When Economy becomes a Calling

An EOC Gathering in the Philippines (July 11, 2009)

EOC : When Economy Becomes a Calling…

One hundred forty-four participants – entrepreneurs, managers and employees, professors and graduate students from Manila and surrounding regions -  gathered in the Mariapolis Pace in Tagaytay City last Saturday, July 11. As the letter invitation stated, each was called to reflect and gain a deeper understanding of what the Economy of Communion theory is and how it is lived by EOC enterprises, especially within the context of the present economic crisis.

For the first time in past years of EOC conferences, this gathering was marked by a significant presence of professors, with a group of nine from the Dept. of Commerce of the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas which included Dean Cabrera and Assistant Dean Calara , together with the department heads of the aforementioned college.

Present also were lecturers and faculty members from the Ateneo De Manila (Dept. of Economics) and the guest speaker for the day was Professor Sonny Coloma of the Asian Institute of Management.

The day began with an introduction of the participants and a welcome address by Maddalena Cariolato who explained the significance of Mariapolis Pace, one of 30 permanent cities of the Focolare around the world.

A video of Chiara Lubich’s address to Italian Entrepreneurs on May 2003, introduced by Scinti Arsi who was present in said occasion, provided the backdrop for the rest of the day’s program contents.

Chiara Lubich’s talk centered on “the most important element “ of the EOC project – the love that must be at the root of all who would wish to develop a business linked to the EOC.

She also reaffirmed the relevance of the economy of communion today, stating that of the many forces driving terrorism today, “ the deepest one is the unbearable suffering caused by the tremendous economic disparity which generates resentment, violence and revenge”. She thus emphasized that what is needed to counter the resulting evil of terrorism should be “more equality, solidarity and a great communion of goods”.

“This universal brotherhood lived out concretely, this constant giving demonstrated that the economy of communion Is particularly timely in a world so in need of global communion of resources.”

Professor Sonny Coloma, a distinguished faculty member of the Asian Institute of Management and former Chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) during the Aquino Adminsitration,  gave his contribution to the conference, beginning with the question “ if today’s theme is “When Economy becomes a calling…”, WHO is calling? And will you pick up the call?”

He then outlined the present situation, helping the participants to understand what went wrong in today’s economy that led to the tumbling down of Wall Street and the deleterious effects on the rest of the population on “Main Street”.  Delivering a critique on what he described as the “dominator paradigm” that led to the creation of “phantom wealth”, Prof. Coloma echoed the call for a “new economy” , moving from the culture of “having” to the culture of “giving” as Chiara Lubich proposed in the EOC. Coloma also pointed out to several authors who sounded similar calls for change such as Riane Eisler (from dominator paradigm to partnership paradigm) in The Real Wealth of Nations and David Korten in Agenda for a New Economy.

A lively discussion followed and over lunch, the representatives from the academe dined together and exchanged contact details so they could keep in touch and have a continuous exchange of ideas, particularly on how to mainstream the economy of communion in business and economics curriculum. Dean Cabrera took the opportunity of inviting Prof. Coloma to be a speaker in the celebration of UST’s College of Commerce’s  76th anniversary in September, to further advocate the need for a radical change of perspective in economics that would put more importance to the centrality of man in any economic endeavor.

The afternoon program opened with the news of the latest encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI which, apart from re-echoing the call to justice contained in previous social teachings of the church, called attention to “the emergence of a “broad intermediate area” between private business firms and non-profit initiatives, made up of business enterprises that operate not just from the profit motive but also out of a sense of social responsibility” where the Pope explicitly mentioned the economy of communion.

To further understand the implications of the EOC on behavior of both entrepreneurs and business firms, three couples – Renato and TIta Puangco of Ancilla, Francis and Teresa Ganzon of Bangko Kabayan and Floro and Tess Flores of APCEI – took the stage and shared strong experiences of how they and their enterprises faced the drastically reduced volumes of business, loss of public confidence and labor – management problems all brought about by the financial crisis.

The Puangcos spoke of undertaking steps, including asking support staff to go on prolonged vacation leave, moving to a smaller office space and other cost-cutting measures, all seen in unity with everyone in the firm. After a few months, as the business improved, they were able to re-hire back some of the former personnel while also discovering that Ancilla could outsource some of the projects to former staff now operating or working from their homes.

Bangko Kabayan shared the panic withdrawals that occurred after a number of rural bank closures and how they were able to confront the problem, acting together with even competitors, and advocating transparency in order to restore public confidence in rural financial institutions .The Ganzons spoke of the timely intervention of Divine Providence as when a large rural bank’s closure was preempted by  its acquisition by a commercial bank, thereby saving the rest of the rural banks in the area further stress from still another one of them being closed.

Floro and Tess shared how, when faced with the easier prospect of declaring bankruptcy due to grave problems encountered by APCEI, each member of the family instead put up everything they owned to seek financing that could save the company, for the sake of its more than 100 dependents, most of whom would not be able to find other jobs should the company close. They shared how inspite of these sacrifices, some employees chose to propose the formation of a labor union when faced with the necessary reduction of hours in order for the firm to survive.

Everyone in the audience was deeply moved as the Flores couple narrated how they continued to love in the face of these difficulties and how, as a response, the majority rejected the union and chose instead to keep working together to overcome the challenges the firm was facing.

Moreover, Floro and Tess also shared that inspite of their own situation, they still found the means to answer to the needs of a brother, someone in jail, an unwed mother in need of money to send her children to school. Their testimony truly converted many who were listening.

The afternoon concluded with a further clarification of what the Economy of Communion is today as expounded on by Luigino Bruni in a video of his address to the adherents of the Focolare last November 2008, which provided the participants, especially those who had newly encountered EOC, a brief background of how EOC started and what’s its challenges are today.

When invited to likewise put in communion their own thoughts and reflections for the day, the Dean of UST came to express her college’s increased determination to integrate EOC in the curriculum of their university, as a reaction to al she had heard for the day.

A Lecturer in the Dept. of Economics of the Ateneo also came to express their (his and another professor who was also present) appreciation and happiness in having participated in the gathering. He informed the audience that the Ateneo was coming out with a publication (Agenda of Hope) on the occasion of its 150th year celebration. In the aforementioned book, there were writings about the positive influences and projects in the world today, counting among them the Economy of Communion.

Many entrepreneurs came to publicly commit themselves to the call for a new economy and a young graduate student shared how he had first had his misgivings about the EOC, that it seemed it was a utopia. But after hearing the experiences in particular, he committed to putting up an EOC business after his graduation.

A solemn celebration of the Holy Mass capped the conference and an air of hope, but also, of resolution, was strongly felt by all who had participated in the day’s gathering. 




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