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Interview with Focolare’s Economy of Communion Business

The Houston Catholic Worker Interviewed Joan Duggan and Tom Rowley the Economy of Communion – Joan Duggan and Tom and JoAnn Rowley are co-owners of “Finish Line,” an Economy of Communion educational services business specializing in tutoring. Joan is on the Board of the Economy of Communion for North America.


HCW : Thank you both for your willingness to talk with us about the Economy of Communion, featured in Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate . He said there that we need something new, a whole new way of approaching business and economics for our time and he presented the Economy of Communion of the Focolare movement as a model in his new encyclical. What is that model?

Joan Duggan : The business owners who participate in the project, freely choose to share their business profits according to three purposes of equal importance. They:

1) Help people in need – creating new jobs and intervening to meet their immediate needs beginning with those who share in the spirit that animates the Economy of Communion;

2)Spread the “Culture of Giving” and of loving – indispensable and necessary values for an Economy of Communion;

3)Grow the business – which has to remain efficient while remaining open to giving.


HCW : How are things going with the businesses of the Economy of Communion?

Duggan : The first ten years we were starting and nurturing the businesses. Now after eighteen years we can see that they are viable.


HCW : The Economy of Communion, like the Focolare Movement, is international. In how many countries do you have businesses?

Duggan : There are businesses in at least 65 countries The Focolare is present in 180 nations.


HCW : What are the key concepts which make the Economy of Communion different from other businesses?

Duggan : Gratuitousness and reciprocity.


HCW : Can the concept of the Economy of Communion work with large businesses as well as small?

Duggan : Yes, many are small, but there are several large businesses on different continents; for example, the EoC rural bank in the Philippines has become the third in gross receipts for the whole country.


HCW : How do you share?

Duggan : We look at how we can help each other and be of service to the community.


HCW : Over the past years the Houston Catholic Worker has featured several times the Economy of Communion as a model. We heard one facet described as building up the civilization of love; we have since heard other expressions to describe that part of the profit-sharing.

Duggan : We also sometimes call it the culture of giving or the culture of communion or the art of loving.


HCW: Could you tell us something about how the Economy of Communion can help us respond to the financial crisis around the world?

Duggan : When the focus of the business is centered on the person rather than on profit, it is almost as if the “bottom line” becomes three bottom lines – people, planet and profit, with profit used to the benefit of the people and the planet.


HCW : For what type of businesses would the EoC idea not work?

Duggan : If your bottom line is the dollar, it would not work at all. The person is at the center of the Economy of Communion.


HCW : How is the Sophia University related to the Economy of Communion?

Duggan: Professor Stefano Zamagni has stated (2007) that the Sophia University will be the important key that will keep the EoCiF true to its initial inspiration. In turn, the LIFE of the businesses will go hand-in-hand to help Sophia uncover and enumerate the constructs of the lifestyle. The EoCiF and Sophia are so closely linked that the EoCiF has pledged 200,000 euros annually to support Sophia.

HCW : That concept goes well with Peter Maurin’s idea of the importance of workers and scholars getting to know each other. sharing ideas, and working together.


HCW : We discovered you through Tom and JoAnn Rowley in the Houston area. Could you tell us a little about your own business with them?

Duggan : In fact, Tom, JoAnn and I started EoC’s Finish Line Inc. in New York in 1992 as a direct response to the launching of the EoCiF. Finish Line is an educational services company whose main service is one-on-one tutoring. As we have grown with the EoCiF lifestyle, we have come to trust more and more in God’s providence and gratuitousness. At this point at the end of each calendar year, we zero out our account and start again. In October we will be expanding, adding a second facility.


HCW : What is your response to Pope Benedict’s recommenda-tion of the Economy of Communion in his new encyclical?

Tom Rowley : It is the answer to our prayers. We have been excited to know that people are making inquiries from all over the United States and the world asking those involved to shed more light on what the Economy of Communion actually is.


HCW : There have been some criticisms of Caritas in Veritate , both from those who want to keep the old extreme capitalistic models (e.g., George Weigel) and from others complaining about how hard it is to read. We did not find it so. Where could this idea have come from?

Rowley : I was surprised at how easy it is to read. Chapters 3 and 4 on economics were extremely easy and clear. A vacuum has been created by the financial crisis of today. Maybe they are saying this because the encyclical shakes the founda-tions of the past years, even decades, of capitalism and the very idea of what economics is.


HCW : Where can people find more information on this fascinating approach to business?

Duggan : Several web sites, beginning with www.edc-online.org . Also the work of economists Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni, some of which is available on the web.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, September-October, 2009.