Economy of Communion
A "social-Catholic" approach to economics.
"The EoC is a project that currently involves hundreds (754) of businesses in five continents and has attracted the interest of scholars and economists alike. The project started in 1991 when Chiara Lubich visited the city of San Paulo in Brazil. Whoever arrives in that metropolis is confronted with a scenario that powerfully symbolises the potential contradictions within capitalism: a forest of skyscrapers surrounded by a savannah of slums. Chiara was deeply moved by this sight and felt the great suffering of humanity: a humanity that is increasingly able to conquer technology and produce wealth, but has not yet been able to overcome misery. What she saw in San Paolo, instead, showed her that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing. Within a few days of that trip to San Paolo at the end of May 1991, what has come to be known as the Economy of Communion was born: businesses which are managed with a new culture (the ‘culture of giving’) and put their profits into communion, with the aim of demonstrating a part of humanity ‘with no-one in need’, and becoming a model for many.
The sharing of profits in three parts was the first way in which the EoC became a practical proposal:
- one part of the profits would be re-invested in the business in order to develop and create new jobs;
- the second part would be used to create a new culture which would inspire women and men capable of living communion in their lives;
- and the third part would go directly to the poor so as to reinsert them fully into the dynamic of communion and reciprocity.
This three-way sharing of profits is a ‘pre-economic’ intuition, since it neither represents a new juridical form nor an organisational business model, nor a measurable technique, but rather a vision of the economy and society. This vision points to the principal institution of the market economy - the business - as an economic phenomenon… but not exclusively so. Besides their growth, businesses of communion are also directly concerned with culture, need and poverty. For these businesses, profit is regarded as the means, rather than the end of entrepreneurial activity as the profit is put into communion.
EoC is about firms. Nevertheless, the EoC is not primarily an organisational formula for a business to be more ethical or socially responsible. The EoC is a project for a more just and fraternal humanism.
The EoC came about from an encounter with favelas or shanty towns. The original intuition of the EoC emerged as a result of the suffering that Chiara experienced when she realised that there were persons who were living in those inhumane conditions. Rather than the need to make businesses more ethical or more human, it was the need to do her part, through the Movement, to build a more just world, where there would be fewer people forced to live in often inhumane conditions. This is why the EoC cannot and should not become a corporate social responsibility project. It did not come about to renew businesses, but to renew social relations. The specific novelty of 1991, its novum, is elsewhere, as I will now try to explain in the next sections.
At the same time, there is also something that is relevant to business as an institution. EoC thought of the business as an institution as the natural ‘instrument’ to respond to what is essentially a problem injustice and the incorrect distribution of goods. Normal logic could have led her to think of other institutions: foundations, NGOs, fundraising activities. In fact, the natural mission of traditional businesses is to create jobs, produce products, goods and services. In the normal course of events, the aim of redistributing wealth is not prevalent in business (even if it cannot be totally excluded: there are taxes, but also salaries). Instead, in the EoC are the traditional business that is invited to go beyond its “normal” social function or “vocation”."
Source: THE ECONOMY OF COMMUNION. Luigino Bruni. Draft of essay written for the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 2008.
"we need a spirituality of work that transcends the individual and becomes a shared motivation and behaviour – in other words, a new corporate culture that shapes both the purpose and means of business. It requires a spirituality that enables us to transcend self-interest and recognise the “other” as a subject with whom I am called to be in relationship. It requires a “communitarian” dimension.
The impact of such a “communitarian spirituality” can be seen in the Economy of Communion project.7 The EOC came into being at the in May 1991, several weeks after John Paul II published the encyclical letter Centesimus Annus,8 underlining the positive elements of the market economy, business and entrepreneurship. At that time, Chiara Lubich was in San Paolo in Brazil, where she witnessed the extremes of globalisation: a few very wealthy individuals live side by side with millions of poor. In this context, she launched the EOC, calling on entrepreneurs to a radical rethink of economic activity, the market, business and entrepreneurship. Her proposal was for businesses to put into practice a communitarian spirituality: internally through transforming their business practice and externally through sharing their profits with those in need. Since then, over 700 businesses have become part of this project, which aims to transform business space into places of communion, where an authentic human encounter can take place. Several major joint initiatives have also been established, including two business parks where the impact of the EOC on the local business context is most evident.
What is most evident from the EOC is that it represents a true cultural revolution within the business world. This peaceful revolution has the imprint of a more feminised economy, in the truest sense. The ‘ethics of care’ within the EOC is seen, above all, in the intrinsic motivation and commitment to care for those both near and far. This imbues the world of commerce with values traditionally associated with the home or the family - traditionally female ‘spaces’. Such a vision of a ‘feminisation’ is far removed from the current understanding of the feminisation of the economy, (which emphasises how capital has become more ‘flexible’ in order to facilitate the entry of more and more part-time predominantly female workers in the paid economy). In this regard, feminisation has come to mean the predominance of the rational pursuit of profit over every other consideration. In the EOC, on the other hand, ‘feminisation’ of the economy means imbuing the structures of the market with values normally associated with the spatially intimate family. Such values are normally thought to be ‘soft’, yet take on a powerful significance in the face of current global issues.
Those who are committed to the EOC are under no illusions. This is not always an easy choice, nor one that always ‘pays’, at least in terms of profits. It is a choice made from a deep-rooted belief in their specific vocation as entrepreneurs: a vocation in which they are called above all to use their freedom for the common good. Often, this vocation involves voluntary sacrifice, such as the choice of the Gospel virtue of “poverty” - a simple lifestyle in order to enable others to live a full life. The deep satisfaction, sense of global fraternity and joy this choice brings, however, is immeasurable." (http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst/conferences/thegoodcompany/finalpapers/lorna%20gold%2014.30%2006..pdf)