“COVID-19 has reshaped political, socio-economic conditions, raising the urgency for a rethink of the economic system.”
According to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
(ESCAP), the pandemic has spawned the “worst crisis in Asia-Pacific since World War II.” Widespread job losses and worsening of poverty have plunged our economies into deep recession.
In 2016, or long before the onset of COVID-19, a group of scholars described the huge chasm between the haves and the have-nots: The 1.2 billion poorest people account for one percent of global consumption; and the one billion richest consume 75 percent of global GDP. In a measure of extreme absurdity, the 62 richest people in the world have amassed the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion.
Half of the world is owned by no more than a tiny elite whose members could all sit comfortably in a train carriage, while those at the bottom of the pyramid are struggling to meet their basic needs.
This is how economists describe the stark inequality in the Indo-Pacific region:
The region’s combined income inequality, measured by Gini coefficient, has increased by over five percentage points in last 20 years – contrary to almost all other regions. Income inequalities grew in almost 40 percent of all countries. China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore experienced sharp increases.
Even as participants at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland marveled at the dizzying pace of digital transformation that has ushered in the fourth industrial revolution, they, too, came to terms with the imperatives of environment, sustainability and governance.
In December 2020, an extraordinary meeting took place at the Vatican. Twenty seven CEOs of large global corporations were gently reminded by Pope Francis to “include the excluded” and “work with the poor.”
They formed the Guardians of Inclusive Capitalism: A group of individuals and institutions with more than $10.5 trillion in assets and companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $2 trillion and 200 million employees in 163 countries.
Ahead of these Guardians, Paul Polman, Unilever CEO from 2009 to 2019, steered the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
Unilever pivoted and re-engineered its businesses: Reaching 1.3 billion people through health and hygiene programs; reducing the total waste footprint per consumer use of products by 32 percent and achieving zero waste to landfill across all factories; reducing greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing by 65 percent; and achieving 100 percent renewable grid electricity across sites.
Other notable achievements were: Reducing sugar across all sweetened tea-based beverages by 23 percent, and 56 percent of foods portfolio now meets recognized high nutrition standards; and enabling 2.34 million women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities; move towards a gender balanced workplace in which 51 percent of management roles are held by women.
Indeed, that’s the power of one giant multinational corporation led by an enlightened CEO. But how can such exemplary power be radiated and expanded?
In 1991, Chiara Lubich carved from the core of the Focolare movement Economy of Communion (EOC), a humanitarian organization that now counts among its members successful global companies that propagate “faith in action” in the business world.
In the Economy of Communion’s Trinitarian principle, the wealth or profits created by the enterprise is to be shared in three ways: a) reinvestment in the company; b) distribution to the poor and to those in need; and c) support to the community, by way of infrastructure that promotes the culture of giving — model towns, publishing houses, formation centers.
EOC business owners consider their spiritual — and religious — drive as being integral to, and directly linked with the purpose of enterprise. In a survey among business directors, these leaders acknowledged that their “main motivation for their participation in the EOC was a ‘religious’ one.” One business director said that her main motivation in the EOC was the fact that it granted her “the possibility to give a new soul to the economy.”
The application of Focolare spirituality within the enterprises that profess adherence to the Economy of Communion highlights the fact that — within the context of intersecting commercial, legal, political and cultural spheres of action — their leaders are able to adapt and embed their beliefs into the fabric of day-to-day business.
The changes in internal business practices include: Building up the business as a community of stakeholders who believe in the heart of Focolare spirituality which is that of creating relationships based on mutual love and understanding; enhancement of pay; creation of employment — especially for the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged — as a necessary element of enterprise; and sustenance of employment even in the face of economic difficulties.
In a world characterized by gross inequality, the Economy of Communion is carving pathways to inclusion.