Thierry and Martin Sibieude, back from Compostela: “Our march has…

Starting from Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire) on August 23, you chose to walk to meet the actors of the social and solidarity economy. On your return, do you still share the idea that walking allows you to better understand certain realities?

Martin: We could have discovered these actors differently. But walking allowed us to appropriate the territory. These people carry out activities directly linked to their land, their action is very rooted. We have, for example, met the farmers’ cooperative Young Mountain, after crossing part of the Aubrac plateaux and walking in the presence of numerous herds of cows. The impact of this structure jumped out at us. It was, in fact, created in 1960 to support small local farmers during the implementation of the European Common Agricultural Policy, which gives pride of place to large farms.

Terry: Most of the people who embody this social and solidarity economy are locals who work in a territory, live there and experience it in all its dimensions. Above all, they want to make it bear fruit, despite declining demographics and sometimes heavy isolation… Getting physically in motion to meet them also reflected the mark of sincere interest that we showed them. And gave credibility to our approach.

By crossing several regions, you have also discovered cultures, traditions…

Martin: The path itself is steeped in history, the people involved in these different lands are very attached to it. Many of these entrepreneurs rely on traditions to start a business. They are very creative! As for example in Saugues, in Haute-Loire, where they have preserved the last washing of wool in France while developing a lambswool sector.

Thierry: Cultivating traditions is a major challenge. For example, the site The wild in Gévaudan (in Chanaleilles, in Haute-Loire) brings together a place of accommodation, catering and marketing of products by around thirty farmers from the canton of Saugues. This tourist spot is their most important point of sale.

The motivations are strong, but that does not however prevent the difficulties…

Terry: For some, talking about money seems taboo. However, the economic and financial part should not be considered as the fifth wheel of the carriage. On the contrary: if the activity does not grow, it runs to its loss. Formalizing the conditions for success is a huge challenge. Those who embark on a social and solidarity economy project tend to find it difficult to fit into broader dynamics than their primary objective.

Martin: This reluctance to talk about finances surprised me enormously. While each of them vigorously stated the reasons for their commitment, the economic dimension as such was often overlooked. However, structuring the activity is necessary, it is a necessary step to reinvest and expand.

Thierry, you were a teacher for more than thirty years, a pioneer in teaching about the social and solidarity economy. Martin, you have just completed your studies in this same field. Is this a handover?

Terry: I have always been keen to transmit to my students the taste for innovation and to communicate the audacity to think outside the box. In the Grandes Ecoles, students are free: they choose the courses they take, their personal investment… As teachers, we must give them tools to think about. In this environment, the worst would be single-mindedness. For some time now, a large number of notions such as sustainable development or climate change, which used to be optional, have been integrated into the fundamental courses. It’s good news.

Martin: It is up to us, the young people, to seize on these subjects and go towards these training courses. One can be hired and work in the for-profit sector. Through our walk, we wanted to promote initiatives that allow both to give meaning to one’s work and to have an effect on employment, production or the vitality of a territory.

Traveling has allowed us deep encounters, during which all barriers come down.


Was this pilgrimage to Compostela also a journey of faith for you?

Martin: Traveling has allowed us to make deep encounters, during which all barriers come down. The proximity is much stronger than in our daily lives. On the way, there are no more social conventions: you immediately touch on intimacy and it’s very beautiful! There is a strong spiritual dimension. Our thoughts were anchored in what we were living in the present moment. Each time, we came back to the themes of love and death. At the very beginning of our journey, Brother Pierre-Adrien, hotelier in Conques, warned us: the path creates fertile ground for existential questions. He didn’t lie to us!

Terry: And the religious dimension of the path has something to do with it. Even if our journey did not directly concern faith, we wondered about the place of God and religion in our lives. Beyond the meetings, we also spent a lot of time together. If we did not discover anything surprising about each other, we were able to approach subjects in a different way: the long time offers this chance. It is important to repeat things. We each have our role: me, the father, Martin, the son, and even if that does not change, each has been able to get out of his status and what he projects on the other. The richness of such a relationship stems from a certain transcendence.

If Santiago de Compostela is a destination known all over the world, it has a special resonance for you…

Terry: We had undertaken, with my wife Jacqueline, to walk on the path with our four children, because it allowed to breathe life into a family project over several years. Walking allows you to move forward as a group while respecting everyone’s individual pace. An opportunity to transmit beautiful values! Our third child, Philippe, was autistic, and before his death in 2009, he had walked with us on the stretch of Nasbinals (Lozere) to Aubrac (Aveyron). Without having planned it, we hiked this stretch again on the anniversary of his death, August 28th. Our unconscious has undoubtedly worked, but one thing is certain: it has accompanied us all the way.

Martin: Philippe, like our whole family, is linked to this project. When he died, at 18, I was only 11 years old. I have always attached myself to love to give meaning to what happens to us and to the choices I make. As far back as I can remember, our family has always enjoyed walking. Our discussions during many walks have bonded us a lot. For me, walking remains inseparable from exchange. We leave a frame, the body walks with the spirit. Walking in the same direction makes it possible to share a movement, an energy, and it is extremely fruitful.

Last February, Martin, you were diagnosed with diabetes. This was also one of the triggers for the ESS 750 project. Did you doubt your physical abilities at times?

Martin: It was indeed a real challenge. I learned to better understand how the disease worked by confronting myself with effort and high heat. For example, I was able to reduce my insulin doses because physical activity compensated for them. On the first day, we climbed a steep climb to the Pèlerins reception center in Le Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire). Once there, I had my first hypoglycemia. And it turns out that the accommodation manager, Jean-Marie, is himself a diabetic. He had also made the journey to Saint-Jacques, and his testimony gave me confidence for the future. To reach the destination, we set an achievable goal every day. This is a good lesson for carrying out future projects. This made me think about the notion of commitment and the goals I want to give myself.

Terry: With my 62 years and diabetes diagnosed in Martin, our health was an essential point of vigilance. Attentive to each other, we regularly repeated that the goal was not sporting performance. Reach Saint-Jacques, yes, but by constantly adapting to our physical condition! And we did! Now, once back, I better measure the effort made, because I discover pain that I did not feel during the walk.

Walking allows you to move forward as a group while respecting everyone’s pace, to transmit beautiful values!


Their bio

May 20, 1960 Birth of Thierry in Marseilles (Bouches-du-Rhône).

1993 Thierry founded the association The key for autism. 21st of October

1998 Birth of Martin in Pontoise (Val-d’Oise).

2002 Creation by Thierry of the Innovation and social entrepreneurship chair at Essec.

August 2004 Martin sets out to walk with his family for the first time on the way to Santiago.

2001 Thierry is elected vice-president of the departmental council of Val-d’Oise.

2009 Death of Philippe, third child of the Sibieude siblings, suffering from autism.

2022 Thierry is retiring and Martin has a Master’s degree in Social and Solidarity Economy and Social Innovation from Sciences Po Bordeaux (Gironde). Launch of the ESS 750 project

Thierry and Martin Sibieude, back from Compostela: “Our march has…