How the Economy of Communion project moves beyond simple philanthropic approaches
By John Mundell
published in Living City on 01/03/2017
“Imitating the Good Samaritan of the Gospel is not enough.” This was the heart of the message given by Pope Francis during our audience February 5 at the Vatican. It resonated among 1,200 entrepreneurs and supporters of the Economy of Communion project, gathered from around the world.
The EoC was started in 1991 by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich during a visit to São Paulo, Brazil, as a project to eradicate poverty. She proposed starting companies willing to put their profits in common for the common good, putting the EoC at the forefront of a social enterprise revolution that would soon follow in different forms.
During the next 25 years, the EoC business network and supporters grew into a social movement that today includes more than 860 businesses in over 50 countries, with tens of thousands involved.
In recent years EoC companies have begun to focus on increased contact with those needing support. This has led many to the practice of “productive inclusion,” bringing those in need directly into the businesses’ operations themselves. Efforts have also increased for EoC companies to be more directly involved in their local communities, as a means to engage with others and find ways to support those faced with difficulties in life. And entrepreneurs have understood from experience the importance of personal involvement for those working in EoC businesses to bring about real communion at the local level.
Pope Francis reminded us of the intimacy called for by our efforts: “To have life in abundance, one must learn to give: not only the profits of businesses, but of oneself. The first gift of the entrepreneur is of his or her own person: your money, although important, is too little.”
In 1992, during the EoC’s early days, Chiara Lubich reminded us of the importance of giving of ourselves. “You know that the idea of the Economy of Communion has awakened latent energies in many of us … and has triggered the mechanism of giving,” she said. “In order for everything to grow and mature, we must strengthen this virtue of ‘giving,’ so that it becomes a habit in us. Let’s give always, giving a smile, understanding, forgiveness or a listening ear; let’s give our intelligence, our will and availability; let’s give our time, talents and ideas.”
For me, our meeting with the Holy Father was a call to return to our original spiritual roots — a lifestyle based on communion practiced in each movement of our daily business lives.
With an understanding of the wider potential of the EoC, the Pope challenged us to work toward an even greater collective goal — changing the economic system of today into one of greater social justice and caring. “An entrepreneur who is only a Good Samaritan does half of his duty; he takes care of today’s victims, but does not curtail those of tomorrow.”
This new awareness was highlighted with many experiences shared at the EoC congress. Raiana Lira, a young environmental professional who initially interned at my company in Indiana in 2015 to learn more about the EoC, was inspired by its mission and values. She returned to Brazil and is now working for Anpecom (the National Association for an Economy of Communion).
“We want to assemble people, companies and institutions that want to build a new economic culture and reduce poverty through their knowledge and abilities,” she said. “We believe that entrepreneurship is an essential tool for overcoming poverty, provided it is conceived within a new cultural perspective.”
Anpecom promotes a new socioeconomic model that has been recognized by various institutions in Brazil. It has successfully helped develop six new businesses operated by those in need which have come out of their entrepreneurship and incubation program.
After 25 years of working toward an economic “may they all be one” (Jn 17:21), these experiences encourage us to take up the pope’s challenge and to fulfill this dream.