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Drs L.S.J. Andringa: Economy of Communion

13 marca 2004 | 09:31 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

1. Introduction
In this short intervention I would like to present to you an economic experience that illustrates the theme “a Christian and money”. It is the Economy of Communion. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, described this experience as “a truly prophetic message” .
2. Economy of communion started in Brazil
The background. In 1991 Chiara visited the Focolaremovement community near the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil. She experienced the social and economical inequalities of that City. The shanty towns of the poor appeared like a “crown of thorns” around the sky scrapers of the rich. Many of these poor (living in difficult conditions) are also friends of the Focolaremovement and live its spirituality. They are numerous, without money, but with an ideal of unity: They share the material and spiritual goods they have in a profound “communion of goods”. In Brazil however this communion of goods was not enough to satisfy the needs of all the poor members of the Focolaremovement. Then in 1991 Chiara was inspired to propose to them to put their talents in communion and, together with the little money they could save, start enterprises with competent persons. She proposed that the profit created by these enterprises should be divided into three parts: one part for the company to invest in its future activities, one part for the immediate needs of the poor, one part for the education of persons in a culture of giving. By the next day there was already one idea for a clothes manufacturing company.
Now 13 years later, on the same spot near Sao Paulo there is a business park with 7 companies. This is visited by economists, politicians, entrepreneurs and religious leaders from all over Latin America who see it as a beacon of hope for a new economy based on Christian values. It has also been presented in the Brazilian parliament as a model for the whole of Brazil.
3. Economy of communion worldwide.
Today 797 companies are involved in this project. Including 91 minor productive activities. It involves companies operating in different economic and commercial sectors, in more than thirty countries. Poland is one of them. Here are two examples.
– In the Kabayan Filipino rural bank the majority of the shareholders partake in the
economy of communion. The bank, assisted by a consultancy agency, which
also participates in the project, has moved in five years from the 123 rd to
the 3 rd place largest rural bank in the Philippines in terms of deposits. It has
opened eight branches, with a total of 150 collaborators. It survived the Asian financial crisis of 1998 due to the trust created within and around the business.
– Roberto Tassano started the Consortium of Social Cooperatives in northern Italy. Today it operates a variety of community services, linked with
local industrial firms. From a few founding members there are now more than 900 associates. It has been described as an “incubator enterprise” for the region due to its ability to bring about new productive initiatives.
4. A Christian and his money”.
These companies illustrate how to use profits or money in a Christian way. The interesting aspect of these companies is that at first glance they look like ordinary enterprises. They produce goods and services for the market. They make a profit. The main difference is that rather money or capital, but the communion of persons is at the centre. This is THE ATTEMPT TO LIVE ALSO IN ECONOMIC LIFE THE TRINITARIAN LAW OF RECIPROCOCAL LOVE. That is why the profit of the work – that arrives at the end of the year after having lived in a given way (for legality, respect, the guiding principles for the companies of the EOC) – is brought in communion and becomes a means to build community within and around the company and thus spread a culture of communion. The poor belong to that community, share their talents and get help. Only one aspect of their life (the financial one) is weak, isn’t it? Wherever possible jobs are created for them in order to help them become economically independent. Many of the men and women who work in these enterprises have a practical experience of the life of the spirituality of unity. Whenever this is the case it creates a culture of mutual understanding and giving on the personal and family level. What is new, is that this way has been brought onto the level of the enterprise. At their deepest level companies exist to make economic activity a place of encounter in the deepest sense of the word.
They exist to bring about the culture of the gospel which states that “where two or more are united in my name, I am in the midst” (Mt 18,20) which has been grafted into the enterprises.
The leading persons within the companies are the “new men and women”, of which the St Paul speaks: new, because they live the culture of giving in their daily lives. And without such new people it is not possible to build a new economy or a new society.
It is important not to forget another indispensable element that has continuously accompanied the Economy of Communion over the years. These businesses leave room for God’s intervention, even in concrete economic operations. After every choice to go against the current mainstream thinking God never fails to provide that “something more” which Christ promised. He is their silent associate. Does not the Gospel not speak of the hundredfold? This is also true in economics. It presents itself in a very human way. E.g. entrepreneurs help each other: a company gives a patent to a company in need so that it can grow.
5. The Economy of Communion is an experience based on spirituality
The Economy of Communion , as an economic model, is not the result of a discussion of experts held around a conference table. It is an experience based on a spirituality which is profoundly linked to a particular charism- the Charism of Unity.
Chiara Lubich has presented here today this spiritual humus, which gives the Economy of Communion its identity and meaning. The culture from which the Economy of Communion has emerged is well described by Vera Araujo, a sociologist who has accompanied this project from its very beginnings. “The Economy of Communion is not a matter of being generous, of giving charity; it is not philanthropy or merely a way of providing assistance. It has to do with acknowledging and living the dimension of giving and giving of oneself as essential to one’s own existence.”
The culture of giving, therefore, is above all a culture of “self-giving” and of unconditional giving. It requires a mentality that leads us to develop certain ways of behaviour not so much for the benefits they will bring, but because of the value in it self, because we have experienced its goodness and truth in our lives.
6. Love your competitor.
If one accepts a new idea, the whole attitude of that person changes. It is also my personal experience. When I was in a critical phase of my life my wife and I could not communicate with each other. We had reached a dead end – and were even at the point of divorce. Then I came into contact with the Spirituality of Unity. The most striking thing was that I really “discovered” that as a Christian I had to love my brother/sister and even my enemy, so why not my wife? This reality revolutionised my mind. Now, 15 years later, I feel the unity between us and experience that love can change marriage from a “marketplace of negotiation” between spouses into a place where you can touch the divine sacrament.
This mechanism of change works also in the world of economics. I remember, in particular, the story of an Economy of Communion company that saved his competitor – his economic enemy – in a very difficult period. Later on that company saved him.
7. The Centrality of Love
The Economy of Communion goes against the mainstream with respect to the ordinary way of understanding economics when it speaks explicitly of love. This conviction is a nonconformist and revolutionary proposition. Mainstream economic science has been skeptical of behavior motivated by love for others and has dismissed it as inefficient. Economics has focused on the sphere of human life in which love can be avoided and considers that the more the market is able to cut down on “love”, the more efficient it will be. There is also another conflict between love and economics: love requires the gift to be free, unconditional, which is a scandal for economics, which believes a price must be attributed to everything.
Unconditional giving isn’t present in the Economy of Communion only in the form of a free gift of a part of the profits, but it is demonstrated in many other actions as well as trusting the suppliers or clients even in circumstances that would be out of the question according to ordinary business logic.
Love doesn’t only imply give or do something for others, it is also about knowing how to “live” ones neighbor, to put oneself in their shoes, to stand by him or her, to put itself in its neighbor’s place without being intrusive. Perhaps it’s because love is more than, and different to, simple giving or doing something for free that it is able to create innovative solutions even when a correct carrying out of one’s own role would not seem to allow them.
8. Conclusion
This “something more” of unconditional giving in relationships inside the company and outside, is what lies behind the companies of the Economy of Communion. Thirteen years of experience show that the companies hold their own, and are even growing. The academic world is getting interested in this new economic phenomenon. Throughout the world there are now four business parks fully dedicated to the Economy of Communion. The incarnation of the gospel in economics (and other aspects of life) has a good future!
Leo.andringa@focolare.nl; www.focolare.org; www.edc-online.org

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