Michael Gunton recommends a new book on the Economy of Communion.
[New City Magazine – 2014]
‘Simply put, the Economy of Communion is out to change the world’, the authors write towards the beginning of this fascinating book. Chiara Lubich launched the Economy of Communion (EoC) in Brazil in 1991, to model a different form of economic activity ‘by consistently privileging relationships over profit-maximising, and by putting profits in common and using them to address acute social needs and concerns’. In response, people around the world began to set up new companies, or to ‘reconfigure’ existing companies, which followed this model. Gradually enough of these businesses, of various sizes and operating in different fields, have emerged, for economists and others to be able to study how they work and to assess in what ways they are different from other enterprises.
In their book, Gallagher and Buckeye (one a professor, the other an associate professor, of management) look at twelve US ‘Economy of Communion’ companies which were founded between 1989 and 2004. After a chapter exploring the EoC in general, the authors study the companies from various angles: organisational culture and leadership, business processes and design, employees and recruitment practices, and competitive practices and pricing, before looking at their customers and at the companies’ ‘defining moments’. While they find that in some ways there is little to distinguish these companies from others they have studied, they also notice aspects which mark them out as different.
In all twelve companies, Gallagher and Buckeye note the importance of forming and maintaining relationships, both between staff and customers, and among the staff and their families. For all the companies, word of mouth is the most important form of marketing. The authors notice that staff work together, and decide things together, to a greater extent than they see in other businesses. In all the companies they witness an ongoing dynamic as staff strive to live the Golden Rule in each moment, among themselves and in their relationships with customers. Staff comment that they don’t need to ‘put on a mask’ when they come to work – they feel they can be themselves at work as much as at home.
For me, the book shows how it is possible for people to make a real difference to the lives of the people round them, and to model a different way of being. As well as finding the book very informative, I also found it immensely reassuring and inspiring.
In their concluding remarks, the authors say:
So is it possible for human beings to create structures which are sanctifying, and that, in effect, contribute to making us holy? If it’s possible for us to cooperate with God’s grace, the answer must be yes. And what might such structures be like? They might look like Economy of Communion companies.