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PESC-3: Environmental Education and Education for Socio-Economic Development
Dr Hansjoerg Biener:
Economy of Communion

 
“Unlike the consumer economy, based on a culture of having, the Economy of Communion is based on the culture of giving. This might seem to be difficult, ambitious, heroic, but it is not so, because human beings made in the image of God, who is love, find their fulfilment in loving, in giving. This need is in the deepest recesses of their being whether they have faith or not. On this basis, supported by our experience, lies the hope of a universal spreading of the Economy of Communion.” (Chiara Lubich Brazil - May 1991)

Araceli as a Pilot City
Economic Principles
The Religious Foundation: The Christian Gospel as a Guideline
Growing Attention of Economists for EOC Businesses World-wide
 

Araceli as a Pilot City
In 1991 Chiara Lubich visited Araceli, a little town of the Focolare Movement on the outskirts of Sao Paolo. While crossing this Brazilian mega city, she was deeply troubled by the contrast of the skyscrapers and the favellas. At the beginning of the Focolare Movement, in 1943, the discovery of the New Commandment of the Gospel “Love one another as I have loved you” (Gospel of John 13:34) lead to a local communion of spiritual and material goods. Now, Chiara Lubich realised that the communion of goods, as practised in the Focolare Movement up to that time, was inadequate to confront this magnitude of poverty. She felt driven towards a new economic thinking by the urgency of the need to provide food, shelter, medical assistance, and employment, at least for those people in Brazil who formed part of the Focolare Movement.
While ethnic and religious differences often lead to violent conflict, the spread of the Focolare movement had contributed to a constructive dialogue between peoples of different cultural backgrounds and religious faiths. Now the movement was also entering the field of economics. Launching the Economy of Communion, Chiara Lubich challenged the 200,000 members of the Focolare Movement in Brazil to establish businesses around Araceli to create jobs in the region. She proposed to all those who chose to become shareholders of these businesses, to freely give one third of the profits for capital reinvestment. The remaining two thirds would be allocated to those in need and for the development of structures for the formation of people in the values of the “culture of giving”. Businesses in the Pilot City of Araceli now include: La Tunica - a clothing business; Rotogine – a plastic manufacturing industry; Ecoar – production of detergents for hospital and industrial use; Shalom – an accounting firm; Granja Piu Piu – a pig farm; Escola Aurora – a kindergarten and primary school; Betio Maquinas – an engineering business; Policlinica Agapa – a medical clinic.
 
Economic Principles
Those involved in the Economy of Communion are inspired by the principles of a culture which is different from the prevailing theory and practice of economics. This “culture” can be defined as the “culture of giving” which is the antithesis of a “culture of having”. “Giving” is based on an anthropological concept which is neither individualistic nor collective, but one of communion. In this context giving, is neither a form of philanthropy nor a way of distributing welfare benefits, neither a way of seeking individual reward or dominance. It involves respect for human dignity and has the capacity to generate, even in the business arena, the Gospel experience of ?Give and it will be given to you”. 
Entrepreneurs who adhere to the Economy of Communion show that there is an alternative to the prevailing methods of doing business in a market economy. EOC businesses do not pretend to be a new form of business but through their way of conducting their business, they renew the customary types of businesses from within. In the EOC, the profits have to be produced through strict adherence to the law and through respecting the rights of the workers, of the consumers, of competitive industries, of the community and of the environment. This produces extremely positive interpersonal relationships both internally between employers and employees and externally between the business and its customers. Often the return comes in the form of an unexpected income, of the discovery of a new technique or the development of a successful marketing idea.
 
The Religious Foundation: The Christian Gospel as a Guideline
The Focolare movement came into being in 1943 when Chiara Lubich (23) and her friends started trying to live the Christian Gospel. The foundress was an elementary school teacher and always had a special interest in philosophy, but some words of the Gospels particularly drew their attention: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). The experience of unity in the group was able to transform differences into mutual enrichment. “May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you; may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). This sentence became the program of their life. 
The group was often referred to as the Focolare, the Italian term for the hearth or family fireside. Beginning in 1949, summer gatherings became central meeting points of the growing movement as well as a training ground for a new way of life based on the law of mutual love. Some meetings changed into a more permanent status. The first Focolare mini city was founded in 1964 at Loppiano, near Florence, Italy. The world wide Focolare movement now numbers about two million friends and adherents in over 180 nations.
The core conviction of the movement resides in a new orientation and style of life drawn from Christian principles but also recognising similar values present in other religions or cultures. At first the spirituality of unity spread within the Catholic Church. Beginning in 1958 Christians of other traditions joined the Focolare. Members of the world's religions as well as persons of no religious affiliation also participate in the life of the movement in varying degrees. 
In order to strengthen mutual knowledge, the Movement organises seminars for its members on ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and dialogue with those of other convictions. For several decades the Focolare Movement has been involved in inter-religious dialogue and has always held close ties with the World Conference on Religion and Peace. In 1981, for example, Chiara Lubich was invited to Japan by Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, to share her Christian experience with over 10,000 members of the Buddhist lay movement Rissho Kosei-kai. Honouring the movement, Chiara Lubich received many prizes, including the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1977), the Augsburg Peace Prize to honour accomplishments in inter-denominational dialogue (1988) and the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (1996).
 
Growing Attention of Economists for EOC Businesses World-wide
EOC businesses have mainly been started in Latin America and Europe, and some existing businesses redirected their policies according to EOC principles. 
In the past decade some 750 businesses in more than 30 countries joined the movement. Most are small to medium businesses with a turnover of less than 20 million dollars annually. In some parts of Europe and in South America the EOC businesses have formed a network and  co-operate in publishing promotional material. More than 200 EOC businesses are in South America and 300 in Europe (150 in Italy, 50 in Germany). Some 100 are into agriculture, some 300 in the service sector, and the rest in the manufacturing sector and industry. In 1997, 23 German business people even established a Merchant Bank dedicated to the development of EOC businesses in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world. 
The Economy of Communion over these years has attracted the attention of economists who have organised seminars and congresses in European, Latin American and Australian universities to study the evolution of this new concept. The survival of EOC businesses show that their underlying principles translate into methods which lead to a reduction in business costs and improved economic performance. From a secular viewpoint, EOC businesses are successful because of the unity created. Every effort to invest in the quality of interpersonal relationships results in increased creativity and improved capacity to develop innovative systems and production techniques.
In the late 90s Chiara Lubich challenged the scientific community to develop a scientific concept of the Economy of Communion. Some foresee in the principle of “communion” a contribution leading beyond the individualistic paradigm underlying the prevailing economic theories, the negative impact of which is very evident in social and political life.
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