Philippines. He also called the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Additional approvals were given to Focolare by his successor Pope Paul VI. The movement spread to over 180 countries and now and has over two million practitioners and twenty-five “little towns.” Among them is Marianapolis Luminosa in Hyde Park, NY where the New City Press is based, one of twenty Focolare-affiliated publishers. That press has a new book series out titled MAGENTA meant to build bridges and address “polarization.”

Focolare embodies “Evangelii Gaudium,” a new era of evangelization by lay people. There is a center for Evangelii Gaudium at the University Institute Sophia, which became the successor to the Abba school in 2007. Lubich created the Abba School in 1990 with support from The Pontifical Council for the Laity to promote the charism “spiritual gift” of theological unity and “cultural potentiality.” The organization maintains an ecumenical outlook with an emphasis on Marian devotion.

Volunteers of God” organized at a Parish level take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Since 1963, its base of operations has been Rocca di Papa outside Rome. Lubich created three “Gen” programs for youth and then combined them as the “New Humanity” in 1966 followed by a “New Families Movement” the following year.

While undertaking “solidarity” work in Poland in the late 1970s, Focolare members met in secret with Archbishop Karol Wojtyla who was so impressed with Chiara’s writings that he invited her to meet with him shortly after he became pope. The following except is taken from the Focolare website:

Before his election to Pontificate, Karol Wojtyla only knew Chiara through her writings. As soon as he became Pope he wanted to meet her. I was visiting Rome in that period and I received a phone call from the Pope’s secretary Stanislaw Dziwisc who I knew very well. He told me that the Holy Father wanted to invite Chiara and I to his mass the next day at 7.

Chiara, Eli Folonari and I left very early in the morning.As you can imagine we were very excited. When we arrived we saw that the platforms for the Conclave were still in place and so we had to take a longer path to get to the Pope’s apartment. That mass in the Pope’s private chapel is still vivid in my soul. There was such a special atmosphere of recollection, a presence of God. Along with the Pope, Don Stanislaw and the three of us there were only 2 or 3 Polish sisters.

After Mass the Holy Father greeted Chiara. I still remember with what high regard and great love he addressed her. He asked if he could have a map showing the different places where the Movement was present: “So that I can know where to lean on!” he said. It was the beginning of a special friendship, of an ever stronger unity between two people called on by God to do great works, two people to whom God gave two gifts for the Church and for all of humanity”.

The fact that Focolare’s global footprint expanded significantly under the protective wing of Pope John Paul II is notable. During his first decade as pope, the Catholic Church played an influential role in Polish politics as defined by Lech Walesa’s “Solidarity” trade-union social movement. In retrospect, what was portrayed as a grassroots worker movement had the involvement of US interests through the AFL-CIO and the CIA as well as clergy whose goals were to advance a nationalist conservatism. In the end, Poland’s economy was opened just in time to be eviscerated by neoliberalism and globalization.

The government repression workers sought to escape simply transformed into capitalist disciplining, leaving many Poles in poverty during the closing years of the twentieth century. More market shaping for a post-human economic framework where benefit corporations can pretend to care about people while milking them for poverty-compliance data to run the information economy. We now see “solidarity economy” messaging and a focus on platform cooperatives setting the stage for social impact finance, stakeholder capitalism, and cybernetic circular economies. In the May 2020 report below, funded by the (Klaus) Schwab Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, “solidarity economy” was used interchangeably with “social economy” throughout.

Source: Unlocking the Social Economy, Towards an Inclusive and Resilient Society

I find it very odd that this teacher from a rural area, Chiara Lubich, was catapulted to such prominence after WWII, eventually gaining audiences with religious leaders from around the world including: Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury; Athenagoras I of Constantinople who helped write the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965; Bishop Klaus Hemmerle, Bishop of Aachen, Germany; Nikkyo Niwano, founder of the Buddhist lay movement Rissho Kosei-kai; and the Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara. She gave presentations all over the world from the United Nations to the Malcolm X Mosque. At a conference for the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France she presented on “A Market-based Society, Democracy, and Solidarity.” They may speak of love, unity, and harmony, but it’s actually about leveraging markets to attain a global heart-mind synthesis those in power believe will lead to a new phase of bio-digital evolution and the emergence of a World Brain.

There are critics. It is said that Focolare adherents are expected to exhibit self-denial and center themselves almost exclusively on the words and ideas of Chiara Lubich. There was child sexual abuse. Certain Catholics were also skeptical of the influence of Focolare and other organizations of the Neocatechumenal Way that held sway over John Paul II, though they held Opus Dei above critique. A number of Jesuits have actively opposed Lubich’s beatification.

Source: Focolare Condolences on Death of Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, Spanish Bishop and Head of the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus De

Selling Sacred Economies

In 1977 Chiara was awarded the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion in London, an event attended by Prince Philip. The presentation was made at Guildhall, the ceremonial administrative building for the City of London and its Corporation, which feels significant. John Templeton made his fortune as a contrarian mutual fund investor turned philanthropist who had a keen interest in character education, planned reproduction, free markets, genius, religion, and theoretical physics. He became a UK citizen in the 1980s after moving to Nassau in the Bahamas and was knighted for his charity work by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987. At the close of her acceptance speech, Lubich quoted the Converso Spanish mystic John of the Cross, who worked with Teresa of Avila to “reform” the Carmelite order in the late sixteenth century: “Where you do not find love, put love and you will find love.” They do seem to know the power of love.

Source: Today, We Remember Chiara Lubich, Founder of Italy’s Focolare Movement, John Templeton Foundation

Focolare members gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1991 to launch the Economy of Communion, (EOC) a premise that involves private enterprise solving social problems. Business owners, workers, and customers dedicate a portion of their profits to uplift people out of poverty. The effort promotes “vaccines for all,” climate-related investing, and an examination of individual behaviors around people and the planet in a spiritual context.

Last October Fordham University hosted a four-part series on EOC with Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, an economist specializing in the transition from planned to market-based economies, is president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and chair of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission. He’s been an advisor to UN Secretaries General  António Guterres and General Ban Ki-moon on the Sustainable Development Goals and played an advisory role in the transition of Poland’s economy in the 1980s. Over a thousand corporations have signed onto the Economy of Communion. While their website isn’t all that impressive, the involvement of Fordham and Sachs says something. There’s also a rather strange 2018 paper published in the International Journal of Engineering and Technology sponsored by the Seoul National University of Science and Technology that calls the Economy of Communion “a new ideal economy.” That’s the actual title of the paper and it feels very cybernetic / circular economy / systems engineering. It’s clear how that outlook meshes with the Vatican endorsement of Inclusive Capitalism in December 2020 and the mobilization of Catholic investment dollars behind social impact investing.

Source: The Economy of Communion As The New Ideal Economy

Elias Crim, the Aleteia author, wrote about EoC in 2014 under the headline “Economics As If People Mattered.” 2014 was also the year that the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative (CIIC) was established. Patricia Dinneen, affiliated with the Boston Archdiocese and lead on impact investing for Catholic Relief Services, chairs that organization. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania, the London School of Economics, and MIT, she held positions in international telecommunications, the White House, and RAND before entering into private equity managing emerging markets in BRICs nations and heading the advisory council for the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association. The following is an excerpt from Crim’s article about Focolare and the origins of EoC:

“When Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus appeared in 1991, some American observers read it as a break with Church tradition, suggesting it somehow endorsed a particular set of economic arrangements—i.e., those of American-style free market capitalism, also known as neoliberalism. Focolare’s founder, Chiara Lubich, read the document rather differently—perhaps more presciently, in fact.  She did not read the Pope as bestowing a blessing on “business as usual.” Instead, she saw him calling for a social economy that was capable of orienting capitalistic society toward the common good rather than individualistic consumerism.

The future pope’s  interest in the meeting and in Focolare generally was due to the heightened awareness of this group to the interrelationship between spirituality and socioeconomic life. The Focolare movement’s special charism of unity, one which grew to include an “economy of the gift,” with its values of cooperation, sharing and justice, was extending outward from an initial focus on family life to an influence upon the larger community. This relational economy was indeed a form of capitalism but with a strong emphasis on the human person rather than on a deterministic confidence in an “invisible hand.” Source

Why is Crim so interested in this topic? Well, he’s a Chicago-based writer who is currently founding editor of Ownership Matters, a bi-weekly newsletter focused on impact investing, racial equity, and the solidarity economy. He previously managed a $2 million US Department of Education Grant for character education in Chicago schools; founded Solidarity Hall a podcast and publisher featuring works on radical Christianity, the New Economy, and localism, and assisted Molly Burhans’s on her Good Lands project to map Catholic holdings and make land “work for good,” featured in The New Yorker. Yes, we are supposed to believe a young college student just happened to be staying at a Rome hostel, cold-called Vatican officials, and got the chance to pitch her cartographic database skills. Ah, narrative shaping.

See how the story is used to package free-market exchange as the gift economy or sacred economics? As the age of cybernetic enclosures and programmable finance tightens its grip on refugees, the poor, and those thrown out of work by economic upheaval, propagandists are working overtime to convince us that disruption is merely the opening act for an age of digital abundance – no mention of the ubiquitous surveillance that’s being baked into the transition.

Source:  Celo on Sacred Economics

A current example is this duplicity is Yale alumnus, Charles Eisentein, author and speaker on Eastern spiritual teachings, indigenous culture, ecology, and the new economy, who recently made common cause with Celo, a social impact “regenerative finance” company that’s doing the full court press to convince the world that “beautiful money” is the wave of the future.

During the global lockdowns Celo took the opportunity, in partnership with Impact Market, “A Decentralized Poverty Alleviation Protocol,” to seed a future customer base for Universal Basic Income. Impact Market is already active in the refugee space in Africa. Celo’s project involved a 30-year old traditional weaving cooperative (yes, cooperative) in the Philippines that became destabilized when the tourist economy was taken out. The program offered members, mostly women with children at home, a small monthly stipend to offset their losses. First, however, they had to obtain smartphones (mostly from their children) and learn the ropes of digital money and Valora wallets.

Valora is a peer-to-peer payment system based in San Francisco that completed a $20 million funding round led by blockchain/crypto VC Marc Andreessen. In a recent interview with The Rogan Experience, Andreessen discussed the importance of Metcalfe’s Law, X-Squared. Every connection you make to the network doubles its perceived value. This is the economic imperative, beyond social control, that lies behind the “no one gets left behind in mixed reality” campaign. Jason Bosch, Lynn Davenport and I unpack that interview  here.

Source: How Celo Powered A Small Community of Philippine Weavers To Access International Markets, January 2022

Source: Kotani Pay Partners With Rio and Impact Market To Enable UBI Payments to Refugees In Africa

Source: A16z Leads $20M Bet That Celo’s Valora Becomes A “Global Gateway To Crypto, July 2021

Celo’s founder and spokesperson is Sep Kamvar, the guy who invented Google’s page rank algorithm and, while working as the head of MIT’s Social Computing Group, started a Montessori-inspired pre-k franchise (Wildflower) where children had to wear slippers with sensors in them so adults could track their social behaviors and what toys they played with in school. Oh, and there were also artificial vision cameras mounted on the ceiling that fed data to dashboards on each child.

Eisenstein has not responded to repeated Tweets asking him to clarify his relationship with Kamvar and Celo and to explain how the company’s use of his “Sacred Economics” branding is compatible with the heartfelt blog posts he writes about protesting digital futures.

These characters are working all the angles to sell the masses on tokenized cooperatives as a wholesome remedy to the current brutal economic landscape. It’s not. For me it’s a gut-punch to see that so many supporters refuse to look at the facts and hold individuals and institutions whether Catholic, or New Age, or something else accountable for the deceptions they’re so deftly spinning.

Source: @Philly852 Tweet to Charles Eisenstein, May 19, 2022

Source: @Philly852 Sep Kamvar Tweet, May 19, 2022

Source: @Philly852 Tweet to Charles Eistenstein, June 23, 2022

In a Basque Village – Education for Liberation or Impact?

Mondragon gained attention in the 1970s as a singular example of the unification of social justice with theology, worker empowerment through education. The firm has grown to include two hundred and eighty companies employing eighty one thousand people in forty one different countries. Its products have moved far beyond sheet metal, paraffin heaters, and office furniture of seventy years ago. Now it specializes in automated production lines for automotive and energy system fabrication. It also advocates circular economy practices.

Source: Cooperative Economies in a Global Age, Thesis Stefan Siebel, RMIT University 2016

Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, the Jesuit founder of Mondragon cooperative, was a seminarian during the Spanish Civil War and part of the Vitoria Priests’ Movement, guided by the teaching of Spanish Renaissance theologian and jurist Francisco de Vitoria. His training focused on Catholic social teaching grounded in the Rerum Novarum, rights and duties of capital and labor. Dominican Thomist scholar Tommaso Maria Zigliara prepared the encyclical that was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to address suffering of workers caused by industrialization, a response to rising socialist sentiment that threatened to undermine the influence of church and uplift state power. The document reasserted the importance of private property while laying out responsibilities of employers to provide dignified work suited to each person’s capacity and for labor to refrain from violence and complete their tasks diligently. The Basque priest internalized the ideal of hard work for the collective good being a tool of economic and spiritual liberation. He was taught by his mentor Rufino Aldabalde that the exclusion of God from society through industrialization and secularization had led to the Second World War.

Another influence on Arizmendiarrieta was Clement Atlee, UK Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. Atlee was Deputy Prime Minister under Churchill in 1942 and later presided over the partition of India. This was the era in which Michael Dunlop Young, father of social entrepreneurship in England, shaped the agenda of Labour, including the creation of the National Health Service. This influence led Arizmendiarrieta to endorse the public-private partnership model, which he used in the development of a TB treatment facility and early housing cooperative.

Source: Atlee and Churchill in 1946 from “Labour Battles Over Its Own History Hoping for 1945 And All That,” Financial Times Op-Ed November 2021

In their 2008 profile, “The Origins of Mondragon: Catholic Co-Operativism and Social Movement in a Basque Valley (1941-59)” sociologists Fernando Molina and Antonio Miguez state that Arizmendiarrieta had a desire to create a “new Christian order” where through proper education and training, Basque peasants could be morally transformed while building a “communitarian Christian practice of worker solidarity” that would “give them equal footing with their bosses and break the ruling-class structure.” When he arrived, the town was dealing with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, which divided the community. The town’s economy revolved around Union Cerrajera, a sheet metal company. Children of the elite had access to education and apprenticeship programs that enabled those in the network to control managerial jobs, while the rest had few opportunities for advancement.

The priest sought to mobilize the youth through sports and Catholic volunteer programs. He was very successful at shaping public opinion, having refined his skills in narrative crafting while working at a Basque Nationalist newspaper, Eguna, during his seminary years. Arizmendiarrieta targeted young men he felt could be molded to become “redeemers of their class,” and hosted weekly discussions on “private property, capital and labour, social justice, or novel Catholic social theories such as the ‘dual salary’, which sought to divide salaries into a portion for consumption and another for investment.” The priest centered the idea of emancipatory education and dignified work promoted by French Catholic philosophers Jean Leclerq, French Benedictine monk known for writing “The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture and Jacques Maritain a Thomist who help develop the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Emphasis was placed on learning in the service of others, which supported the eventual expansion of the Mondragon cooperative model.

Source: 2018 Documentary of Arizmendiarrieta’s Life, El Hombre Cooperativo

With support from local businesses, Arizmendiarrieta launched the Professional School of Mondragon with the goal of “socializing knowledge to democratize power.” Technical education and training has always been a central feature of the Mondragon program, which is important to remember as we consider the place of this model in human capital re-skilling tied to data-driven investments by social entrepreneurs today, not to mention the meta-data captured from online learning that is being leveraged to train our AI replacements.

While the priest had hoped to be able to change the corporate culture of Union Cerrajera from within by training up through subsidization of the education of a cohort of young managers, he was not successful. In 1956, a group broke off and petitioned to create a new Christian company, Ulgor. Their first product line was kerosene stoves. The business thrived under Spain’s Stabilization Plan enacted by Franco in 1959 that backed-off the dictator’s previous efforts at autarchy, industrial self-sufficiency, and began to liberalize the country’s economy allowing for growth in exports. Over time Mondragon expanded production to include a range of home appliances.

The education component remained central with three interrelated programs that operated in affiliation with the University of the Basque Country for its first four decades. Mondragon University was incorporated as an independent university in 1997. Today it hosts 4,000 students studying engineering, business, entrepreneurship, communication, gastronomy, education, cooperativism, and social innovation. The school partners with ESADE, Spain’s influential Jesuit-affiliated MBA program second only to IESE, the Opus Dei-affiliate. Together ESADE and IESE hold substantial sway over business operations in Spain, maintaining extensive alumni networks that include over a quarter of the board members of the Ibex 35, the index of Spain’s principal stock exchange, with particular representation in the telecommunications sector. ESADE created a Center for Social Impact in 2017. In 2020 ESADE joined with Comillas Universidad Pontificia and Universidad de Deusto, two other Jesuit institutions, to create a special post-graduate program of study for international management with a focus on helping others through the development of social impact enterprises.

Source: Twitter ESADE Study Abroad Partnership with Mondragon University

A credit union was added in 1959, Caja Laboral Popular. Its descendant, Laboral Kutxa, has 400 offices and is the third largest credit union in Spain. The credit union was vital to business expansion, because each member business would put forty-percent of their after-tax profits into funds for research through the university or solidarity. The remainder, after a ten-percent distribution to charity, was deposited to cover worker pensions. All of the funds held could then be used to offer low-rate loans to support business expansion (page 122) among members.

Given the amount of funding that is anticipated to run through human capital-related projects Mondragon Corporation could be in a position to channel a lot of money through worker re-skilling at their technical university. The financial infrastructure is already in place, integrated into the program from the beginning, and complements their history of faith-based philanthropy. I think a similar dynamic linking wellbeing metrics and human capital investments could be in play in the United States with plans for public banking.

Source: Inclusive Capitalism About

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the religious order of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, was born in Azpeitia. He was the most famous Catholic priest from the Basque region. Pope Francis, of course, is the first Jesuit pope, one with some skeletons in his closet from Argentina’s Dirty Wars. Pope Francis has thus far issued three encyclicals: 1) Evangelii Gaudium, in 2007 that announced a new era of evangelism in which Chapter 4 speaks specifically about care for the weak and poor; 2) Laudato Si in 2015 critiquing consumerism and advancing environmental and climate concerns; and 3) Gaudete et exultate, a universal call to holiness in 2018. The following paragraph is taken from a website promoting the canonization of Arizmendiarrieta, which is consistent with stakeholder capitalism:

“The basis of the Christian endeavour he founded was “a group of young people, who are very good Christians, and I would even go so far as to say they are good apostles”. He wished to fulfill the dictate made by Pope Pious XI in his encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno”. The result, following on from the Professional School, was the creation of ULGOR, the San José cooperative society (which would later become Eroski), the Caja Laboral savings bank and other cooperative enterprises. He considered that “the workers will not believe in the Church’s social doctrine if they cannot see it put into practice through work for society”. And he added “The cooperative formula requires human activity in order to share and implement higher human values, and work, capital and organisation are therefore not its ends in themselves, but means for better serving human interests“. Source

In the United States, quite a few of the institutions at the forefront of advancing social impact finance, digital governance, and data analytics are affiliated with the Jesuits: Santa Clara University, Gonzaga University, Boston College, Fordham University, Loyola University, and Georgetown University. In my opinion the Jesuit’s history of mass conversion of colonized people through control of labor for large-scale agricultural projects, standardized education, and enforced faith practices cannot be discounted moving forward. Look to the history of the original people and enslaved Africans that Jesuits used to subjugate the lands of Brazil and their use of aldeias, small villages designed to instill new social norms.

“For the Indians the aldeias meant a new and inhabit living space. The customs as well as the structural layout of the village must have been very strange for the Indios (given their previous living environment). Besides the living conditions, the aldeias created a new identity for the people. The all-encompassing concept ‘Aldeia-Indian’ was created and applied to Indians from different tribes, with different cultures and languages. For the Jesuits the aldeias represented spaces for realizing a utopia which they already formulated in Europe. (Krumpel 1992) The missionary movement was strengthened in the counter-reform to fight Evangelization, so the Jesuits saw in the peoples, who were discovered during the Portuguese expansionist movement, an opportunity to shape Christianity and form a catholic community free from the problems which suffered the church at home in Europe. Because of this plan to create a purer and better Christianity abroad, the Jesuits in Brazil tried to keep a strategic alliance with the Portuguese Crown. Like the priest Antonio Viera said, they dreamed of creating a worldwide realm of Portuguese Catholicism.” Page 7

I imagine these are not so different from Focolare towns or charter cities for refugees. The networked built environment will be constructed with encoded social values and used to attempt to transition us from our original biological state to Nicholas Berggruen’s planned transition to holographic life. Continued in Part 3, Mondragon, Tokenized Cooperatives, and Moral Markets.

4 thoughts on “Mondragon, Focolare, and Inclusive Capitalism – Synthetic Pretenders Part 15B

  1. robingaura says:

    It is unsettling to see how altruistic people are channelled into these nefarious projects. I remember when my buddhist sangha was all reading about the grameen bank, and how wonderful it was to lift people out of poverty. Then I read a critique that opened my eyes to the exploitation involved in 36% interest rates, and the fact that these people would never have the capital to invest in even roads and schools. I grew up Catholic, and it was a stabilizing community in my early life. I attended teen groups, and benefitted by teachings in ethics, and discussions about the ecumenical movement. We attended other churches and learned to be curious about other faiths, rather than fearful or critical.
    I feel like my years in spiritual practices and service have helped me recover from trauma, and be more functional and compassionate. There are lots of spinoffs, in terms of perception. I wouldn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I am really disturbed at the revelations as you peel back the wallpaper.
    I thought for awhile that I was pretty good at intuitive research, but now see that I am probably being fed a trail of crumbs, and manipulated by something I don’t understand. So hard to judge who is acting out of naive altruism, or actually serving a dominating agenda. I think with different intentions, we will have differing results. Gotta sit with this for awhile.

Comments are closed.