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Economy of Communion, 25 years of challenges met

The revolutionary business model of Loppiano: sharing, not capitalizing

by Alessandro Zaccuri

published in Avvenire on 1/10/2016

160930 1002 Convention Edc 2016 05 ridIn a period of time where emergency consists in the increase of inequality and, in fact, the erosion of what was once considered the middle class even and especially in advanced countries, there is an alternative paradigm of growth that yields a "win win" situation, enriches society and helps to reduce inequality, because it is based on sharing. The "happy development" is occurring in at least four areas in our country: in civil economy's institutions and organisations making up a large part of the third sector, the world of for-profit enterprises designed to go beyond CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), in advanced parts of the general public and, informally and even in civil society, through self-organizing citizens.

Giacomo Linaro has put everything in writing. He did so to avoid losing the thread, perhaps also in order not to get overwhelmed with feelings. The thread is not lost indeed, but his voice cracks on more than one occasion, as it is normal when the past comes back to you with all its joys and hardships, successes and failures. "Solitude, at times, is very strong," he says with the beautiful simplicity 160930 1002 Convention Edc 2016 02 ridof a businessman who has never thought only of himself. Because the secret of the Economy of Communion (EoC) is just that: sharing rather than hoarding, donating instead of keeping everything for yourself.

It is a story that celebrates 25 years in 2016, a year marked by further financial turmoil and resurgent national egoism, in a context that is still far from the ideal of "New Humanity" so intimately connected with the spirituality of the Focolare Movement and the charisma of its founder, Chiara Lubich. But the economy of communion is not just for today, and it is certainly not history from yesterday. "It was never a utopia: we immediately started focusing on concrete actions that would affect the future," stresses Alberto Ferrucci, former business executive who received the mandate to follow the evolution of the project from Lubich herself.

It is by no coincidence that LoppianoLab - the national laboratory which these days serves as the connection point between the many experiences of entrepreneurship that originate from Favelas San Paolo CN ridthe Focolare centres - has chosen to place the subject of poverty in the centre. All began, in fact, from there. "From a woman's gaze directed at the contradictions of a city," sums it up economist Luigino Bruni while opening the forum that features the EoC pioneers as protagonists. The reference is to the journey Chiara Lubich made in Brazil in May 1991: from the aeroplane that circles over Sao Paulo waiting for the permission to land, Chiara feels painfully amazed to see the contrast between the skyscrapers of the business centre and the barracks surrounding the metropolis. She suffers to observe so much inequality (an apt neologism introduced by Pope Francis) to the point of feeling sick, but she decides: something has to be done, and it has to be done immediately.

The EoC was born from this urgency, bringing to light some principles already present in the action of 160930 1002 Convention Edc 2016 01 ridseveral businessmen linked to Focolare: sharing profits in favour of the poor, attention to human capital, investment in education and culture. In '91, the Berlin Wall had just fallen and financial capitalism seemed to master the scene, but in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II recommended not to lose sight of "the truth about man."  Linaro, who had launched the consortium of social cooperatives between Genoa and La Spezia named "Roberto Tassano", a few years before, was among the firsts to join the EoC's method. In the same group, among others, there is Livio Bertola, owner of a chromium plating company in the Cuneo area, and Franco Caradonna, directing a company of chemical treatment of metals, as well as Unitrat from Bari, the name of which can be read as "united among all (in Italian: uniti tra tutti - the tr.)" These are organisations that had existed before the actual launch of the EoC (Unitrat had been operational since 1976, 160930 1002 Convention Edc 2016 06 ridBertola since 1946 already), for which the mandate of Chiara Lubich was a challenge and a confirmation. "Relational goods are our real wealth," says Paolo Bertola, one of Livio's sons, who is very active now in the company. His presence at the LoppianoLab forum is a sign of how the passing of the baton between generations is now happening. 

Even when an experience ends, as has happened for Bertagna Filati run by the spouses Giovanni and Giuliana, nothing is lost: employees take initiative and the EoC gets very far.  Even to Tokyo, which is another stronghold of indifferent globalization.

Italy remains at the forefront with 263 companies "of communion". There are another 200 of them spread across Europe, 220 are located in Latin America, 64 in Africa, 26 in North America and 18 in Asia. Not to mention the theses written on the topic: "Those of which we are aware are 380, but there could be many more," explains Antonella Ferrucci, curator of the www.edc-online.org site. Of course, numbers are not everything. But in this case they are very telling.



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