Last Tuesday, July 18, men and women in the academe, local government, private business, civil society and media gathered to hear about the revolutionary economic paradigm that promises to plug the holes in the capitalist system and bridge the yawning wealth gap. Referred to as the Economy of Communion (EoC), it is all about putting the human person, rather than capital, at the center of the enterprise with the expressed intention of enabling the poor to fight his poverty.
Italian economist Luigino Bruni and Netherlands' former Central Bank director Leo Andringa shared their insights on the story behind the success of EoC in over 750 companies in over 30 countries in 5 continents. Local Filipino EoC proponents Leonardo Sanggalang, Tita Puangco and rural bankers Francis and Tess Ganzon narrated their own adventures with EoC.
Among those present from the ranks of business and civil society were Ronnie Concepcion, Tony Gonzalez, Cesar Buenaventura, Joey Cuisia, Ching Montinola, Pastor Saycon, Ed Samaniego, Vicky Lahoz, Jess Celdran, Luis Celdran, Rosario Mercader, George Mercado, Vitaliano Nanagas, Carling Cabochan and Gus Lagman.
INQ7 editor-in-chief JV Rufino, Southern Broadcasting Network (SBN-21) CEO Sonny Henson and Radio Mindanao Network CEO Eric Canoy led the media group which included opinion writers Sonny Coloma, Florangel Braid and Tess Abesamis and broadcasters Jing Magsaysay and Ka Gerry Geronimo who came with his son and Ating Alamin Magazine publisher Dr. Miguel Geronimo.
Leading lights of Philippine politics-Governor Grace Padaca, Representative Dodo Mandanas and Makati Mayor Jojo Binay-were there to be counted. A day earlier, Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte met with the EoC team at the Crowne Plaza Hotel together with three of his key management team members, La Rainne Sarmiento, Boy Diaz-Santos and Pax Maghakot.
Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, who came with my former classmate Lito Anzures, told EoC Commissioner Mrs. Lilia Tantoco that he drew immediate inspiration from the EoC. Jojo plans to encourage cooperatives in the poor communities of Makati City by matching the funds raised by each cooperative, thus doubling their financial capacity.
Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte is keen on endorsing the EoC team to present and introduce the formula to the chambers of commerce in the city and to encourage them to pool resources and adopt poor class E communities. The target is to develop these class E households into class D homes with better values and earning capacity that will empower and enable them to exit the cycle of poverty that has brutalized their families for generations.
Isabela Governor Grace Padaca likewise expressed interest to follow the Quezon City plan to encourage companies in Isabela's chambers of commerce to pool resources and adopt poor communities where not just housing and livelihood will be provided but the more important formation that empowers the poor to break their cycle of poverty.
Man, not capital, as the center of economic activity
Those who attended the EoC event were enthusiastic over the distinct revolutionary culture that EoC promoted which placed man as the center of economic activity. In contrast to the anti-poverty and social amelioration approaches promoted by corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropy, the practice of EoC is relationship-oriented. To be effective in helping the poor, help must come from someone known to the recipient, such as a neighbor or an employer (proximity) and the recipient must be put in a position where he or she is under the impression and understanding that she has a responsibility to turn that help into raising her economic status (reciprocity).
Previously unheard of dimensions in economics were presented by Bruni, such as:
1. The benchmark of the success of EoC companies is the progressive reduction of people in need.
2. Where CSR and philanthropy need not meet nor intimately know their beneficiaries, EoC promotes proximity and reciprocity between the haves and the have-nots-such that is found in kinship and close friendships.
3. Wealth is not merely material as those who are rich in the material sense can in fact also be poor and needy.
4. The poor are protagonists and not just recipients in EoC.
How does EoC bridge the wealth gap?
History tells us that the process of redistributing wealth is very complex and often fails. We know three basic attempts of bridging the wealth gap: The European welfare state, the US philanthropy model and the communist/socialist state. Nowadays all these three experiments are not viable and sustainable because of the absence of the dimension of proximity and reciprocity-the missing element in the main solutions to the wealth gap.
In fact, EoC's final step to help the poor is the response and the re-establishment of full reciprocity. When a family is helped with the profit of the EoC, the process will not be accomplished with the act of receiving the money nor when the money is spent. It will be accomplished only when the help received puts the family in a condition of leaving the situation of deprivation and re-establishing a full relationship in reciprocity and equality.
This means not just help but communion or reciprocity. In reciprocity, receiving is not enough for a "sustainable development" of the relationship over time. A response is needed and that cannot be just saying "thank you." Reciprocity is giving and receiving (sooner or later) otherwise we encounter situations where the beneficiaries, if not able to respond and reciprocate in equality, end up hating the donor because they feel a sense of inferiority.
When people in need ("poor") know that they are helped by a far away institution, the free-ride rate is high: money becomes an added problem for the poor people and maybe unintentionally, keeps the poor people in a condition of objective inferiority and minority. If, instead, help comes from a "neighbor" (proximity), who is sharing day by day, then the same help can generate reciprocity and a human flourishing of the poor.
Focolare founder and originator of the EoC idea, Chiara Lubich, affirms that: "The poor helped are our poor, that is people of our community who are known by name one by one." This is why the success in bridging the wealth gap in the EoC depends chiefly on this proximity. The entrepreneurs are not philanthropists far away from the life of the poor, but people in a relation of substantial fraternity and equality with the poor, members of the same community
Utopian one might be inclined to remark. But the fact is over 800 companies in the world are now practicing EoC and have registered growth and expansion. EoC is not anti-capital or anti-profit and adheres to all the good practices that make for good corporate citizenship.
In fact, the developments in the marketing world would confirm the practicality of the EoC core value of putting man at the center of economic activity. Just look at how marketing has evolved into niches. Niche marketing is nothing but addressing the demand of the consumer in the globalized world to be serviced as an individual and not as a unit of demographic data.
This is a modern day phenomenon-as market horizons expand with globalization, the relationship between seller and buyer on the other hand became more intimate. Market planners no longer abide by demographic but by psychographic guides. The more intimate the relationship between seller and buyer, the greater the chance to succeed in this day and age.
This reality extends to media with the internet now becoming the dominant news and information provider.
You may email William M. Esposo at: email@example.com