Society

Seville: Youth Respond to the Crisis with Co-op

Article published on July 19, 2014
Article published on July 19, 2014

Their small busi­ness knows no cri­sis. In Seville, Mayte, Ale­jan­dro and Ana all made the crazy bet to set up their company despite the failure of the Spanish economy. Today, they are still here, because of a com­mon point: the co­op­er­a­tive.

In France, like in Spain, the term 'coop' often evokes old mus­ta­chioed wine mak­ers more than young en­tre­pre­neurs. In­stead, we think of a model of post-68 utopia (in ref­er­ence to the pe­riod of civil un­rest in France in May-June 1968 — Ed­i­tor), ready to fight today but will be­come dis­il­lu­sioned to­mor­row. Yet in An­dalu­sia, hard hit by the cri­sis, co-ops sprout like mush­rooms. Far from being con­fined to Dad's agri­cul­ture (which rep­re­sents only 14% of Span­ish co­op­er­a­tives — Ed.), the coop also ex­ists in ver­sion 2.0. The prin­ci­ple is sim­ple: at least three so­cios (part­ners — Trad.) con­tribute to equal­ity, fairly dis­trib­uted de­ci­sion-mak­ing power and no hi­er­ar­chy. Un­like a 'tra­di­tional' busi­ness, work­ers are also in­vestors, and are in­volved in all stages of pro­duc­tion.

Far from clichés, the co-op ver­sion 2.0

Ana and Ale­jan­dro, the bosses of Mar­ket­ing On­line, work in a mod­ern neigh­bour­hood on the out­skirts of the city. Iron­i­cally, Avenida tec­nolo­gia (Tech­nol­ogy Av­enue — Trad.), where the out­fit is lo­cated, was built just be­fore the cri­sis to host­ com­pa­nies. It is now half de­serted. De­spite their very dif­fer­ent back­grounds, the two so­cios (part­ners — Trad.) de­cided to take the plunge.  Ana, a smil­ing 40-some­thing, was one of the last to leave her ad­ver­tis­ing agency be­fore the com­pany went bust. For 27-year-old Ale­jan­dro, this is his sec­ond time he is part of a co-op. 

An ex­am­ple of the work done by Mar­ket­ing On­line

Ana al­ways wanted to be her own boss; but her dream came true al­most by ac­ci­dent. Just as she was about to begin, an ob­vi­ous choice emerged: the model of the co-op. The de­ci­sion was not based on  ide­al­ism. "Our choice is prag­matic," ex­plains Ana. "We had a com­mon pro­ject, and a co-op cor­re­sponded best to our eco­nomic and per­sonal goals." And it's work­ing. Since its cre­ation, Mar­ket­ing On­line has seen its or­ders ex­plode with clients rang­ing from a psy­chol­ogy prac­tice to a can­nery. 

Rub­ber Vagi­nas and Eques­trian Ther­apy

Laura Cas­tro and Sa­lomé Gomez see more and more pro­jects like Ana's and Ale­jan­dro's. To­gether they run the An­dalu­sian Fed­er­a­tion of Co­op­er­a­tives in Seville (FAECTA). Since the cri­sis, they have seen the de­vel­op­ment of this mix of en­tre­pre­neur­ship and sol­i­dar­ity. "We see more and more ser­vice com­pa­nies founded by young grad­u­ates who are very well trained." In a re­gion where the un­em­ploy­ment rate ex­ceeds 30%, the co-­op ap­pears to be an al­ter­na­tive to em­i­gra­tion. "En­tre­pre­neur­ship is be­com­ing a ne­ces­sity," they sum­ma­rise.

An­dalu­sia is a pi­o­neer in the field. With its 3500 co-ops, the sec­tor rep­re­sents tens of thou­sands of jobs, the ma­jor­ity of which are women. "This is due to the fact that these are struc­tures that pro­mote equal­ity," in­sists Salomé. "The prin­ci­ple is sim­ple and un­chang­ing: one per­son = one vote. And in a so­ci­ety where women are still re­spon­si­ble for most of the house­hold chores, work­ing in a co-­op makes it eas­ier to com­bine work and fam­ily lives." Atleast one can say that An­dalu­sian so­cios have an imag­i­na­tion. Among the busi­ness pro­jects sup­ported by FAECTA, Laura and Sa­lomé have seen al­most every­thing: from eques­trian ther­apy and coffins to rub­ber vagi­nas.

Au­dac­ity

It has been al­most three years since Mayte put aside her per­sonal life. The co-founder of La ex­trav­a­gante, a book­store, she speaks with the en­ergy of those who want to con­quer the world. Yet her eyes re­veal the hours spent on ac­count­ing or fil­ing. "Peo­ple think that own­ing a book­store means sit­ting and read­ing, but this is not true!" she says with a laugh. In an­other life, Mayte was a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture in Puerto Rico, pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor for a the­atre, then a book­seller at FNAC — the job she left to start this book­store with three friends.

It is not with­out a lot of dreams and dis­ap­point­ments under her belt that bub­bly Mayte em­barked on her co-op ad­ven­ture. Today, she does not re­gret her choice and ac­cepts the crazy part in­her­ent of the pro­ject. "I had tons of il­lu­sions: every­thing seemed pos­si­ble and easy. But it is pre­cisely be­cause we all began with the same level of ig­no­rance that it worked. Ar­riv­ing at the tech­ni­cal of­fice, I did not even know that I could cre­ate a co­-op. I knew noth­ing. The be­gin­ning was very hard be­cause even if I have an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, num­bers are not my thing!"

Like Mayte, Ale­jan­dro and Ana claim­ the el­e­ment of mad­ness that pushed them to make the leap. Per­haps it is these crazy peo­ple who will grad­u­ally bring the An­dalu­sian econ­omy back on its feet. FAECTA's fig­ures show that co­-op­­s with­stand cri­sis bet­ter than tra­di­tional busi­nesses. As they are very at­tached to their pro­ject, part­ners con­sider clos­ing as a last re­sort. This sol­i­dar­ity makes sense in a con­text of cri­sis where in­di­vid­ual busi­ness be­comes al­most im­pos­si­ble, if only for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. On the flip side of the coin, there are many who are un­der­paid, as they do not keep track of their work hours. The es­sen­tial re­mains: to know a greater sense of shared free­dom.

THIS AR­TI­CLE IS PART OF A SPE­CIAL SE­RIES DEd­i­cated TO seville. IT'S PART OF EU­TOPIA: TIME TO VOTE, A PRO­JECT RUN BY CAFÉBABEL IN PART­NER­SHIP WITH THE HIP­POCRÈNE FOUN­DA­TION, THE EU­RO­PEAN COM­MIS­SION, THE MIN­ISTRY OF FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRS AND THE EVENS FOUN­DA­TION.