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Parliament’s portfolio committee on small business development recently returned from a five-day study tour to the Basque region of Spain, as well as Madrid. Our purpose was to visit the Mondragón Corporation, Spain’s leading exponent of co-operatives as an organising principle of business; learn from its successes and failures; and understand the role government plays in the co-operatives sector. The development of co-ops has long been on the South African government’s agenda, but its track record is lamentable. A 2009 study by the department of trade and industry revealed that 88% of co-ops formed to date have failed. Since responsibility for co-ops was transferred to the department of small business development in 2014, their performance has not improved, while hundreds of millions of rands have been pumped into the sector to try to kick start it. Yet it remains moribund and lacking direction. Mondragón has its roots in a technical college set up in 1943 in the town of that name ...

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