Wednesday, January 26, 2011

EOC: A New Paradigm for African Development

The Catholic University of Eastern Africa plays host to this first EOC academic gathering in Africa. The conference, which includes speakers from the EOC, the academe and entrepreneurs will run from the 26th until the 28th of this month.

And a new day has begun

The foundation of EOC Africa has been laid with a secretariat, a starting capital and firm commitments of people who have expressed the desire to spearhead the initiative, beginning in their own spheres of influence. 

A feast to celebrate a new beginning

The Economy of Communion Pan African school came to a conclusion yesterday but it marked the beginning of a new chapter in history.

The Economy of Communion in Africa is born!

With an overwhelming support and concrete commitments, the EOC launch was greeted with traditional dances, songs and other artistic presentations. Among  the evening's surprises were gifts presented to the members of the EOC Central Commission and a large cake which everyone partook of.

It was truly a meaningful moment of creativity, solidarity and hope.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Economie de communion
Courant  divin du partage
Hommes nouveau de l’Afrique
Nous sommes prêts à nous lancer

Une bombe a éclaté dans la cite de São Paolo
De cette bombe, est née
L’économie de communion

Nous voulons dire merci
Pour ce moment qui nous grandi
Développons la culture du don
Oui, ayons un-seul-ton

Une autre voix de sainteté
Afrique ré-veil-toi
C’est beau,
C’est vraiment beau
Mettons-nous ensemble

Monday, January 24, 2011

Business operations in an EOC enterprise: The Bangko Kabayan experience

The first time we heard the message of Chiara when she launched the EOC in 1991, the point that stood out most was the call to live the culture of giving – to go beyond our individual practice of communion of goods and instead, to view the enterprise we had, as primarily in existence, not for the family but for the common good of a larger society.

Hearing Chiara’s challenge, we understood that it was not enough to be comfortable in our own small world. By growing the business, we could provide more employment, serve a larger public, generate more profits to be shared to the poor. We undertook an expansion and established 8 more banking units all over the province of Batangas. In this effort, we were helped by another entrepreneur  who, as her own response to this challenge, set up a management consultancy to help businesses professionalize and deal with problems brought about by an ever-increasing competitive environment. Together, we prepared the organization to overcome the challenges of growth in a way that would not let us lose track of our vision of serving the community.

This initial experience of transformation to an EOC enterprise, aided by another who had a shared vision, already illustrated reciprocity and unity, not only on personal levels (between Tita and us, for example) but even on the institutional level of between and among enterprises. Today, this continues to happen and in particular context, within the industrial parks present in some parts of the world (Brazil, Italy, Eastern Europe, etc.) where EOC companies locate together to make a further experience of this kind of communion between them.

Another characteristic – the presence of Divine Providence even in the developments of business goals – was also present. My husband and I did not have adequate capital to keep up with the growth that occurred in the first years of BK’s expansion – and our minority partner, instead of taking the opportunity to take-over the enterprise by providing the needed additional capitalization and acquiring more equity, chose to lend us the money we needed, payable in our own terms and with a very reasonable interest rate.

In time, the bank resources grew through the continued patronage of the local population who felt the sincerity of our service and with the help of managers and employees who worked hard, feeling the enterprise to be their own and an extension of their family. We continuously looked for ways to share the benefits with all collaborators – the employees by giving above average wages, health and life insurances, profit-sharing schemes and even stock options in order to concretize the desire to make each one feel he or she was truly a part of the enterprise. We strove to give personalized service to our clients, even to the extent of teaching an illiterate client how to open a checking account to help in his small business, or a small livestock operator through a feasibility study to understand if he should borrow money for additional capital to make his business grow or not. In everything we did, we kept in mind that man was at the center of the enterprise –not profit, not growth – but MAN – whether he was an employee or a client or another stakeholder.


Asian Financial Crisis in 1998

In celebrating our 40th anniversary in 1997, we adopted a new business name – BANGKO KABAYAN (BK) and we were beginning to ready ourselves for expansion outside the province of Batangas and into the other areas of Region 4. The bank had attained phenomenal growth (from P50M resources in 1991 to P1B in 1997), largely due to increased depositor confidence it had courted over the years through focused customer-service and relationship management. However, as the 1998 financial crisis took its toll in business failures, BK was not exempted. A huge amount of its loans went into default. Fortunately, they were at least backed by real estate which the bank had then to foreclose and begin selling, if it were to ride out the crisis as a viable financial institution.

With the situation of reduced volumes of business, it was the stable deposit base, cultivated and nurtured with genuine relationships of reciprocity with clients through the years that saved the day for BK in terms of liquidity. Still, the bank was in dire need of increasing its loans or it would run losses for a good number of years.

The choice of relevant  products and ethical practices

 Some options were examined. A few banks grew in spite of the crisis through salary and consumer loans for teachers. BK applied for accreditation from the Dept. of Education in charge of the program, and was approved. However, some bureaucrats sought for themselves an accommodation fee in addition to the legal amount. This “extra commission” or type of “relationship-building” was a common industry practice to ensure collection. But owing to the earlier commitment to the philosophy of EOC, which, among others, entailed the commitment to transparency and ethical practices, the bank did not pursue the offering of this product and continued the search for something more consistent with its chosen vision and mission as a development catalyst in the countryside.

We heard about microfinance that entailed offering small loans ranging from P2,000 to P150,000, without hard collateral , to the lower income segments of the population.

Within just two years, the amount originally allocated for microfinance (Php 150,000 or $3000) tripled, and customers grew to 500. This situation, encouraged Bangko Kabayan to convert this program into a regular bank product.    

This decision required serious management and institutional commitment to fundamental changes in many areas of its operations: hiring more people; giving more training, especially to account officers whose jobs required long hours in the field; designing new procedures adapted to microfinance’s small but frequent transactions; investing in computer hardware and software to closely track delinquency; most of all, shifting mindsets from the traditional emphasis on collateral – a habit formed by over 30 years of traditional rural bank lending – to recognizing other forms of capital (i.e. social capital built through proximity and constant contact with the clients) and feeling secure with them.

            Again, the EOC philosophy helped us undertake these organizational changes – helped us persevere and keep faith in what we were doing, where we were heading to. The figure of the neighbor in need and the development of the community we were advocating urged us on inspite of the difficulties we encountered.
Reciprocity and social capital

As the bank’s customers changed, they in turn changed the management’s understanding of the business. The rural micro, small and medium entrepreneur became the identified, preferred client of Bangko Kabayan and his needs the basis of studies about what other type of financial services the bank should offer.  It became a stated objective to provide him or her – through the bank’s products and services – the opportunity, the means and the tools to become productive, self-sustaining and ultimately, financially independent.

Our experience confirmed the intuition that when a business is transformed into a means to serve man, the business sets in motion the process that creates not only an incalculable amount of good, but also the very mechanism that ultimately ensures the business’s own survival, growth and prosperity.

When the local rural banking sector experienced a weakening of public confidence brought about by the closure of two rural banks in the same province who engaged in fraudulent practices, it was with the help of the bank’s microfinance clients who are present in the communities where the panic was catching fire, that helped counter the false stories that all rural banks, Bangko Kabayan included, were going to close. Born of this reciprocal relationship, this ‘return on social capital’ accounted for BK’s ability to ride out the crisis with full confidence.

Going beyond borders: Reaching out to the Overseas Filipino Workers

Another sector that Bangko Kabayan chose to address is the growing number of Filipino migrants abroad, better known as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). We realized that though many financial institutions offer services scramble to attract this market, they are products that simply make sending remittances to their families back home either faster or cheaper. Instead, we feel that banks should seek to respond to a more urgent need of every OFW: a chance to build himself financial stability in order to come home and provide a better future for his family. 

I would like to tell you about my own personal journey on choosing the EOC.

I came to Italy with a specific plan in mind of specializing in fashion to eventually promote Philippine creativity in Italy. I arrived in January 2005 and I took up my masters in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing in Florence.

I was fortunate to have found an internship right after. One of the most important brands in the global textile industry offered me this opportunity. In spite of all the difficulties and bureaucracy involved in hiring a non-EU citizen, that internship was soon transformed into a job. No less than the owner himself, Mr. Nino Cerruti, who trusted me from the start, saw to it that my documents were processed.

I showed my gratitude committing myself 100% to work and being open to the different challenges that the workplace presented.Through the years my efforts were appreciated.  In the same year that the company applied the Cassa Integrazione (reduced working hours to cope with the financial crisis), they gave me a permanent contract.

Although I had attained this stability, I felt a certain awkwardness each time I ran into fellow Filipinos, who lived an altogether different reality than mine. I had gotten to know other Filipinos in our community, most of whom work as domestic helpers. I came to know of their stories and their struggles and I realized I could not remain indifferent.

Each time I came home to the Philippines for vacation, I would talk to my family about the tragic plight of the OFWs. We started exploring the idea of reaching out to them by creating innovative services for them. Among the biggest challenges immediately evident was the fact that rural banks, by Philippine law, are not allowed to expand outside the country. Still, this did not stop us from pursuing the project.

Upon my return to Italy, I shared this idea with Alberto Frassinetti, who has a consultancy firm called GMP, which also forms part of the EOC. We started to draft a Business Plan to define the project. Once we were ready, we approached Banca Etica to see if they would be interested to take part in the initiative.

The choice of Banca Etica was deliberate. This is not a project of “traditional banking” but an attempt to respond to the needs of the immigrants and therefore a project of assistance and solidarity.

About 10% of the Philippine population works abroad. In Italy we number about 120,000. Just like the other immigrants, OFWs come with the hopes of earning more to provide a better future for their families. Unfortunately, their families at home are not aware of their difficulties and the struggles they overcome to earn the money sent home. We learned that those who remain home eventually become dependent on the remittances that they receive monthly. To emphasize how significant remittances are for the Philippines, they represent about 10% of our GNP. In the end, the OFWs who spend 10-15 years of their productive lives abroad, have difficulty in returning home because they have no savings neither here in Italy, and sometimes they have even become indebted, and neither have their families saved for them.

Bangko Kabayan would like to recognize and respect the desire of OFWs to work abroad for a definite period of time and to eventually return home with the prospective of a better future.  But this would only be possible with a better education (re-education) on the value of money, the discipline of saving and breaking the cycle of dependence on the remittances. This meant that a major part of the solution would entail engaging them first of all, in financial literacy.

We would like to help them save for their retirement and to encourage them to make small investments in the Philippines , for example, with microcredit, which allows them to actively participate in the development of the province they belong to.

After one year from our meeting with Banca Etica, I decided to resign from my job to concentrate on this project full-time. I have taken concrete steps to be more involved with various communities, gotten to know the leaders, undergone training as a financial literacy counselor and I now conduct seminars to help OFWs understand the importance of planning for their future.

To be quite honest, this is a daily challenge for me. It is absolutely not easy to try and do business, especially in a foreign country. When I wake up each morning, I no longer have that fixed routine of an 8-5 job and neither do I have the certainty of an income by month-end.  It is a choice that needs to be constantly affirmed and requires an absolute commitment. While the direct benefits for BK will not be immediately apparent, some OFWs now turn to me for major life decisions like whether or not they should uproot their children to join them in Italy. And as someone said so yesterday, we will continue to plant sowing the seeds of a better future even if we might not be there for the harvest.

The culture of Giving , the culture of “feast”

We are particularly aware that as an enterprise, we have adopted the vision of transforming and evolving into a value-driven organization. It is not enough that the owners or the top management acquire the practice of sharing and giving – but that we are able to share with the rest of the organization how the EOC works and how Divine Providence accompanies us in various moments of our enterprise life.

We hold general assemblies at least three times a year – as it affords us the opportunity to reiterate our Vision, Mission and Objectives (VMO) to everyone, especially the younger members of the enterprise that keeps growing. We try to integrate activities such as tree-planting in the watershed, or clean-up of rivers and waterways – in these occasions of getting together, to increase awareness and participation in the effort to take care of our environment.  We let everyone know that in choosing to have a simpler Christmas celebration for ourselves, we were able to have enough to feed 1000 children who had never seen hamburger in their lives. And we don’t donate the money. We undertake the activity ourselves. It is the proximity that allows the transformation to take place in each one.

After years of these type of activities, we have slowly been able to inculcate the culture of giving amongst our managers and employees. In turn, they have surprised us by carrying it several steps further. When one business unit fails to make its performance targets and is excluded from the profit-sharing bonus, we have seen the practice of others deciding to share their own unit’s incentives with those who did not receive anything. Or of branches who divide the branch cash awards to include service personnel who are not part of their plantilla.  A young girl who works as a microfinance account officer and whose pay includes an incentive portion (based on the achievement of her targets) voluntarily shares this incentive with the teller and bookkeeper, acknowledging that they too are a part of the service delivery her clients enjoy.

Divine Providence in an enterprise

Though we had personally experienced the providence of God in our personal lives, it was a different moment to recognize Him in a business environment – and help our colleagues likewise recognize His presence and intervention in our enterprise life. But maybe because we have had to undergo several crisis – bank runs, panic withdrawals, even downsizing at a certain point – and we‘ve made it a point to try and resolve these collectively, sharing our thoughts, our turning to prayer before beginning and when all else fails – with our closest managers who in turn, pass down the stories to everyone – this type of open communications enables everyone to participate in our collective ups and downs, enterprise failures and triumphs – just as one family.

One final example: two years ago when we faced that panic withdrawal which saw us lose some P100M in deposits within a month’s time,  we banded together with all the rural banks in the area and presented ourselves to the public via a local government hearing. There we assured them that all other rural banks in the province were stable and should not be suspect. A senior official of our central bank even went with us and confirmed this fact. In other words, we assured the public that no other rural bank was going to close anymore – to put a stop to the rumors that were going around that rural banks were unstable.

Unknown to us, there was in fact, another rural bank, the next biggest one after us – owned by a prominent and respected family in the province – which had not been able to withstand the withdrawals and was, in fact, in danger of being shut down as well. We had done everything we could to prepare for contingencies.  But over-all, we realized how much our credibility would be damaged – as a whole sector –and how much we had risked by going all together in front of the public, to stand for each other. If one of us would fall, all the rest would be dragged down as well.

Very early the next morning, Francis again received a call from the other bank’s owner. He said that in a midnight deal, they were able to sell their bank to a commercial bank and would come out with an announcement that would end all speculations and establish the stability of their bank. As we went to office that morning and shared the good news with our other managers, one of them remarked “That’s Divine Providence, isn’t it?” 

This recognition, this gift of “new eyes” with which to see and understand what happens around us even in the life of an enterprise – as fruits of relationships, human and Divine – spreading throughout the organization, this too, we recognize, as a fruit of the presence of the Divine in Bangko Kabayan.

Teresa Ganzon (The Philippines)

I was 13 years old when I met the in a Mariapolis that a religious nun had brought me too. I didn’t understand any of the talks but was attracted by all the smiling faces I saw – and most of all, the songs sung by young people about a “revolution and love”.  I loved music and the lyrics spoke to my heart.  I was young enough to be idealistic to believe that all things were possible – change, peace, brotherhood.

Later on I wrote the gen and asked what it meant to be one. “A  gen is someone who loves.” This was the reply given to me by the one who answered my letter. Then she gave the example of getting water for her sister, even if it was at the end of a day and she was already tired. She thought to herself that if Jesus were the one asking, she would surely get it. I was struck by the simplicity of “living the Gospel” and immediately tried to put it into practice.

From then on, I decided to continue discovering the Gospel and put it into practice. A year later, I joined the gen combo and spent the next 5 years of my life totally immersed in gen meetings, practice for concerts, going around the Philippines to sing about this new life I had found.

But those years were also marked by a strong desire to fight for social change. All over the world, there were student protests. In the Philippines, students were going to the streets to protest martial law imposed by a dictator. I joined all these, in the firm conviction that to be a Christian meant to be concrete in working for change in an unjust society. It was only when I felt hatred creeping into my heart (against the politicians, the military, the unconcerned elite in our country) that I had to stop and re-direct myself to an earlier choice – that of the Gospel and the way to change starting from within myself and through loving.
So I stopped going to demonstrations, teach-ins and the like – and I remember feeling a certain sense that I was betraying the revolution. It was more difficult to believe in the revolution of the Gospel because it seemed it would take too long to happen. It was the unity with the focolare and the gen that gave me the courage to strengthen my relationship with God before going back to the social field.

When I was in the university, I met Francis who was the classmate of my older brother in law school. He was the son of a labor leader and  former regional chairman of the youth arm of the communist  party. I suppose it was this passion and commitment to a cause and concern for others that also attracted me to him. I shared with him that I had discovered a different type of revolution, one based on the Gospel, as he himself was beginning to get disillusioned by the lack of change that was happening.

We go married as soon as he finished law school and were getting ready to settle down in Manila when my father, who had built several enterprises in the countryside, asked for our help in running them because all my other siblings migrated to the US. Now, I had taken up journalism in my university days – because I wanted to stay as far away as possible from working in a business. I had actually been accepted to work in a govt. economic agency as a technical writer.

But Francis was not really happy working in Manila and had grown up all his life in the countryside, though in another region. So in order to make my father and my husband happy, I agreed to go and live in the farm – at first bargaining for just 1-2 years – and eventually learning to make it my home. We were managing family businesses that included a piggery, poultry, a local electric company –and the one-unit rural bank. We had no background in agriculture nor banking nor business.

But here, we discovered we had the chance to put all our ideas about the right way to treat laborers,  being fair in business dealings, etc. into practice. So the first thing we did was to review the salary levels and put them all in order – even if everyone was saying that we would lose in business because of incurring too much costs. But we thought to ourselves that surely, a business that was surviving only because it paid illegal wages, or did not pay the right taxes – was not a viable business after all. So we continued to try and do things right.
More than this, we had the chance to build genuine relationships with our workers, consciously trying to breakdown the feudal mentality that was built over centuries of oppression but also dependence on a landlord.For one thing, we told them that we would run the enterprises together and that we would have to learn from them as we knew very little about the businesses. Little by little, we tried to build a small community in the farm, raising the five girls we had, playing alongside the children of the workers as well.
Over the next 12 years, we slowly bought out my father’s interests so we could be free to run the operations alongside the Christian principles we believed in. How did the businesses grow without any formal training on our part? Looking back, we simply followed the inspiration of God in each present moment, taking courage from the successes that He gave us – and keeping hopeful when problems came about because we were convinced we were doing His will and fulfilling His design on us.

Thus when Chiara announced the message of the Economy of Communion in 1991, for us, it was like the receiving a light we had been waiting for. It was the fulfillment of all the desires we had felt as young students wanting to change the world. We began to see that it was going to be possible and it was a dream worth giving all of our lives for because it was always what we had wanted – a world with justice and fraternity.
As we are sharing our experiences in the bank, allow me now to just share one strong experience that God also allowed in our lives – mostly because when it happened almost 10 years ago to date, the whole Opera all over the world prayed for us. Francis and I were on a short vacation, in between work and meetings – when we were kidnapped by Muslim terrorists from the resort we were staying in. It was a random happening, They did not know us and simply got the people staying in the cottages closest to the sea. There were 20 of us taken and we were brought on a 13-hr. speedboat ride, to the southern most part of the country, to an island that is 95% Muslim and where the radical elements remain active even today.

While there was an initial fear that crept into our hearts , especially in the first minutes and hours of our being taken, a whole lifetime of trusting in God, in the presence of Jesus amongst us and His love for our children – as well as the enterprise which we were sure would suffer in our absence – enabled us to go out of ourselves and take an interest in our fellow victims as well as our kidnappers. Francis, especially struck a relationship with the terrorists until he became a favorite and was often called to listen while they lectured on why the Islamic religion was better than Christianity. He did not argue – but at the right moment, asked if we were not brothers because we all trace back to one Father? Or if they hated the infidels, could they really see themselves killing all of them in the world? Perhaps this willingness to listen and dialogue was a new experience for our captors as we were not only left unharmed (though three of our companions were beheaded) but in different moments, they even showed kindness towards us. I was released after a week and Francis after another 2 weeks.

This experience opened our eyes to the situation of our Muslim brothers in the South. As we were being marched for hours in the mountains of Basilan, we saw the extreme poverty and seeming govt. neglect of the roads and infrastructure that made things even worse.
 From then on, we tried to keep open to opportunities to reach out more to them. We met two men through a friend who helped get us released. We offered them training in microfinance, in the hope they could take the technology home and be of help to their communities. When USAID looked for a rural bank where directors of a Muslim rural bank in the south could go for training and governance, they found a willing partner in us and we conducted training for  directors from 3 banks from Muslim Mindanao. People were shocked with these reactions after what seemed to them a traumatic experience .  But we just felt so wrapped in God’s love (and for this, we have Chiara and the whole Opera who we knew was praying for our safety!)  and continuously looked for meaning behind the incident, so we might not miss a chance to fulfill His design on us through the experience.

Two years ago, as we stood sponsors in the wedding of son of one of the Muslim friends we made, we asked to visit the island we were brought to. Accompanied by this friend and his relative, we crossed to Basilan and went to visit a priest who had also been kidnapped along with us. We paid our respect to the Bishop who was surprised to see us come back. We looked for the family that had sheltered me the first night I was released, to say thank you. On the way back home, our Muslim friends suffered a flat tire and the priest and seminarian we were riding with, returned with us to help fix the tire. We hope and pray that through this relationship we had with both of them, they might one day live in peace again amongst themselves.

Leo and Anneke Andringa (The Netherlands)

I am Anneke, have 73 years, of the same age as Leo. From a Christian family, 6 children, where my father read the Bible after dinner, special on Sunday and days of feast. For me this is a great inheritance. Reading the bible, I feel always happy and serene. 
When I went to church at the age of a child - not so happy at all - there came over me the feeling that I was only dependent on God. Because of my distrust to authority, without love: my father, the priest in the church, the teacher at school.

There was never an equal relation of love between us..
We know each other from our childhood. His mother and mine were pregnant at the same time and they were friends, so we met each other even before birth! We married with 26, I was independent as midwife, sold my practice and followed my husband Leo, as I followed him to Rome and now to Nairobi, most gratefully!

The marriage was the discovery of the difference between man and woman. And also of the hurts we bring in from our past.
When I was 7 years old, during the second world war, my parents send me to a family outside town. For half a year I did not see my brothers and sister or mother and father. Why? I felt homesick and when I returned happy at home, my father did not even find the time to embrase me. I felt abandoned. That feeling of desolation came often back, also as a form of anger, a willing to fight.

Our marriage became a life of fighting. I remember me, on a bike in our hometown, the children at school, crying with tears, screaming:”How  to reach my husband Leo?” in me came the answer:”Be quiet, there will be come the moment for.” And in the meeting with the Focolare movement, in the beginning years of the 80’s, later, could I recognize that that has become the moment of our salvation. The gospel lived as Chiara Lubich. With Chiara. Not we love God and do things for him, but He loves us and we may, in return, love Him. And see Him in everyone. 

I am Leo, one of 9 children in a good catholic family. I studied economy.  Worked 4 times 10 years as a purchaser at a chemical company, as an inspector at the ministry of finance, as head of a state purchasing company, as regional director of the central bank.

I was sure that I wanted Anneke as my wife. I felt we were destined for each other. She was an open person. I was like an oister. I finished our courtship three times because of fear for her, the female. But I was very happy to marry her. We got 5 children and were very busy with all the aspects of life.
But she was so different. I felt lonesome! At home she wanted our room  painted in blue and black. I did not like that, but could not stop it. I felt that my place was behind the wallpaper in the corner of the room. 
The first 20 years of marriage were very difficult – it was she or me - until I discovered – through the ideal - that I had to love her as she was, not as I wanted her to be. I had to loose all my ideas and all my reasoning. I regularly met a psychologist to open the oister in me and gradually I turned my life 180 degrees and got the capacity to love her as she was.

Anneke: Through the new love of Leo for me I could calm down, so that my angriness slowly got a place and name: J.F. I became able to love in return, anger disappears more and more.

Every week I met a couple of women with whom we changed experiences over our live with the Word of the Gospel. There was an atmosphere with them as with no one else. One day two of them were in our house and our youngest son of 6 year stood leaning to my knees. Never did he so. I realized that the atmosphere between us attracted him. There came in me a great longing to build up the same form of relation with Leo.

Leo: As head of the state purchasing enterprise I had the possibility to employ personel. As a personal assistant I took a focolarino who came fresh from Loppiano. I wanted to live the ideal: “where two of more” in my company. That was not easy my female secretary became jealous. Lateron she betrayed me.
In a period of political turmoil I was obliged to leave my job and make place for an interim manager who reorganized the company so it could be privatized. I was forbidden to enter the company any more. I felt abandonated and when I drove in my car to meet my focolare in Amsterdam I had an extreme experience of unity with God. I saw him on the cross looking at me with so much love that my heart all of a sudden was full of a tremendous joy. Lateron I realized that this has been a personal experience of Easter, a resurection after death. This has been the biggest experience of my life.

Anneke: After the congress of the economy of communion in 2004, with Chiara, we decided to transfer to the centre of the focolare movement in Rocca di Papa. The answer of Chiara came:”We put everything under the care of Maria, who certainly will help you to realize what God ask from you.”
We were both 68 years old. I was always tired,with a firm cough and walking trough the street in Grottaferrata Italy, looking for a house there, I asked myself, what for goods can I do, I am so weak. Seeing a tree cut off at the roots, in me came this answer:”I can cut down you and build you up new.” At the end of the first year I felt 7 steps down in the cellar, broke both my wrists. My first thougt was:”This is the personel love of God for me, a little bit strong but of course necessery to me!” I was not able to do anything, they came from Holland to help me, friends, my sister for weeks.
When they did the plaster on both polses I returned to Leo with a big smile, sign of the great joy we had because of our unity in Jesus.
Leo: In 2006 we lived in Grottaferrata and went on vacation in Corsica. When we walked on the beach I felt pain in my hip. Back at home we discovered a tremendous high level of PSA, an indication for cancer. It was a big shock. In bed me overcame a great joy, I felt like I was flying directly to God. I told this to Anneke and she immediately had the same experience. I have not been afraid one moment. The process of radiation, medication, hospitalisation went on very well. Now I can say that the cancer is “under control”, but you never know …

I work full time for the economy of comunion. Anneke works for the centre of the volunteers, we have a unity that we have never had before. We feel in paradise.

Our children marry and we get grandchildren, now 8.
When we will have the feast of our 50 years of marriage – in 2014 - it will become time to think what God wishes from us for the ultimate part of our life.

Introduction au lancement de l’EdC à la Mariapolis Araceli, le 29 mai 1991

Chiara donne ici les inspirations qui ont été au fondement de la naissance de l’Economie de Communion.

Un jour, lors d’un voyage en Suisse, précisément à Einsiedeln, une ville importante, dont se trouve le sanctuaire marial le plus important de Suisse. Chiara contemplant une abbaye bénédictine, elle a vu et compris la réalisation de l’idéal de Saint Benoit, qui dit : « prie et travaille ». elle dit : « Nous remarquions, remplis d'admiration, qu'après des siècles et des siècles, ces saints sont encore vivants à travers leurs réalisations. » Cette expérience très forte pour Chiara, l’a fait comprendre que Dieu attendait aussi de nous une réalisation un peu semblable.  Pas comme celle-là mais un peu semblable, une véritable petite ville, avec des maisons, surtout des petites maisons, mais aussi d'autres plus grandes, avec des hangars, des cheminées, des usines et des entreprises. De cette expérience nait, les cités pilote dont nous avons actuellement une vingtaine dans le monde et parmi les vingtaines, nous avons trois en Afrique : Mariapolis Maria Mai (à Fontem au Cameroun), Mariapolis Piero (au Kenya), Mariapolis Victoria en Côte d’Ivoire.
Déjà à cette année, Chiara voyait autour des Mariapolis permanentes des entreprises. Ici à la Mariapoli Piero, Else nous disait que Chiara a indiqué elle-même l’endroit des entreprises.

Deuxième point. Avant le voyage de Chiara au Brésil, a été publié en Italie le livre d'un prêtre qui est aussi un sociologue et donc un spécialiste en la matière. Ce livre s'intitule : "Protagonistes aujourd'hui". Pour lui les protagonistes sont les Mouvements et il a cité aussi plusieurs fois le Mouvement des Focolari. Un concept qu'il dit que Chiara fait savoir qui l’a beaucoup frappé est : "Certaines réalisations que font ces mouvements indiquent la possibilité, entre le communisme et le capitalisme, d'une troisième voie".

            « Ces mots m'ont fait une certaine impression souligne Chiara car je me suis souvenue qu'il y a de nombreuses années, en lançant le Mouvement Gen,… je disais : "Ni capitalisme, ni communisme, mais quelque chose qui soit animé par le christianisme !". Nous disions même : "Mais le christianisme" sous-entendant dans le domaine social, bien sûr. Et cette "troisième voie" me l'a rappelé.

            Cette expression : la "troisième voie" que j'ai liée (...) à ce que je disais aux Gen, il y a une vingtaine d'années, m'a fait elle aussi une certaine impression.

 Le pape venait de lancer une encyclique : "Centesimus annus"  dans cette encyclique merveilleuse le Pape fait une "radiographie" parfaite de toute la situation économique, sociale et politique du monde aujourd'hui. Il souligne que la situation est dramatique à de très nombreux endroits,  comme ici, en Amérique du Sud, dit Chiara, nous dirons ici en Afrique, ainsi qu'en beaucoup d'autres pays. Elle est un peu meilleure à d'autres endroits, mais quoi qu'il en soit il y a partout quelque chose à rectifier. Et le pape dit ce qu'il faudrait faire, selon lui, pour la corriger.
Dans cette encyclique, le Pape parle de la doctrine sociale chrétienne qui dit que la propriété privée est juste, que la liberté d'initiative est juste, que la liberté de s’associer- en coopératives, en sociétés - est juste. Il dit qu'il faut défendre les droits de l'homme sous tous les aspects. Et il parle aussi, vers la fin surtout, de la solidarité. Il parle beaucoup de la solidarité, c'est-à-dire que nous ne devons pas seulement penser à nous, mais penser aussi aux autres, nous unir et être solidaires les uns des autres.

Ces événements importants soulignés par Chiara ont préparé les cœurs et l’esprit, raison pour laquelle elle affirme : « Cela nous a donc amenés à considérer notre Idéal et nous avons découvert que... Notre Idéal est un charisme et notre charisme contient aussi un aspect social. C'est un charisme qui a, si nous voulons, un fond social. C'est un charisme qui conduit à la sainteté, qui pousse à vivre l'œcuménisme, qui porte à l'évangélisation, c'est aussi un charisme qui peut aider à résoudre le problème social. Nous nous en sommes rendu compte.

Pensons-nous ici dans cette salle que notre charisme, le charisme de l’unité que nous vivons peut nous aider à résoudre le grand problème social que nous avons en Afrique ?

Chiara souligne un point important qui caractérise déjà notre Mouvement :

            - la communion des biens. Nous la vivons déjà depuis 47 ans : les focolarini donnent tout ce qu’ils ont, les focolarini mariés donnent ce qu’ils peuvent et tout ce qui leur est propre, les volontaires donnent leurs superflus, les Gen, les autres membres du Mouvement qui donnent toujours pour la communion de biens. Nous vivons tous un peu, d’une manière ou d’une autre, plus ou moins radicalement, mais toujours librement, la communion de biens
            Certainement, nous avons tous ici fait l’expérience, que nous nous sommes détachés de quelques choses, et cette quelque chose est devenue ensuite importante ou même primordiale pour quelque d’autre.
Expérience de jupe de Tchilalo
            Alors à ce point, après ces considérations, une idée est née ici, au Brésil, et en particulier à la Mariapolis Araceli.
            L'idée que Dieu appelle peut-être le Mouvement au Brésil - 200.000 personnes y compris les sympathisants - à réaliser une communion des biens, enrichie de tous les principes..., etc., globale, faite par le Mouvement tout entier et pas seulement par chacun individuellement afin que ce fait se voie réalisé dans nos petites cités : à la Mariapolis Araceli et à la Mariapolis Santa Maria.
Nous dirons nous aujourd’hui, Dieu appelle l’Afrique, Dieu appelle l’Afrique à une communion de biens, faite par nous tous pour répondre au gros problème de nécessité que nous avons.

            -une communion de biens faites par plusieurs personnes : elle parle de 1000 personnes au plus, chacun pouvait donner librement ce qu’il a: les idées, le temps, les biens matériels etc.

-          Et ensuite les bénéfices  devraient être mis en commun.

                        -Alors, pour quoi doivent-ils être mis en commun ? C'est évident : pour parvenir aux mêmes buts que la première communauté chrétienne, c'est-à-dire qu'ils doivent être mis en commun pour aider ceux qui sont dans le besoin,

                        -Ils sont aussi mis en commun pour développer l'entreprise car, si elle s'arrête, elle ne produit plus ;
- pour faire naître des hommes nouveaux, car si nous n'avons pas d'hommes nouveaux nous ne construisons pas une société nouvelle.

- Elles devraient être confiées à des personnes compétentes, ayant des capacités, pour qu'elles les fassent tourner et que le profit soit mis en commun : c'est là la nouveauté !

Pratiquement, que devons-nous faire tout de suite ? Tout de suite nous devons étudier au moins un projet, présenter au moins un projet et l'étudier. Nous pensons donc : "Ici, nous pourrions implanter une usine comme ceci et comme cela". Nous devons donc chercher une personne qui a cette capacité - parmi nos membres, parmi tous les nôtres - dans le Brésil tout entier et qui est disposée à venir ici car il faut qu'elle donne tout.
            Nous devons donc chercher cette personne qui peut fonder cette entreprise, l'administrer et la diriger.

Pas seulement parce qu’il ne travaille pas mais il doit avoir les compétences pour gérer

            Somme-nous prêt en Afrique pour nous engager pour cet extraordinaire et merveilleux projet qui est apparu à tous dans le monde, comme une bombe, comme l'explosion d'une bombe ?
Serait aussi le moment de l’Afrique aujourd’hui ? Ouvrons notre cœur, écoutons Chiara, à chaque fois qu’elle dira Brésil, nous répéterons dans notre cœur, Douala, Fontem, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Kenya…


Saluti dalla 1º Scuola Estiva di EdC nel America Latina

Carissimi amici:

Volevamo farvi arrivare un grande abbraccio dalla Mariapoli Lia a Buenos Aires,
Argentina; insieme al nostro desiderio che la vostra esperienza sia così formativa e produttiva
come lo è stata la nostra.

In questi giorni abbiamo raggiunto una profonda unità tra i partecipanti delle otto
nazioni dell'America Latina, non ostante le differenze culturali che sono servite per arricchire
questa esperienza.

Siamo convinti che l'EdC sia la risposta alle tante problematiche presenti nel mondo,
ma sopratutto nei paesi dove la disuguaglianza e la povertà stigmatizzano la società.
Vi auguriamo che anche voi sentiate la chiamata a far nascere nuove aziende
abbandonandovi al “socio occulto”.

Con tante altre cose da dirvi, però col desiderio che ognuno faccia la propria
esperienza nel EdC, vi auguriamo che possiate trovare la strada per un futuro migliore per tutti.
Vi salutiamo con affetto!!!

Los 30 giovani partecipanti della 1º Scuola Estiva di EdC nel America Latina, professori
ed imprenditori.

O'Higgins 22 gennaio 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Economy of Communion PanAfrican Meeting

The first Econmy of Communion ( Pan African meeting, opened its sessions this moring, January 23, 2011, at Mariapolis Piero, the little town of the Focolare Movement near Nairobi, Kenya. 160 participants (business people, students, social workers, educators, communicators etc.) representing all the geographical areas of Subsaharan Africa, from Nigeria to South Africa, from Burkina Faso to Burundi, arrived full of hope and expectations.

A delegation of the members of the central committee comprised of experts in the field of economics from different parts of the world, from the USA, Philippines, Netherlands and Italy shared how the EoC has changed their view of life and how they are concretely putting into practice this new vision.

Here are some of the first impressions from the participants:

"My first impression of Africa was that of great love. we were welcomed with joy...and we immediatly made friends with people from allover the continent. Many accents and many languages but all spealking the same message, "unity" "(from Julie Mundell - Chicago)

"For me this congress on the Economy of Communion is a starting point for African business to come together with a view to trade internally" (Simon Ndiweni- South Africa)

"I feel that we have come to find a solution for Africa" (Aline-Burundi)