Meeting New EoC Member Andrew Gustafson of Communion Properties

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vegasWe’re happy to welcome new EoC member Prof. Andrew Gustafson, of Communion Properties in Omaha, Nebraska.

Pete Benedetto recently had the chance to interview him.

Please tell us about your work in academia:

I have been a professor of business ethics at the Heider College of Business at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska for the last 10 years. Although I teach business courses, I have my PhD in philosophy and so that affects the way I teach about business, ethics, and society. Philosophy asks the questions “what are you doing?” and “why are you doing it?”, which are questions that every person should ask themselves, not least of all people within business. I believe that every function of business – from marketing to finance – has the power to transform culture and society. I have found a small way to do this with my own business.

Please tell us about your business and its mission:

I have a real estate business buying, rehabbing, leasing and managing residential properties. I created this business in 1999 while I was studying for my PhD at Bethel College. My first real estate project came about when I had a ‘mid-life crisis’ of sorts, because I was nearly 30 and I felt all I had ‘created’ was a stack of research papers. I needed to also do something less cerebral and more connected to physical reality, and I was looking for a way to maintain ties with my hometown of Aurora, Nebraska.

asm_100_0690I bought a house for $15,000 in Aurora and transformed it into my first rental property. I really enjoyed the process and reward of restoring a decrepit building into a home. There is a ‘redemptive’ quality to the work—and I do see my work renewing these buildings as being in line and in the spirit of God’s desire to renew and redeem creation. I went on to purchase, rehab and manage seven more rental homes within my hometown. After completing my studies, I moved to Omaha for the position I now have at Creighton. My wife and I decided to live near school, Gifford Park, which was known 10 years ago as a not-ideal neighborhood, with occasional knife-fights, prostitutes, and shootings.  The first house was a Triplex I lived in which had been previously known for drugs and dog fighting in the basement.  One thing led to another and and we now have 22 homes in Omaha.

One of the most rewarding things beyond the redemption aspect of rehabbing buildings is that owning this business has given me the chance to provide employment to homeless people and others dealing with various struggles. This is not always easy, but it gives me the chance to provide work and dignity to those in need. These folks have also become some of my close friends. We’re lucky to be in a walkable neighborhood where we know our neighbors, many of whom are our tenants, and to be directly invested in the community we live in. I feel blessed to have a well-integrated life where my day job and my ‘hobby’ of transforming homes are aligned.

How did you learn about the Economy of Communion?

I was at a conference in the Philippines on business solutions to poverty where I met John Gallagher and Michael Naughton. John and I had a series of really good conversations and when John heard about my interests and work, he told me about the EoC and recommended that I look into it. I did. Then he invited me to the EOC conference at Catholic University in Washington D.C. this summer, and I went to it and loved what I heard.

The conference in the Phillipines had inspired me to launch an MBA class at Creighton entitled Business, Faith and the Common Good, which then led to the formation of an institute of the same name. The Institute was created to “to promote discussion, collaboration, and research which help understand the relationship between business and faith, and how business can contribute to the common good.” I had begun a symposium by that name in 2014, and so for this year’s symposium in October of 2015, I invited John Gallagher to present, and also to speak in my MBA class and discuss his new book Structures of Grace, which is a survey of the business practices of the EoC in the U.S.  So now we have a class, a symposium, and an institute aimed at the integration of faith and business, and EOC is a good fit for that concern.

Why did you choose to get involved?

11709731_10206235699403986_429014817643093876_nThe EoC’s focus on gratuity and reciprocity really stood out to me. The values and the vision of the organization fit with the work I’m involved in. The idea of connecting with like-minded people who I could learn from, be encouraged by, and, in some sense, be accountable to, really appealed to me. When making decisions within my business, I can now ask myself ‘How would others in the EoC look at this? What would they do in this situation?’ I wanted to connect with people who are intentional in running their businesses in a certain way. Other EoC members are model exemplars for how to do things better. The EoC helps help me to be more structured in putting into practice the ideals I’ve been trying to run my business by.

Tell us more about how the EoC’s philosophy affects your work:

Through reading the EoC’s literature, I gained a deeper understanding of the principles of gratuity and reciprocity – looking at the marketplace as a place of “gracious exchange”. The emphasis on the humaneness of business transactions – the fact that every business exchange involves and affects real people – provides a needed perspective that is often overlooked in our society. The EoC embodies and gives structure to the concept of what business is supposed to be about. I attempt to put this into practice when dealing with my tenants and others I encounter through my business.

What do you hope to contribute to the EoC?

I can start with what I personally have to contribute: First, I can promote EOC and help people learn about it through my classes and institute events.  Second, I am a thinker and communicator, and I teach philosophical concepts to business students– which involves making complex concepts understandable. I’d love to help the EoC communicate with various audiences and be a sounding board for how to best convey our mission and work. I’d like to help other EoC entrepreneurs spread the word about what the EoC is and through this to inspire others to think about the role and potential of business the way the EoC does.

EoC featured in Leaders in Development Seminar at CUA on Nov 4th

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“The Economy of Communion: Social Entrepreneurship Fostering Integral Development”

Cruz-Zuniga, Martha C.
Martha Cruz-Zuniga, Program Chair

The Chair of Integral Economic Development invites you at the Catholic University of America on Wednesday, November 4th, for a seminar with Nick Sanna. Mr. Sanna is the COO of RiskLens, a cyber risk management software company.

Nick is a regular lecturer at universities across the US on the subject of social entrepreneurship. He is a board member of the Economy of Communion initiative in North America and is an advisory board member of the school of business and economics at CUA. Nick received a masters degree in Economics and Trade from the University of Rome La Sapienza.

Food and drinks will be served afterward. Our seminars are free and open to the public!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
5:10 – 6:30 PM
McMahon Hall, Room 201
The Catholic University of America
620 Michigan Ave NE
Washington, D.C. 20064

Please RSVP to allenmm@cua.edu

EOC Meeting 2016 | June 10-12 | Mark Your Calendar

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The dates and venue for our annual conference of the Economy of Communion (EoC) have been set. So please mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information as we get closer to the event.

University of St. Thomas

  • The University of St Thomas in St. Paul, MN has kindly offered to host the event, following last year’s presentation of the EOC as part of the Higher Calling series.
  • The meeting will be held on June 10-12, 2016. 

Experiences: Relocating to a New Office, Together

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Anne_NIC_100My name is Anne Godbout and I started Spiritours, a tour operator specialized in spiritual journeys and pilgrimages, in 2003, as an EoC business.

Before the end of last year, we had to find a new office space as our lease ended December 1st, 2014. I gave birth to my first born in May 2014 and was on maternity leave. Up until October I found very little time and energy to visit office spaces for rent with my little one, therefore employees started to worry since I hadn’t confirmed anything… I started doing more visits, then rumors started to go around in the office that I was looking for a space close to my house and some employees didn’t like this idea because it was far from their home.

header-english-v11I was actually looking for a location near my house (and close to a subway station), but I was also looking in different areas of the city, including the area where our office was at the time. My assistant convinced me I should come and speak with the employees to clarify things. At first I didn’t want to consult them because I thought i would become an endless debate since each probably had their own criterias and priorities.

However, because she asked me, and I knew she was doing it for the best interest of everyone, I scheduled an appointment and took the time to prepare a power point with pictures of the top 5 spaces I had found and details on where it was located, how far it was from a subway station, the office layout plan…

Spiritours-1Before I showed them the power point, I asked them to fill a short survey (individually) to know what their priorities were. I explained to them I didn’t want a debate nor a vote, but wanted them to be able to express what they thought was the most important and give them an idea of the options we had. At the end I asked them by email to tell me what were their top 3 places among the options we had and why; this helped me know what they really thought.

My first choice would have been an office close to my house that was brand new, but I had to give it up, because it was the most infamous for its location, so I picked my second choice which was the first choice of most employees, even though it needed important renovations. I negociated the terms with the owner and got him to take care of some renovations that he started almost right away since we only had about one month left to prepare everything…

Spiritours-3I hired a general contractor and a decorator for the renovations I had to take care of. They all did such a great job and respected the delays. There were so many things to do, I didn’t know how I was going to manage with the baby, daycare in Montreal is hard to find, there are long waiting lists and my baby was only 6 month old. I remembered my neighbor had a home daycare, so I asked if she had space and if she could take my baby part time, she had one space open, so she accepted right away, that was for me a manifestation of God’s love for us.

We managed to do everything on time. When the moving company finished to pack their truck with our boxes, we hurried to the new office and I surprised them with a beautifully decorated reception hall with new sofas and… pizza! We had a lot of fun together that day, we goofed around and ended the day with some beers, feeling exhausted but proud and very happy.

One thing my employees didn’t like about the former place was the layout, they were 4 in one office and 3 in the other one and when they were all on the phone at the same time, it was hard for them to concentrate, so they liked the idea of individual offices in the new space, but at the same time they feared to be isolated from the rest of the team and lose the family spirit, so I arranged it with the owner to make openings the size of a window between some offices so they could see and talk to their team partners and exchange files (they work in pairs). We also have lots of communal spaces like the kitchen, the living room, the welcome hall and the meeting room where we can meet and chat to keep building relationships everyday. We even have an oasis of silence (prayer room).

Spiritours-4The next Monday after the moving, each employee found a little cactus in bloom and a welcome note handwritten from their boss on their desk.

I keep hearing from the employees that they really like the new office and I can feel the atmosphere is very positive! We did the inauguration in February and a priest who leads pilgrimages for Spiritours blessed our new headquarter. They even talked about this event in the medias.

Next I want to hear an experience from Nick Sanna…


Greetings from Montreal

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Anne Godbout sent us a few pictures of their latest EOC meeting held on Oct. 11, 2015, along with this note:

“Local EOC meeting over a delicious brunch at Spiritours’ office today in Montreal, Canada. We had a wonderful time! Then we went to visit Francois Luc’s new shoe store in Boucherville, another EOC business.”

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Meeting New EoC Member Kathy Troxell of Turning Point Benefit Group

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kathy-troxell1We’re happy to welcome new EoC member Kathy Troxell, of Turning Point Benefit Group in Frederick, Maryland.

We recently had the chance to interview her.

Tell us about your business and its mission.

I co-founded my company, Turning Point Benefit Group, in 1994 with my business partner, Tom Pignone.  Our mission is to help people make better financial decisions through our financial planning and investment advisory services. The question we asked ourselves at the outset was, ‘How can we add value to people’s lives?’ From the beginning, we chose not to follow the prevailing advice to build our business by pursuing wealthy clients. Rather, we chose to accept clients of all sizes, while remaining sustainable.

How did you learn about the EoC?

I was watching a program on EWTN and there was a couple being interviewed that referred to the EoC and the work of Mundell and Associates. My first thought was, “There’s an organization doing this?!” I was excited to learn that there were people out there who sought to run their business in the same way we did. I had to find out more. I found the EoC website and emailed Nick Sanna. He invited me to a summer family retreat called the Mariapolis in Virginia a few weeks later and I had the chance to go and learn more about the EoC and its core values. It was an incredible experience.

Why did you decide to get involved?

There are lots of resources available for building businesses (like coaches and industry experts), but none focused on the ‘why’ of business, just the ‘how’. We held similar ideas to the Focolare and the EoC before hearing about these organizations. We had always strived to build human-centered principles into our business, but we were looking for a more structured and concrete way to accomplish this. We sought to build charity into our business and the EoC seemed like a great way to do this. Up to now, our charity work has been separate from our core business activities and took the form of sponsorships and volunteering. We see becoming part of the EoC as an opportunity to change the fabric of the business to reflect our values.

I really appreciate that this is not just an opportunity for myself, but it involves a commitment from our entire business. This is a great chance to engage all of our employees. Our younger employees have a strong desire to connect with the deeper mission of our work. They realize that life is not about making it to the finish line with the most money and they are truly driven by a desire to help others. As a result, they are championing the EoC initiative internally.

What do you hope to contribute to the EoC?

Being quite new, I’m in the process figuring that out. I’m starting with an attitude of being present and open, and going from there. Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I hope to contribute towards helping the needy and sharing my experiences with others and helping them incorporate the principles of the EoC into their own businesses. I am really excited to meet other EoC entrepreneurs and I hope to connect with the others in my region. One initial idea is to have an event where entrepreneurs host other EoC members in their places of work to demonstrate what they do and talk about why they do it. It could be a really great opportunity to share ideas and build relationships!

D.C. 2015: New Horizons of the EoC in North America

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On July 17-19, over 5150717-19_Washington_EoC_Meeting_05_rid0 participants gathered from all over the US and Canada to attend the annual meeting of the Economy of Communion (EoC), which was hosted by the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C.

The varied audience of entrepreneurs, academics, students and business professionals engaged in 3 days of rich and intense dialogue around an economy based on a culture of communion. The program featured exchanges about business practices and experiences of EoC members, alongside interactive workshops.

150717-19_Washington_EoC_Meeting_02_ridThe experience of the EoC over the past few years has revealed how poverty and wealth can be seen through a richer lens when lived from the perspective of communion. Meeting participants explored the many facets of need (not just material), and how wealth can turn into ‘super-abundance’ when shared as part of relationships grounded in reciprocity.

The question and answer sessions by Prof. Gallagher (Maryville College) and Prof. Buckeye (St. Thomas), authors of the recent book on the EoC in North America called “Structures of Grace”, as well as a presentation led by Prof. Zuniga (CUA) on recent analysis of a social project supported by the EoC, provided examples of how the EoC can help generate true integral development of individuals and communities. These research contributions have helped to measure the impact of the EoC with new rigor, and more clearly articulate its activities and culture.

150717-19_Washington_EoC_Meeting_03_ridExperiences shared by EoC members and interactive sessions animated by Amy Uelmen (Georgetown University), Prof. Cloutier (Mount St Mary’s), Prof. Miguel Garcia-Cestona (Univ. Autonoma) and Claude Blanc (CHB Associates) highlighted the transformational role that each one of us can have in fostering a culture of communion in the workplace and in our communities, and how this often manifests itself in small everyday choices that we face.

The workshops were very hands-on and helped kick-start 3 new projects that were identified as priorities for the upcoming year:

  • Form a strong EoC network in North America.
  • Articulate the EoC principles in terms best suited for a North American audience.
  • Identify the criteria for selecting a social development project in North America that the EoC can support, beyond current support of projects overseas.

Feedback from new and repeat participants point to a luminous discovery and re-discovery of the EoC, and of a renewed enthusiasm and commitment to the continued development of the EoC in North America.

For more information about the North American Association of the EoC and to register to the blog, go to www.eocnoam.org.150717-19_Washington_EoC_Meeting_06_600_rid

My Experience with the Company Cube™ at Faraday Elementary School

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By Van Bensett, Project Director, vanb@lifedirections.org, 773.663.7597

small-people-cube-200LD started its Peer Mentor Program at Faraday Elementary School through unexpected circumstances. On March 18th, LD was poised to begin its Peer Motivation Program at Marshall High School, but the school was hit with a “double whammy.” Chicago Public Schools determined that it would have to administer the federally mandated Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Test, adding a new layer of testing to a complex system of tests already mandated by CPS, the State of Illinois, and college admissions.

On March 13th, I went to Marshall to meet with teachers to select students for the program. Instead, at the entrance stood a crowd of television cameras, news reporters, police, school security and students. The media needed to film reactions to the sports brawl and suspensions at both schools. School security stood at the doorway. No media or visitors without a prior appointment approved by the principal would be admitted. The mayoral campaign was in full swing. The school was in crisis control. When I met with the principal it was clear that LD would not be able to do Peer Motivation that semester. “Testing is our priority. Call us in June; Freshman Connections could be a possibility.”

With this in mind, I scheduled a meeting with the dean of students at an elementary school located directly behind Marshall. We agreed to a partnership. On April 15th Life Directions initiated groups with 8th graders at Faraday Elementary School. Three adult mentors helped to facilitate three groups with twenty-nine students. We used Focolare cubes at the beginning of each group activity to select a positive value to live that day, especially during group interactions.

Our first discovery was that 8th graders prefer the Company Cube over the Cube of Peace. This was interesting in itself since the Cube of Peace was developed especially for elementary school classrooms:

“The Cube of Peace systematically teaches students and adults to focus on the positive: to respect differences, overcome difficulties and solve problems. Those who use the Cube build a sense of community within their educational setting that increases self-esteem and respect for others who are different from them. Incidents of bullying and behavior problems decrease, and students become more mindful and reflective of their behavior. It fosters an environment that maximizes learning and helps students become co-builders of peace.”[1]

For the 8th graders at Faraday it felt a little contrived. Anti-bullying language is part of the discipline code, special non-academic programs, and hallway “advertising.” So when the Cube was rolled to “Treat each person with respect” our classroom comedian rose to the occasion. Using his best “Euro-American therapist’s voice” he parroted the “right” response. “We need to respect ourselves then we will know how to respect others.” His classmates giggled. His answer was intended for the adults in the room, not for himself or his peers.

The next week I had an inspiration. I had been studying the Company Cube for a presentation to adults as a “new way of doing business.” The light bulb went off. What if I used the Company Cube with the 8th graders? Many were already interested in applying for “apprenticeships” with After School Matters. Others had been part of sports teams. Some were even interested in being entrepreneurs. The Company Cube may have been developed to ignite the “new small business revolution,” but I could see it working equally as well with middle and high school students.

At the beginning of the next session I introduced the Company Cube. “I know you are interested in jobs. I also know that many of you have already learned to be team players. So I brought something new for today. It’s the Company Cube, designed by a businessman and used by companies that desire excellence in persons for the good of all. If each person can fulfil his or her potential the results ripple into the wider world, interweaving interpersonal relationships that “see” the good in everyone. Its six values are simple. If you practice them they will help you to find a job and keep a job. The key values are (1) BUILD relationships every day (2) SHARE expertise, time, yourself (3) FIRST to help others (4) SUPPORT with actions, not just words (5) VALUE every person, every idea and (6) COMPETITORS can be friends too.”

Before the groups started, a student would roll the Company Cube. Another volunteered to read from the worksheet.[2] In turn, facilitators encouraged their students to live it in the present moment, and challenged those not keeping the value in their interactions. Repetition and examples helped to teach the values. When one group rolled “FIRST to help others” and reported back “Some of us might not have jobs this summer. But each of us can be the ‘FIRST to help others.’ So our group named two people we could help and how we could help them” I knew we were on to something. The groups were listening and answering for themselves!

On the last day of our program, Paulina Sennett of Ideal Safety Communications, an Economy of Communion company joined us. She shared how the Cube had helped her company and made a presentation on the importance of job safety for teens. Her experiences gave life to the discussion. Near the end of our time together, Paulina asked, “What can you do to make sure you are never fired from your job?”

“Work hard.”

“Be on time”

“Do what you’re told!” they said in rapid succession.

In the back of the room, ever so slowly, one of Chicago’s best basketball prospects raised his hand. “We can start our own businesses” he said softly, not quite sure of his answer.

Paulina beamed, “You’re exactly right!” Now it was his turn to beam so pleased to have the right answer be his.

 

[1] The Cube of Peace: A Teaching Tool that Reduces Bullying and Promotes Unity, p. 3.

[2] The Company Cube: The New Small Business Revolution (2013) pp. 3-4.

Culture Of Communion Generates Shared Wealth

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We are happy to share a nice interview to Dr. Lorna Gold, the Irish author of one of the early books of the EoC, following the international conference of the EoC that was held in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of May.

In her talk at the Nairobi conference, which attracted 300 business people from 41 countries and 5 continents, Dr Gold said that each culture proposes its own definition of wealth and poverty, including the culture of communion.

“If ‘wealth’ is taken as a shorthand for the aspiration for progress of individuals and nations, and poverty the lesser state they want to leave behind, communion offers a unique interpretative key,” she said.

Despite owning little, in fact, those who live in communion have a great patrimony of wealth both in terms of material and non-tangible goods, she continued.

“It is a Gospel paradox which reveals an economic logic – spiritual detachment, if lived out of love, sparks a circulation of goods, talents, ideas, good will, which generates abundance.”

In the culture of communion, there was a “phenomenal capacity to generate shared wealth” she said.

To read the full article, access the following link.

The EOC In Action At The University of St. Thomas

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The Economy of Communion was featured at a “Higher Calling” event organized on April 14th, 2015 by the Opus College of Business of the University of St. Thomas and the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought.


130 people attended the event. Among them entrepreneurs, academics, students, young professional and members of local faith groups. John Mundell, Nicola Sanna, Jeanne Buckeye, and John Gallagher participate in a panel discussion at the Catholic Studies Higher Calling of the Entrepreneur Series in Woulfe Alumni Hall on Tuesday, April 14, 2015.The title of the event was: “The Entrepreneurial Vision of the Economy of Communion: Creating a Business Where All Can Flourish”.

Prof. Jeanne Buckeye of the John Ryan Institute made un introductory presentation of the EOC that was followed by the experience of two entrepreneurs – Nick Sanna and John Mundell – and an analysis of the EOC led by Prof. John Gallagher of Maryville College TN. A vibrant panel discussion and Q&A session with the audience concluded the evening.


The audience was very engaged and the Q&A session had to be interrupted while questions were still pending to conclude on time. Many of the participants told us that they wanted to learn more about the EOC and some indicated the interest to turn their own business into an Economy of Communion business and their intent to be the first ones in the Twin Cities. Professor Jeanne Buckeye speaks at the Catholic Studies Higher Calling of the Entrepreneur Series in Woulfe Alumni Hall on Tuesday, April 14, 2015.Our trip to the Twin Cities concluded by a formal invitation by Prof. Michael Naughton of the University of St. Thomas and the John A. Ryan Institute to host our annual 2016 meeting at the University of St. Thomas. We are excited about the possibility to continue develop our partnership with those institutions and to support the nascent EOC community in MN. The VIDEO of the presentation is accessible through the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIiynWcig7U