Economy of Communion

Presentation of the EoC Project during the commemmoration of Chiara Lubich held at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See

Economy of Communion  

Presentation by Leo Andringa, International EoC Commission

Rome, Palazzo Borromeo, April 15, 2010

My wife and I moved from Holland to Italy 5 years ago because we were fascinated, ever since it was born, by this new economic project, the Economy of Communion. In history, all spiritual movements were change agents (Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, etc.) and some were change agents also in the economic field. This is the case for the Focolare movement.

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Movement, was in Brazil in 1991 to get together with the Focolare community there. The Brazilian Focolare community reflected the country’s reality, where the disparity in income distribution was very evident. Many of the Focolare members were very poor and lived in the favelas without a job and without a future. To correct such a problem of social injustice and of the wrong distribution of goods, Chiara thought of enterprises and businesses as the natural “tool” to do this. She launched right then, a proposal: putting together talents and resources, creating businesses, and entrusting them to competent people in order to produce riches to divide into three parts.

One third is given for the growth of the enterprise and for new jobs, one third to help the poor, one third to instruct and conform people to the culture of giving and sharing. Chiara was always very concrete and she immediately asked for implementation.  A few days later, the first business was started: “La Tunica”, a factory of fabric products.

As of today, all over the world, in all continents, there are about 700 businesses that participate in the Economy of Communion and adhere to its values and culture. They encompass all sectors of commerce, services and production. They are about 400 in Europe, 200 in Latin America, 35 in North America, 25 in Asia, and a few more in Australia, Africa and the Middle East.

In the last five years, 50 new enterprises joined the EoC and 50 more have decided to join. A few hundred of them began to live the culture of fraternity at the base of the Economy of Communion without being part of the movement.

This new economic culture favors a new conceptualization of economic action, based on profits but striving, at the same time, to promote an integrated and solidarity based view of people and society.

From what we said so far it can be understood that this new frame of reference for the economic realm can be lived in any cultural setting and take on any juridical form existing in the various nations: companies, sole ownerships or cooperatives, etc.

From the spirituality of unity ensued about 20 small towns. Next to houses and offices and schools you can find, in a few countries, 8 industrial or business parks encompassing more than 50 enterprises. They are in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Italy and Portugal. In Brazil there are three of these industrial parks.

Not the capital but the person is at the center of the business of the Economy of Communion which functions, aiming at the quality of relationships within its structures among managers, clerks and manual workers and also with the surrounding areas. The enterprises have a close relationship with their territory, they respect the laws and the security of their workers, and they work, as well, for the preservation of the environment.  “New” relationships are also established with suppliers, public officers and even with competitors.

The poor are also an integral part of the business’s life and are protagonists of their development; they are not just helped. They are not considered a problem but a precious resource for the common good in a relationship of reciprocity where the need becomes a gift.  And so, many times, it is sufficient to give a small contribution of a job, a home or education, for them to pick up their lives. More than 100,000 families have been restored by the EoC in the last 20 years. The enterprises also generate new jobs.

I’m citing here the example of the rural bank Bangko Kabayan of Manila. They have 280 employees, they live according to the culture of fraternity, and they operate in the field of micro-credit and communitarian lending. They count over 8,000 customers who were able to start productive activities thanks to the small financial help of the bank. Despite the present financial crisis, this business has maintained its income and profits by keeping respectful relationships with employees and customers, yet it also has obtained an important reward from its government and central bank for its action in favor of the poor.

It is clear that we can’t build a new economy without a new culture. In fact one third of the profits shared by the EoC enterprises is earmarked for spreading and teaching of this culture of giving and fraternity. One such example is University Sophia in the Citadel of Loppiano near Florence in Italy, where the culture of unity is taught; but there are many more schools, seminars, local and international meetings of formation in many parts of the world.

In relation to this, there are economists, university professors and students who choose to study and go in depth into the philosophy and practice animating the EoC: we have a good 400 dissertations and theses that studied the Economy of Communion and many professors decided to include this subject in their academic programs.

In the new Encyclical by Benedict the XVI,  “Caritas in Veritate” at number 46, the Pope talks about the EoC as “a new, ample reality that does not exclude profits, but considers it a tool to realize human and social goals”. The Economy of Communion is an enterprise model that must be developed for a more human economy.

Many studies in the economic field confirm that, with the growth of wealth, happiness has diminished greatly—above all in rich countries. We are all experiencing that a financial system based only on profit fell without an enemy. It was an implosion. It is the conviction of many that this type of crisis developed because society and the market lost their ethical reference and the authentic sense of their existence for the common good.

Our experience with the Economy of Communion enterprises shows a way that is sustainable for businesses and it can give a contribution to correct the unjust and wrong distribution of goods and give back meaning to economic practice and culture.

It is only a seed, a small group of enterprises, certainly a minority but we know that often it is the prophetic minorities which will change the course of history and make this world more livable.   

 

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