Welsh economic pioneer remembered at international conference
TWO staff members from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) recently organised a successful international conference to commemorate 150 years since the death of Robert Owen.
Owen, who was born in Newtown, Powys in 1771, was one of Wales’s most successful innovators, a pioneer of cotton-spinning technology and management techniques before he moved on to develop co-operative and democratic ways of working.
The UK Society for Co-operative Studies holds an annual conference and this year it was decided to have a special commemorative conference called New Views of Society: Robert Owen for the 21st Century.
It was held at the New Lanark conference centre, situated in the restored mill buildings where Owen established his model community on the banks of the Clyde in the early 1880s.
Molly Scott Cato, Director of UWIC’s Wales Institute for Research into Co-operatives and a Reader in Green Economics said: “Staying in Owen’s community at New Lanark was an educational experience. As a green economist I was impressed by the way that the industrial community fitted into the local environment. It was a beautiful setting and exemplified Owen’s belief that a healthy environment and a well-treated workforce were vital to successful businesses. The mills also used renewable energy in the form of hydro-power from the river Clyde.”
The conference attracted more than 100 academics from around the world including a nine-strong delegation from the Robert Owen Society of Japan, a country where Owen’s legacy is stronger than it is in his home country.
Insights on many of Owen’s wide-ranging interests were shared including innovation, education, and utopian communities. Other papers were inspired by Owen’s contribution to fields such as industrial organisation and worker co-operatives.
Richard Bickle was delighted with how the conference went: “We were determined to remember Robert Owen in his anniversary year and were astonished by how much of an inspiration his example still provides. As Secretary of the UK Society for Co-operative Studies I am really pleased by the links we have been able to build up with researchers from Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, the USA and Japan. Welsh people should be as proud of Robert Owen as Scottish people are.”
Molly and Richard have also published a collection of essays on Owen’s contribution to innovation in the 21st century which was launched at the conference.
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