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Sunday, February 6, 2011

A survey of the experience of the Economy of Communion in the last 20 years

By Giampietro Parolin

I was an economics and management student when EoC was launched and honestly I had some difficulties matching this proposal with the ideas and concepts I was learning at university. I had participated in the focolare movement since I was a teenager therefore my soul was fascinated by EoC proposal but, yes, my mind was sceptical.

In 20 years, the EoC experience has spread so much that the feasibility of the project is out of discussion even for me. Since the EoC was launched in 1991 in Brazil, as a seed of a new economic life, it has grown in many countries and cultures  and shown expected aswell as more surprising fruits, successes and failures, typical in a new human endeavour.

EoC is more than just businesses even though the first announcement was made to entrepreneurs. It is charism, culture, experience. EoC involves many actors: entrepreneurs and poor, producers and customers, governments and financial institutions, universities and NGOs, etc.

Among many perspectives that can be considered when talking about EoC, my contribution focuses on the experiences of businesses. 20 years of life tell us that the project is still young but that as long as more than 800 hundred enterprises have begun to walk this track, we are able to observe their progress. But I will also tell you something of my personal and family experience of EoC. I have the privilege of being at the same time an actor and a scholar, of mixing in my life action and thought. This gives me the chance to participate both in research projects and to be actively involved in entrepreneurial projects.

Moreover being a regional coordinator of EoC project in the north-east part of Italy I have many chances to get in touch with entrepreneurs and business. Every time I meet one of these people it is  like discovering new faces of a diamond. A year ago I thought it was a shame not to let other people know these stories, so in my visits to EoC businesses I started to shoot them with a video-camera, making short films that can be easily shared.

Today I will try to give you an overview of this walk of life, using as sources my personal experience but also researches and stories that have been shared or I was able to listen from the voice of their protagonists. Some of them, John Mundell and Teresa Ganzon, are here and can be listened directly in the proceedings of our meeting here in Nairobi. Stories inside a story that we are living today with you too.

In this journey to discover what happen when economy meets communion I’ve tried to highlight some milestones:

1991 – the beginning

1997 – defining guidelines of EoC businesses
2002 – “Rainbow”, our EoC business is founded

2004 – governing and working in communion

2009 – EoC in “Caritas in veritate” – networking with Civil Economy experiences


1991 – the beginning

The first businesses to join the Economy of Communion sprang up straight away, from the impulse of those who had listened to the announcement. Some of those who were present, when Chiara Lubich launched the project,  decided that very day to become entrepreneurs, joining with others to get three productive activities underway in the little town of Araceli: a clothing business, a clinic, and a school.

Others, on the other hand, felt called to participate in the project in a different way, and decided to give away precious objects and small properties in order to put together the capital to start an industrial estate.

When the news of this project then reached the other members of the Focolare Movement throughout the world, many of them who were also shareholders in businesses which were distant from the little towns, also asked to participate, declaring their availability to share their profits for the poor and for the formation of a culture of communion. Their businesses were then considered as ‘virtually’ connected to the little town of the Movement nearest to them.

So in the first phase of the project most of attention of businesses is concentrated in sharing their profits in three parts as Chiara said: one part “to help the poor and give them enough to live on, until they can find work. A second part for the culture of giving, and a third part, certainly, for the growth of the business.” “A third, a third, a third” is not as simple and trivial as it seems because it had to be understood and practiced in the different legal and accounting frameworks through the world. It was necessary to clarify the concept of profit case by case. Anyway time after time it became clear that, in the freedom of giving and with the lens of fraternity, every year entrepreneurs try to give the same importance to the tree parts even though the accounting figures of the three thirds might be unequal. In some countries profit sharing is made weekly in others annually. 

But walking the path of project made clear to the pioneers that the sharing of profits – though a fundamentalcharacteristic - is only the tip of the iceberg of a life of communion that involves the whole business.
This meant that they had to pay special attention to the human person, both as an individual and as a community, not only in the moment of sharing the profits of the business, but also in being aware of the needs and aspirations of all the people who were part of the business and the needs of the common good.

In reality, this meant being aware of the needs of clients through offering good quality products and
services, having a collaborative and equitable relationship with suppliers, treating workers justly, and not
destroying the environment though pollution. It also meant creating a positive relationship with competitors
and also contributing to the common good through paying taxes to their governments.

Most of entrepreneurs meet locally and share their life together supported by local commissions and the international commission of EoC. From this background some principles were outlined by the business people themselves in a document called “Guidelines for Economy of Communion businesses”.


1997 – defining guidelines of EoC businesses

Following the same sociological approach spreading from Charism of Unity, together with emerging practices,  the guidelines underline seven aspects of communion.

1. Economy and work.
2. The relationship with customers, suppliers, the public and others external to the company.
3. Ethics.
4. Health and the value of life.
5. Harmony in the working environment.
6. Training and education.
7. Communications.

The guidelines offers tracks by themselves to develop communion in business and give us lenses to read chapters of stories inside the whole story of the EoC project. So I will use this “rainbow” approach to present the basic principles and some companies’ stories I had the chance to approach during personal meetings and research projects.

1.    Economy and Work

This aspect underlines that the human person, not capital, is at the centre of the business.
Along with investment and operational decisions prudently considering all the typical business criteria, most of effort is dedicated to the creation of new jobs, involvement of workers, sharing of profits.

            A mechanical factory in Brazil proposes to reduce a little all wages in order to permit a new hiring.
A commercial firm in Italy in a moment of crisis reduces wages for workers and management not to fire three people.
Many business in many countries have periodical business meetings with all employees to share decisions, problems, successes and proposals.
Sharing of profits is made in many ways around the world: direct donations, business projects though NGOs, entrepreneurial tutorship for new businesses, sharing of know-how.


2.    The relationship with Customers, Suppliers, the Public and Others External to the Company

Relationship is a value in itself as we have been able to experience these days here in Africa! EoC underlines that in offering useful, quality goods and services at fair prices, they also work professionally to establish and strengthen good and sincere relations with customers, suppliers, and the community. They take pride in being useful members of their communities. They engage in fair play with competitors presenting the true value of their own products and services while refraining from putting the products and services of others in a negative light.

There are many stories in this aspect. Two were inspiring to me. One is that of “La bottega,” a building company in Argentina. After buildings are completed management visit them putting themselves in customers’ shoes in order to verify that a satisfying quality is achieved. Another story is that of an Italian entrepreneur, Franco Caradonna, who helped his competitor when his machinery broke-down.


3.    Ethics

The work of the enterprise provides a means for the self-fulfilment of all its members. The enterprise complies with the law and maintains ethical dealings with tax authorities, regulatory agencies, labour unions, and all such institutions.
           
Since paying taxes is a tool for contributing to the community, EoC businesses pay taxes despite tax pressure that might be different from country to country and refuse tax evasion.
We know many experiences in refusing bribey even in countries where bribery is accepted as business practice. For instance a Hungarian building company refused to pay a bribe for land designated available for building a building land.


4.    Health and the Value of Life

One of the primary objectives of the business leaders of the Economy of Communion is to transform their business into a true community. The business leaders meet regularly with those responsible for managing the business to review the quality of the interpersonal relationships among them. The business produces safe and environmentally friendly products and services.

Among EoC business operating in the food industry,  special attention is devoted to producing without harmful chemicals. An African company in Cameroon, “golden ear of wheat”, produces foodstuffs without additives.
Personal talks to resolve interpersonal conflicts are a common practices in EoC businesses.


5.    Harmony in the Working Environment

The enterprise applies management systems and organizational structures that foster teamwork and personal development. Members keep the surroundings of the business as clean and pleasant as possible, so that everyone (employers, employees, suppliers, and customers) feels "at home" and may embrace and spread the same style.

Beauty is a form of communion. The working environment is the place where the working community lives. Many business from Brasil to Italy, from Philippines to Ireland have paid  particular attention to designing the working environment. For instance in Italy a faucets company, Webert, has consulted the workers in designing the new manufacturing facility.


6.    Training and Education

The business leaders encourage their members to develop an atmosphere of mutual support, respect, and trust in which it becomes natural to freely put their talents, ideas, and know-how at each other's disposal for the professional growth of their colleagues and the progress of the business.

This is a crucial point of the project because EoC businesses have a focus in training not only technically but also in the “culture of giving” their managers and employees. The integration of these dimensions is still a challenge inside EoC businesses.

7.    Communications

Business leaders who adhere to the Economy of Communion create a climate that fosters open and honest communications with opportunities for the frequent exchange of ideas between employees and managers. Business leaders who adhere to the Economy of Communion employ the most modern means of communication to remain linked at local and international levels celebrating successes and embracing each others difficulties or failures in a spirit of mutual support and solidarity.

Meeting of EoC entrepreneurs are developed all around the world. Entrepreneurs are engaged in spreading the message of EoC in public speeches among various institutions and network with all people and institutions who work with similar values and experiences.


2002 – “Rainbow”, our EoC business is founded

In 2002 I had the chance to found with my wife Elisa our own EoC business. Indeed, EoC also has something to do also with our marriage. In 1996 my wife was working on her final dissertation for her degree in pedagogy. She wanted to work on the relationship between the education of people on culture of giving and EoC. She needed an economist to help. My brother, who was a friend of my wife, asked me to help her. Thanks to this encounter, we got engaged and get married. Elisa had the dream of becoming an EoC entrepreneur. In 2001 an intern stagiest from an EoC company came in the consulting company I was working for . Through this new encounter we saw a chance to run a training and consultancy company designing programs based on EoC principles. The name “Rainbow” is strictly related to Eoc business guidelines and the underlying spirituality of unity. We can look to business and his basic dimensions as a rainbow,  through the framework of the seven colours we describe seven life and business macro-aspects and an explicit value-creation structure, to take inspiration for effective strategies, managerial methodologies, accounting and reporting.

Currently, Elisa is running the company with my part-time contribution and that of some fellow workers.
Our clients range from primary schools to manufacturing companies. Only a part of them are EoC businesses so it is interesting for us to see how the EoC culture can be a gift for any business.


2004 – governing and working in communion

The need for fraternity and communion inside the businesses has been expressed since the beginning of the project. One view commonly expressed  was “how can you share you profits if you don’t live communion inside your business”.

Working many years as consultant, and having the chance to look inside many entities, talking to people in different sectors and countries, I can say that the need for fraternity is a big one in many organizations.

So I really was very glad when the international Eoc congress in 2004 raised the issue of governing and working in communion. For many people – entrepreneurs and scholars– and for me in particular this demand has became a priority in searching and experiencing adequate management and organizational forms and mechanisms.

I know from my ownexperience myself that exploring fraternity in organizations is like opening a track in the jungle. People normally expect a typical economic self-interested behaviour so you might be misinterpreted and . you might misinterpret them vice versa when you “add” a certain amount of fraternity in your economic interactions.

This has meant going in deep into the theoretical reflection on human relations inside organizations. It is clear that without a new culture it is not possible to go beyond the well-known hierarchical approach. Acting as a community inside business organizations is a big challenge. Obedience and fraternity seems to clash, so it takes time to experience and be conscious of what communion in organizational relationships means, where the need of coordination has to go along with a real horizontal experience of fraternity. 

Many businesses around the world have accepted this demanding challenge and the human and economic fruits of this challenge are evident from many experiences. Though more time demanding, many decisions are taken together enhancing the effectiveness of these decisions. Having space for genuine discussion solves relationship and technical problems, finding the right task for every worker. More involvement means more motivation, more responsibility and better results. This is also my personal experience when I am able to overcome my pride!

For Georg Endler of Tergon (Swiss business), the biggest challenge is not judging others. "It seemed like I could only see the others´mistakes, and these thoughts were turning into prejudices. I tried to dialogue with my colleagues and with God, ...the result was finding solutions at the right moments." And his collegue Edi Rieder, responsible for production, plays that challenging role of transmitting technical training and integrating the students that work in the various sectors. "Every year is a challenge because the youth change and we have to start from the beginning. I feel that my main role is that of welcoming each one of them, attentively, keeping their cultures and personalities in mind, as they come from all over the world. At the same time, I try to aim at more efficient production and real customer service”. Personally, I can say that I´ve received more than what I gave! The experience in these years shows me that each one of them, and all of them together, are the true wealth of Tergon."

The challenge of governing and working in communion is even more demanding for those businesses that have chosen to share their business life together with other EoC companies in industrial park where “to love other’s company like yours” is a daily affair.



2009 – EoC in “Caritas in veritate” – networking with Civil Economy experiences

The 2009 is a very important year because the EoC experience is mentioned in the Pope Benedict XI’s encyclical “Caritas in veritate”. For EoC entrepreneurs it is a new milestone showing them that they are not alone in dreaming and realizing a new economy. EoC along with many other experiences that put people first is on track to show the world that there is a way to combine economy with fraternity.

For me the encyclical is really a very rich framework because it has not only a theological and theoretical content but also the life of all Christians and common people that try to combine economy with fraternity.

Fraternity seems to be very naturally lived here in Africa. I strongly believe that EoC meeting African cultures will show surprising potentiality that today we can but imagine, enriching both EoC and African peoples.

I want end my contribution with a phrase that I like very much: if you want to forecast the future invent it.

Thank you very much!
            

Friday, February 4, 2011

Presentations and Resource Materials

Below are the links to some of the presentations done during the two seminars. The list will be updated as we upload the presentations one by one.


Levels of Reciprocity in Economics by Leo Andringa
http://www.slideshare.net/Africa2011/levels-of-reciprocity-in-economics-by-leo-andringa


About Colors by Elisa Golin & Giampietro Parolin
http://www.slideshare.net/Africa2011/something-about-colors


Bangko Kabayan: A Case Study of Microcredit and the Culture of Reciprocity by Teresa Ganzon
http://www.slideshare.net/Africa2011/microcredit-and-the-culture-of-reciprocity


Project Management in Communion by Francesco Tortorella
http://www.slideshare.net/Africa2011/project-management-in-communion-by-francesco-tortorella



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Impressions

“The forum has been intellectually stimulating from the very first day. Thank you to your service to Africa!”
                                                                                  
***

“This has been a very thrilling conference; It has enabled me to discover that I can be able to share the profits of my company with the underprivileged community within my neighborhood and be able to transform their livelihood; It gives me great joy that I can make the world a better place for someone elsewhere.”





“The EOC is another mustard seed. It has enlightened and enforced my convictions that too often we pay lip service to the human dimension of business. With the EOC perspective, humanity stands to benefit from its own resources.”

***

“The EOC has been of help to me to know how firms/organizations can play a big part of the welfare of the people surrounding them. It has also taught me to be socially responsible -- no matter how little I have, it will make a difference in the society in which I am living.”





“Vedo che e’ una questione di cambiare dentro il nostro modo di gestire I beni che ci arrivano o che produciamo; il nostro modo di “essere”. L’EdC e’ prima di tutto lavorare alle relazioni con gli altri e voler dare a chi ne ha bisogno, sensibilizzare e formare “uomini nuovi” cominciando con noi stessi.”

***





“The experiences of John Mundell and Teresa Ganzon have pushed me further to abandon the mind of risk aversiveness to a more risk-taking one, putting in mind the role of the culture of giving and the importance of relationship in business. ‘We are poor but we are many.’”


“The conference to me, has in great depth sinked in my thoughts many issues concerning humanity and poverty. I have been touched by the presentation of Genevieve through Lily. I have learned the importance of sharing whatever little we have with others, especially the poor. I am also happy to understand the definition of poverty and how we can deal with it.”

***

“I gratefully appreciate and grateful to CUEA and EOC Commission for organizing the conference. It is an eye opener, a discovery of what the economy is in the right sense of the word. Moreover, putting the person at the center of the economy is a new way of this aspect.”





“Through the conference I have learned how to contribute to make the world a better place to live, by embracing the culture of giving. I have learned that the system of education we adopt in our society is key to improving our lives. The EOC has indicated in me a special concept of richness of being.”

***
“Yes, in Africa it will start, with me and in my smallest community, my family. It will start with sharing of what I call small; a smile, a piece of food left at the table, a cloth put aside in the drawer, and I shall build a culture of listening, to everyone in need. We shall put and bring back the “obuntu” humanity in the middle of EOC.”




“The conference was timely. It expanded my thinking. The concept of reciprocity to the community not only in terms of giving but adding value was very impressive.”

***

“The conference was an eye opener for me. I have been in business for almost 20 years but never thought of business in this way. For me now is a change of attitude and have a new beginning in my business.”








 “My impression is that Africa has a great gift for the world, yet to be realized. As Africa finds the “way” and comes to follow it, this gift will enrich the whole world and bring all countries and all people forward.”

***

  “I think the EOC provides the missing link on how to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, by involving the poor in the creation or production of wealth, rather than just giving them aid. I hope all the participants take what we’ve learnt to our various communities.”



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Another milestone towards a lasting partnership

As the conference came to a conclusion, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) and the International Commission of the Economy of Communion (EOC). The said MOU was signed by the Vice-Chancellor Fr. John C. Maviiri for CUEA and Prof. Luigino Bruni, Head of the EOC's International Commission. The collaboration is launched with the birth of Centro Studi Chiara Lubich with courses in economics and entrepreneurship already starting on July this year.






EOC in the African context

The three-day international conference brought together participants from 12 African countries, the US, Europe and Asia.


The speakers were composed of a rich mix of professors from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, esteemed representatives of African enterprises like Equity Bank and Safaricom, and members of the Economy of Communion's (EOC) International Commission. The presentations included an introduction to the EOC, existing EOC businesses, how EOC differentiates from Corporate Social Responsibility and a comprehensive look at the African reality: the socio-economic and cultural challenges it faces today and what has proven successful as development tools, including microcredit. 


The audience actively participated by posing relevant questions and offering their own observations throughout the whole conference.