Agirre Center
2018/04/16 15:00:00 GMT+2



  • Columbia University, MIT, UMass and McGill have shown great interest in ALC studies showing direct influence from culture and local identity in competitiveness and sustainable human development.
  • Our research outcomes question current competitivity models that ignore the cultural dimension of innovative processes (one size fits all) and provide the Basque society with the opportunity to lead the international debate on new inclusive growth models.
  • The Basque experience and future models and possibilities were presented in Boston, New York and Montreal from 17 to 23 April. 


The Basque experience of social and economic transformation within the last few decades (the so-called Basque model or Basque experience) features a series of outstanding quantitative indicators (GDP per capita, poverty rate, social public investment, educational levels, life expectancy, wealth distribution, etc.) and qualitative ones (social capital, resilience, innovation, public-private partnership). All of these accomplishments took place despite the extreme circumstances at the time (industrial collapse, end of a 40 year dictatorship, restoration of self-government and terrorist violence). 

According to ALC researches, these indicators prove the existence of an imperfect, yet functioning alternative development model to those around us, that is equal and competitive at the same time. They advocate for projecting it as a large scale Social Innovation model, especially now that the European Commission bases its economic strategy on Inclusive Growth models.   

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K factor: the K is the key 

Recent studies carried out by ALC in partnership with local and international entities indicate that the key to understand the social model fostered in the Basque Country lies mainly on cultural factors (narratives, beliefs and shared values), that have allowed an alternative and successful response to a difficult context (as mentioned above, industrial collapse, end of a 40 year dictatorship, restoration of self-government and terrorist violence). ALC calls this cultural factor or “K” factor in Basque. 

Integrating this “K”, along with values such as solidarity, to shared narratives on the Basque identity would explain why different attempts to replicate the Basque model in different contexts have always been unsuccessful, being unable to incorporate local cultural elements. These are the differentiating elements that could place value on the Basque competitiveness system beside those from other regions and countries around us. 


Despite the negative data dropping out in recent years (precarious jobs, increased poverty, raising inequality and self-government limitation), understanding better the keys to a successful socio-economic transformation experience (again, local culture and identity, competitiveness through equality and solidarity) offers a unique opportunity for the Basque society to take a stand in the global context. 

Former President Juan Jose Ibarretxe states that this is “a historical opportunity to build a new narrative around the recent history of the Basque Country and becoming a strategic ally to those regions and countries wishing to create new competitiveness models based on solidarity”. According to Ibarretxe, “this opportunity should come along with the internationalization strategies of the Basque institutions”. 


Program details

From 17 to 19 April a delegation from Agirre Lehendakaria Center led by the former Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe visited UMASS, MIT and Harvard universities in Massachusetts. At UMASS Ibarretxe offered the conference “How to change a Country” and took part in an additional seminar organized by The Institute for Social Science Research. Previous to the conference and the seminars Ibarretxe spoke to the director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Alasdair Roberts. You can listen to the interview here

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In Boston ALC plans to hold a meeting with the Special Projects team at MIT and with several representatives from the Kennedy School at Harvard. 


From 19 to 21 April the delegation visited Quebec in order to share the results of its investigations with McGill University, the leading college in Canada. ALC holds a collaboration agreement with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Montreal CRIEM-CIRM, giving annual  postgraduate course on the Basque Case and large-scale social innovation platform building. Ibarretxe took part in two different seminars as well, both on the importance of incorporating the cultural dimension to competitiveness and sustainable human development systems. 


The stay in Quebec resulted on the signing of two new agreements: the first one between ALC and CRIEM-CIRM (McGill) for the development of new digital tools that allow the addition of cultural elements to innovation processes; the second one between University of McGill and the Etxepare Institute for the development of several annual courses on Basque culture. 

On April 23rd the visit will conclude with the seminar “Capturing the narratives of Sustainable Peace. The Basque experience” at Columbia University in New York.