Focolare Business Initiative Reaches Africa

«Economy of Communion» Puts Profits in Common

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NAIROBI, Kenya, JAN. 27, 2011 ( Entrepreneurs who embrace the «Economy of Communion» are changing the paradigms of economic behavior. They harness the strength of a «culture of giving» and see the poor as a resource. Now this economy is being presented as a new paradigm for Africa. 

The Economy of Communion (EoC) was initiated by the founder of the Catholic lay Focolare movement, Chiara Lubich, in 1991 in Brazil. Businesses — ranging from a home for the elderly in Spain to a rural bank in the Philippines to a tutoring service in the USA — commit to put their profits in common, following the example of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, where Scripture affirms, «No one among them was in need.» 

Benedict XVI in «Caritas in Veritate» mentions this type of enterprise. 

Though businesses following the plan are already on the five continents, the EoC is still somewhat new in Africa. A conference under way today in Kenya is the first time an African university has presented this economic plan. 

The three-day, international conference «Economy of Communion: New Paradigm for African Development» concludes Friday at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), in Mariapolis Piero, the Focolare community in Kalimoni, Nairobi, Kenya. 

As the organizers explained, the meeting is seeing how «African people urgently need, on one hand, a culture of enterprise and of economic development, and on the other, a model of economy that does not destroy the community and communion, considered great values in their culture.» 

In order to ensure the continuity of this initiative, courses are being planned in CUEA on the spread of a business economic culture for Africa. They will be taught by economists and scholars who work throughout the world to develop the Economy of Communion. 

According to Genevieve Sanze from central Africa, a member of the International Commission of the Economy of Communion, «the lived experience of the Economy of Communion, makes us understand that we cannot come out of the trap of indigence only with money, or with the redistribution of wealth, or with the building of public goods, or the increase of trade relations between the North and the South. We will be able to get out of this trap when we are capable of building genuine and profound human relations between different but at the same time equal persons; when we are able to understand that no person exists in the world who is so poor that he cannot be a gift to another. At that moment the world will see fraternity and community flower.» 

Training the future 

Earlier this week, the first EoC school at the university was held for aspiring entrepreneurs. They came from 12 African countries, as well as from Europe, the United States and Asia. 

«The Pan African Summer School is based on three assumptions,» explained Luigino Bruni, director of the worldwide EoC project. «The first: today, cooperation in development is done with people, not with capital. Without quality universities, no serious development can take place. 

«Second: the method of the school is reciprocity. There will not be any professors from the West who are coming to teach the African youth. Starting from the high esteem that we hold for the culture, everyone will learn from everyone. 

«Thirdly: development cannot happen without business culture, and this is what Africa is missing today. Africa needs to open itself up to the market while saving the ‘community’ roots that are so strong in its culture’s DNA. So, one can understand how ‘Economy’ and ‘Communion’ can truly be an important opportunity here.»

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Economy and Communion, which Lubich launched May 29, 1991. The anniversary will be celebrated in Brazil, where it began, from May 25-29, with a week of events dedicated to evaluate the situation and plan new development projects. 

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