Economy of Communion Part V: The Sustainability of the EOC

John Gallager

And, with respect to a vision for the future, there are two important implications associated with the larger question about formation.  One has to do with the younger generation; the next generation of EOC entrepreneurs and the other has to do with the question of EOC identity; what is, what are the distinguishing characteristics of an EOC business?  What does “belonging to” or  “participating in” the EOC mean?

As to the first, the younger generation must be a part of these conversations for the next 20 years will surely see the evolution of many of the current generations EOC companies.  What will happen to these companies?  Will they be handed down to the next generation? How so?  To me, this question of sustainability is a complete example of the particular challenges faced by EOC entrepreneurs.

As to the second, I have been at EOC meetings where the question has arisen (and been debated) about what exactly qualifies a company to become an EOC company. There are two extremes here.  First we might consider an EOC company to be one whose owner – the entrepreneur  – has a lifetime of experience and formation in the spirituality of unity – in the Focolare – and so, when such an individual steps forward to begin a company, he or she is doing so where it is clear it is an extension of the manner in which they have lived and approached their daily life for a number of years.

But there are also those who might view the EOC as an “entry port” for business people who are skilled entrepreneurs but who have not had the lifelong experience of formation of the Spirituality but who are intrigued and attracted to the spirituality as they become aware of it.  These might run their businesses very well, but might struggle over the demands of the spirituality.  Others might practice the spirituality faithfully, but stumble over practices that could sustain the business.

Let me relate a story. I had a conversation one year ago with a university student who was presenting a very good and astute argument that that a large multinational such as Nestle, S.A. could easily become an EOC business.  Nestle, of course, is one of the largest, most diverse, and global of our companies.  It is certainly not a small entrepreneurial venture.  Moreover, it is a company whose business practices from time to time have raised ethical and moral questions.

But the student’s argument was that an EOC company must fulfill three criteria.  It must devote part of its profits to meeting the needs of the poor, it must devote part of the profits to spreading and developing the culture of communion, and it must devote part of the profits to reinvestment in the business. And so, Nestle certainly reinvests in its business.  Nestle also gives away a significant amount of money to development and to worthwhile charities and causes.  So, if Nestle would start some sort of training institute to educate employees about the virtues of profit reinvestment and of philanthropy, then Nestle would be an EOC company.

I disagreed with the student then, as I would do so now, but this argument raises an important question.  Certainly the EOC is a concrete expression of the spirituality of unity in economic life.  That is, the EOC is an opportunity for persons formed in the Focolare spirituality to practice that spirituality amid the challenges of everyday life. Can it also be a gateway for persons formed in the dominant culture of business to enter in to the spirituality?  I believe that in principle the answer is yes, for we are all familiar with the differing ways that God works in our lives.

At times, this might be through the gentle and prayerful intercession on our behalf while we are busily pursuing some secular ends.  Perhaps Monica praying for her son, Augustine is an example of this.  But, others may experience a lightning bolt of intervention similar to that of Saul of Tarsus.  So, in some ways, the question here is whether the EOC can be a “road to Damascus” for businesspeople not formed in the spirituality of unity.

To all of these ends, there needs to be intentional, purposeful, structured, and ongoing conversation.  And, the younger generation must be a part of these conversations.  Business guidelines and recorded best practices will become the most visible and ongoing manifestation of that conversation but they must also be the “place” to hold this conversation in perpetuity.

Paul Kisolo: Executive Consultant KARDS

Milicent Agutu: Administrator KARDS

Francis Owino: Administrator REG

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