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BusinessWorld - 13/10/2009

Agenda For Hope

Sharing prosperity in action

by Marilou A. Perez And Fernando T. Aldaba
published on the biggest business daily in the philippines, BusinessWorld, on Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The economy of communion is a project based totally on love, solely on love. ? Chiara Lubich, May 26, 1996.

BWDigitized-240x400_ridFor almost two decades now, there exists a new form of business enterprise operating in the market based on solidarity of the people involved in the endeavor. Following a peculiar set of principles to address social and economic problems, this new approach of managing an enterprise is called "the Economy of Communion (EoC)."

The EoC was launched by the late Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1991. Deeply struck by the extreme deprivation of people in the favelas (slums) surrounding the modern skyscrapers, she urged the Focolare community of Brazil and challenged each one, particularly the entrepreneurs, to build a new type of economy where the profits of an enterprise could be channeled toward three goals: to help the poor; to form "new men and women" living the "culture of giving"; and to further develop and expand the business.

The rationale of any business enterprise in a market economy is to maximize profits in order to expand. Business growth indicates increasing firm capacity that leads to further human and physical capital investments and technological advancement. These characteristics of a typical firm in a market economy can also be found in enterprises advocating and following the EoC. The EoC, however, offers an alternative paradigm of addressing social and economic issues by sharing the company?s profits in significant ways. This new paradigm of human development aims to create communities where practically "no one is in need." Hence, the reduction of "people in need" is the measure of success in achieving economic communion and solidarity. The EoC has addressed the widening gap between the rich and the poor and developed a formula that makes better use of profit in order to achieve harmony in society. Basically, the profits from the businesses are utilized in three ways ? developing the people who participated in creating the surplus (such as the workers and employees), implementing concrete action in helping the needy in the wider community of the firm, and judiciously expanding the business to generate more employment.

The EoC businesses operate efficiently to promote profits, but their uniqueness stems from the principle that the human person and their needs, not capital, are the core concern of the business. The EoC business profits are just means to achieve "communion" and solidarity based on a voluntary commitment on the part of the businesses and their stakeholders to fulfill the mission of combating poverty through profit redistribution. The people who gain from the redistribution of profits within the EoC are not considered "beneficiaries" but regarded as key members of the enterprise or project. They not only receive but also share and live the culture of giving. In fact, many of them share the fruits they have received with others who are more in need. There is reciprocity among members of the firm and the wider community it serves and eventually this even expands to other people beyond the community.

The emphasis is not on the philanthropic act but on sharing within a community; there is no distinction between the giver and receiver since both have equal dignity. This EoC?s promotion of the "culture of giving" serves as an antidote to the "culture of having," which is rampant in consumerist societies. This culture of giving is neither individualistic nor collective but rather a communion, a collaboration between giver and receiver. This is "giving" based on Gospel values, where the giver and the receiver are in unison and remain respectful of one?s dignity. The culture of giving, helping others, and caring is consistent with the core values of Filipinos. The spirit ofpakikipagkapwa or kapwa (solidarity), kagandahang loob (humanity/kindness) and bayanihan (Filipino sense of community) remain alive in the hearts of many Filipinos.

In the light of these inherent traditional values, some Filipino businesses find facility in adopting the principles of the EoC in operating and managing their businesses. At least three Filipino businesses adhere to the EoC. The Ancilla Group of Companies is a consulting firm engaged in organizational assessment, development, and training. Bangko Kabayan - Ibaan Rural Bank, Inc. is engaged significantly in microfinance. The Asia-Pacific Circulation Exponents, Inc. is engaged in the importation and distribution of international and domestic publications. All these firms practice profit redistribution by channeling these to the development of their staff and employees, to various programs promoting the "culture of giving," and to ensure that their businesses continue to grow and employ people.

Many people contend that the objectives of profit maximization and helping the poor and marginalized cannot be achieved together. But the EoC has proven them wrong. In fact, it has even gone further. Through the EoC, the "culture of sharing and giving" has been institutionalized within the business enterprise itself and its stakeholders. There is genuine solidarity between "the givers and the receivers" such that the distinction disappears when reciprocity between them becomes the norm. As the saying goes, "there is no one so rich and so complete that he or she does not need any assistance from anyone and that there is no one so poor and inadequate that he or she cannot give any kind of help to someone else."

The EoC provides a practical framework as well as guidelines that a truly humane entrepreneur may follow in making this world a better place to live in. For the Christian businessperson, the EoC provides the way of fulfilling the love, solidarity, and union with Christ while managing and expanding his or her enterprises in the market economy. The EoC is indeed good news, a gospel for firms to plant more seeds of shared prosperity in Philippine society. Pope Benedict XVI?s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), recognizes the importance of the EoC in modern-day markets:

The "economy of communion" is not merely a matter of a "third sector," but of a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it as a means for achieving human and social ends. These new kinds of enterprises will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country. The very plurality of these institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive.

Marilou A. Perez and Dr. Fernando T. Aldaba are faculty members of the Economics Department at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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