When business puts people at heart

A gathering entitled “Back to the future for a more humane economy” was held March 4 at the Italian embassy to the Holy See. Entrepreneurs, scholars and economists came together for a more just, inclusive and sustainable economy, in line with the upcoming “The Economy of Francis” event.

“In 2000 we opened a small cosmetics company in a 60-square-meter space, with only one employee. Today we work in a building that is 7,500 square meters with 43 people working, and we produce about 100,000 pieces per day.
“People are our profit and our strength.”

So says Marco Piccolo, 45, an entrepreneur from Turin, Italy, who has four children and also finds time to educate young people in his parish.
He and his company joined AIPEC, the Italian Association of Entrepreneurs for an Economy of Communion. The association is linked to Focolare founder Chiara Lubich’s insights of an economic model that puts people and a “culture of giving” at the heart of business.

Reynaldi is a company that has bet heavily on young people and women (currently 70% of their employees and managers), as well as environmental sustainability: the company does not emit CO2, does not waste water or harm the environment. These attributes mean many large companies in northern Europe and the United States buy their products.

“With entrepreneurial vision you can transform an economic system, do things well and focus on caring for the people in the company,” he says at a gathering in Rome at the Italian embassy to the Holy See called “Back to the future for a more humane economy”. The event was promoted by Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, the Focolare Movement and the Italian Embassy to the Holy See. It came from an idea to offer an opportunity to reflect on today’s economic system and the need to start a global renewal so that the economy of the future will be more just, inclusive and sustainable. It is in line with the “The Economy of Francis” event called for by the Holy Father, to be held in Assisi next November.

Piccolo’s company is a virtuous example of a more humane economy in action. It is an economy that, in the words of Pope Francis, “brings to life and does not kill, includes and does not exclude, takes care of creation and does not plunder it”.

Reynaldi was one of the first companies in Italy to transform its legal structure from a for-profit firm to a ‘benefit company’, which means it integrates in its corporate mission, alongside its objective of profit, the goal to have a positive impact on society and the biosphere.

“We take care of the people who work with us, and that’s why we don’t want working hours to be overwhelming,” says Piccolo. “We want there to be time to live for family and for people to be well.”

There have been many virtuous companies or cooperatives in the wake of Piccolo’s. Take Conad, a cooperative Italian large-scale retail company, which involves Caritas offices so as not to waste food from its supermarkets, allocating it to those in need. Or when buying products from other companies, they verify whether they exploit child labour or illegal hiring.

“If each of us does our part, both in our actions and by injecting wellbeing into the community, this can contribute to an overall improvement in society,” says Francesco Pugliese, CEO of Conad, who spoke at the conference.

If we want to redefine economic progress for the future, we need to involve young people who know how to ask questions, speak out and find important answers. And the popes intends them to be the architects of the Economy of Francis.

“We know that St. Francis of Assisi is a source of inspiration for a way of understanding the economy and finance,” says Sister Alessandra Smerilli, Councillor of State for Vatican City. “We hope that the November event will help us rediscover this.
“In Assisi the young people will try to make proposals and work in 12 thematic villages, where we will try to cover all the important issues and present a proposal for each village. It is a personal commitment, but also a commitment to institutions, business and politics,” she concludes.

There is certainly a need for networking, dialogue between institutions, businesses and universities to find solutions to help young people find work. As Ambassador Pietro Sebastiani reminded us: “Today’s world is more complex than it used to be, and many societies have been experiencing the scourge of youth unemployment for too long. But opportunities exist, and everyone must pursue his or her own talent.”

Lorenzo Russo

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