Many things have begun to change in the aftermath of the recent European economic crisis. One of that is enhanced openness to look around, learn from unexpected quarters and see beyond the conventional boundaries for signs of hope. I was invited to share the insights from the Honey Bee Network precisely for such a purpose at the forum on Let us dare, France .
While travelling around 10pm back to my hotel after the conclusion of the conference , I had an unexpected colleague for company. He had answers to several of my questions. Long ago, Paul Richards, a dear friend for thirty years, had shared with me a paper about an alternative model of capitalism evolving in Lyon, a city famous for silk looms in the early 18th century. The majority of historians never shared this model, because it taught lessons which would have changed the shape of social relations in a much more humane way. I will tell the story before coming back to the colleague I met on the way back to the hotel. Readers will understand my excitement and joyfulness about meeting him better after this story.
The demand of silk clothes used to be highly fashion-conscious in the early 18th century. The convention was that, when demand for silk woven by one weaver was on the rise, the demand for others weavers’ silk might decline. That was the plain competition in the marketplace. However, there was a seemingly intriguing practice about the way they trained and mentored the next generation of weavers, their children, in the community of weavers. The practice was that the child, daughter or son of a weaver, would not apprentice with the father or mother. The child was put under charge of someone whose demand might actually have been in decline. The belief was that, given the cyclical nature of fashion trends, nobody knew whose designs and fabrics would be in demand next. In the learning space, they cooperated, while in the market space they competed.
My new friend was, Jihade Belamri, whose company was called, BEE – what a fortunate surprise, even the icon on his card was a bee! Jihade was originally from Algiers, a Muslim. The bee has a special place in Muslim scriptures (see Holy Qur’an, 16:68-69). He told me that he lived in Lyon and perhaps had answers to my long held quest. I found out that there had been a major conflict among loom owners and workers about two hundred years ago. After a lot of arguing, they had reached an understanding which has lasted till date. The houses of the owners were big, spacious and those of workers were obviously small. They were situated right opposite of each other, as I also saw in some of the favelas in Rio.
Over time, they had evolved a strong social democratic culture of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise. That means, despite the wealth differences, the gap in wellbeing was lessened. How could it not be so when the future is shared?
BEE, Jihade’s firm, is into manufacturing engineering products like food processing machines. He and I agreed to explore marketing opportunities for one of the Honey Bee Network’s innovators, for instance Dharamveer’s multipurpose food processing machine.
One may call it chance or serendipity, but when we are ready for surprises, they happen all the time, every day and often quite pleasantly. But let us say, even if I lose my key bunch with all the doors closed, I can still feel light, less responsible for the closed doors and use the occasion for exploring the doors which are still open or open up through this incident. All depends on how I take it, isn’t it?
“Your Lord revealed to the bees: “Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow.” From inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a sign in that for people who reflect.” (Qur’an, 16:68-69)