EDMONTON — In today’s business culture that emphasizes maximizing profits, businesspeople are asking, “What can I get?” A new course at Newman Theological College will be teaching businesspeople how to shift their mentality to asking, “What can I give?”
Capitalism is based on the principle of wealth accumulation without consideration for one’s neighbour. However, philosopher Jim Penna and ecological economist Mark Anielski are offering a different approach — an economy of communion.
Building Economies of Communion: A Civilization of Love is an intensive credit course being held at Newman Theological College. Penna and Anielski will teach the course May 27-29.
Anielski, a professor of business ethics at the University of Alberta, said people too often believe that their worship on Sunday has no connection with their business practices. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Most of my business students tell me that all they’re schooled in is making money, and that’s it,” he said. “Competition, in the Latin, means ‘to strive together,’ which is a radical departure from what we think competition is.”
Following the concepts of cooperative business enterprises found in Emilia Romagna in Italy, the course explores spiritually-based entrepreneurship, cooperative business practices and a culture of love. Equating a business with a fraternity, people share with each other like brothers and sisters, both in the marketplace and in other areas of life.
“We are schooled not to trust each other and schooled to maximize profits. Is there really an altruistic bone in our bodies?” asked Anielski. “On one hand we have a market that is all about self-interest. But another part of us is also compelled to share.”
The course is based on ideas developed by Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, an international Catholic organization that promotes the ideals of unity and brotherhood.
Focolare offers an alternative to the capitalist model of profit-maximization. Students will explore the challenges of living an ethical, virtuous life as a businessperson.
“Chiara Lubich had a new way of doing business, and that was to set up businesses in such a way that the profits would help not only the people who started the business for their own livelihood and well-being, but would also go to help other people in the community through charity. It furthers the idea of helping people to help themselves,” said Penna, a retired philosophy professor who lives in Saskatoon.
The course is appropriate for businesspeople, young entrepreneurs, students and those seeking an alternative approach to doing business.
An example Penna uses to explain the theory is that of a woman selling handmade slippers. She needs some way of displaying her wares. If someone buys a table for her to display her slippers, she can increase her sales. In turn, she is able to provide more for her own needs and her own family, help her neighbours, and perhaps buy a new chair to sit in while selling the slippers.
“This is the way her profits worked . . . one part went for her own upkeep and maintenance of the business, another part went for helping the poor, and if there was anything left over it went to a collective pool for developing more businesses in the community,” said Penna.
The concepts for such a business are rooted in spiritual values, such as integrity, sacrifice, truth, the common good, social responsibility and human dignity.
“An economy of communion is based on the Gospels, of course,” said Penna. “In the early Christian community, they shared everything they had and they contributed to the common welfare of the community.”