How Chiara Lubich’s EoC succeeds where philanthropy fails
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-10-26

In many cases, the most effective long term solution to poverty and the bridging of the Wealth Gap boils down to reforming the values of the needy and less of the money that is placed in their pockets.

Bridging the Information and Education Gaps are major components of values reform. But it requires more than just that — it needs a face to face shepherding of the person in need.

The successes of Gawad Kalinga (GK) and the Focolare’s Bukas Palad (which was founded even earlier than GK) are mainly due to the value formation component of the two efforts and their face to face relationship with the poor.

This is where the Economy of Communion (EoC) — conceived by the late founder of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich — has made a great headway and now offers a new economic paradigm. EoC operates with the two vital dimensions of proximity and reciprocity without which values reform is not attainable.

EoC was developed over 15 years ago when the late Chiara Lubich shared her inspiration with economists and sociologists. She encountered the inspiration after seeing from the air the favelas (slums) of Brazil surrounding rich people’s enclaves like a crown of thorns.

Lubich realized that there will always be conflict and turmoil in the world unless these dramatic contrasts between haves and have-nots are bridged. She also realized that both the needy as well as those who can alleviate their poverty are themselves in need of new values — one that moves mankind from a culture of wanting to a culture of sharing and giving.

Chiara Lubich’s EoC is founded on the premise that ONLY THE POOR CAN HELP THEMSELVES BUT NOT ALONE. Today, there are over 700 companies in the world who practice the EoC.

When a family is helped with the profit of an EoC company, the process will not be accomplished with the act of receiving the money — not even after the money is spent. It will be accomplished only when the help received puts the family that is helped in a condition of leaving the situation of deprivation and re-establishing a full relationship in reciprocity and equality.

The EoC’s final step to help the poor is the response and the re-establishment of full reciprocity. This entails 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.

Chiara Lubich affirms that: “The poor helped are our poor, that is people of our community who are known by name one by one.” Lubich encourages charity to begin in our neighborhood — our employees, poor neighbors, people we see and meet.

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.

EoC has developed a formula on how profit can be made to work better for the benefit of both the entrepreneur and the needy members of society. EoC guidelines call for the following distribution of the profits to be shared (to be broken down into three parts but not necessarily equal parts).

The first part is allocated for the company to enable the company to grow and be able to share more.

The second part is for the poor or the needy. This could be a nearby squatter area which we can transform into a GK Village or whatever.
The third part is for formation — to further promote EoC.

The entrepreneur exercises full freedom in how much he wants to share and how much to allocate per part.

Utopian one might be inclined to remark. But the fact is over 700 companies in the world are now practicing EoC and have registered impressive growth and expansion. Many of them solved labor and profitability problems when they adopted EoC.

We know that the Socialist model has failed. But we now know that all this unbridled capitalism also fails and the current financial meltdown is proof of that. Unbridled capitalism results in unbridled greed which in turn creates a wider Wealth Gap.

EoC is not anti-capital or anti-profit and adheres to all the good practices that make for good corporate citizenship. EoC is all about improving capitalism. It is founded on the belief that profit per se is not the problem.

The problem is in how the profit is used. That is precisely what the three-part EoC formula is all about.

EoC also focuses the reorientation of business — from one of simply generating profit to one of making profit work for man and society. After all, the very rich man who is surrounded by people living in abject poverty will not sleep well at night. That social condition is what foments bloody revolution and class warfare.

When man becomes the center of economic activity, there is unity created between the wealthy with the needy around him because of the sharing. That unity enables a better social climate for business activity and greater investments. There is greater economic activity.

In the Philippines, investments do not come to us (other than our disincentives like too much politics and an unpredictable judiciary) because of the extent of poverty. No businessman will feel safe in such a social condition. Not only that, the many who are poor — if raised to a higher standard of living — will add to a bigger consumer base which in the bottom line is the ultimate investment incentive.

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.

Now more than ever, our country needs to adopt the economic paradigm of the EoC if we are to eliminate the poverty that has long sustained a Communist insurgency and has long threatened to plunge our nation into the vortex of a social explosion.

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