The Economy of Francesco: not an endpoint, but the beginning of a process
“Welcome to Assisi and the Economy of Francesco!” These were the words of Catalina Hinojosa from Ecuador, transmitted from the Chapel of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Italy. Her youthful voice vibrated with energy inside the medieval church with a harmony that foreshadowed the harmony that would flow among all during the next three days of the international event.
Catalina wasn’t alone. She was accompanied by Amine Sahnouni, a young Muslim from Algeria and by Jena Espelita from the Philippines. There was also a pair of Italian musicians from the NYADO Group whose music brought even more warmth to the event. The whole world was represented in that small chapel, and that small chapel enveloped every corner of the world. The number of participants continued to rise as they welcomed participants from around the world. There were people linked up from all five continents.
The long-awaited moment had arrived, but it was not as we had imagined it would be. Even though we weren’t able to be together physically, being together online made it possible for us to reach many more people.
This is not the final event
Several journals and news agencies called it “the final event” of the Economy of Francesco. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Pope Francis himself underscored this in his closing remarks: “This virtual encounter in Asissi is not an endpoint for me, but the initiall thrust of a process that we are invited to go on living as a calling, as a culture, as a pact.” The pope continued to say that in order for this to take place, we young people are called to have a concrete impact in the “city and university, in the workplace and in the syndicates, in businesses and movements, in public and private offices – with intelligence, effort and determination in order to reach the nucleus where [economic] paradigms are decided. This is what pushes me to invite you to realize this pact”.
Calling this the “beginning” doesn’t do justice to the whole process, because the local networks of young entrepreneurs and economists had already been very busy for over a year, questioning the big economic problems in today’s world. In this phase, 12 thematic “villages” were activated in which economic principles for the world of tomorrow were discussed. It was these groups of young people which steered the conversation and the topics that were examined during the event.
Young people at the center
The young people from around the world as protagonists was the main feature of the event right from the first minutes of the broadcast, and it continued for the three days of the event during the moments of personal and collective reflection, the debates and discussions, and so on. Even though it was an open event, the Economy of Francesco was an appeal to young people under the age of 35 to sign on to a pact to give a new soul to the global economy. The role of the protagonist is essential, the Pope said, and it is not the only role. Renowned economist Kate Raworth also referred to this when she recalled that the young people of the 21st century have gone through several crises, from the financial collapse to the climate breakdown. But, above all, it is the young people who are giving answers to these crises. Raworth, who spoke at the event, demonstrated her point by referring to the way “the young people were capable of talking around the linguistic barriers and the barriers of their differences and of their cultures until they came to one collective idea.”
There were also other well-known economists on the panel of speakers who shared their knowledge and experience: Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, scholar and activist Vandana Shiva, economist and consultant Jeffrey Sachs, scholar and economist Stefano Zamagni, and others.
Economy of Francesco (EoF), the Main Ingredients
It’s like making a pizza. You can’t attribute the good taste to just one of the ingredients. Sister Alessandra Smerilli, who is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Economy of Francesco, talked about a few of the ingredients that she considers fundamental for the continuation of “the Local Hubs that provide the space within which the young people could act as protagonists.” She was referring to local communities that are activated within cities. During the event, many of these Hubs were real points of encounter that gathered many people who were following the transmission from around the world. Sister Alessandra continued, “The thematic villages that you have created provide an opportunity to continue working on specific topics.” And, in the end, these local hubs become the international Hub.
Scientific Director of the Economy of Francesco, Professor Luigino Bruni, underscored themes of freedom, purity and the internationality of the process: “It has been a generative event, one without property or owners: the young people are like the trout who immediately know if the water is clean. The fact that the Pope and St. Francis were the guarantors of the initiative made young people perceive the authenticity and universality of this “convocation”. Only gratuitousness can set such a process in motion”.
Willing to get one’s hands dirty
In his closing remarks, Pope Francis said: “No shortcuts. Be leaven. Get your hands dirty…” Then, like someone who had forgotten but then caught his breath and was able to say even more loudly the word that he most appreciated from this process: CREATIVITY.
‘History teaches us that there are no systems or crises capable of completely nullifying the capacity, ingenuity and creativity that God never ceases to arouse in hearts,” the pope said. Yes, creativity. Because besides being inspired by God, as the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ underscores, I condsider it to be one of the principle characteristics of youth.
Creativity is at the heart of creating anything and this was constantly apparant during the entire process in Assisi, where the creation of a new economy was also understood as a calling. Not merely to paint everything “green” or to modernize it or to adapt it to the needs of today, but to create structural changes and think about the economy also in terms of the poor, the marginalized – and the natural environment.
The desire to create something new made the final declaration a key moment of the Assisi event with a common commitment by the youth. The message was clear, with precise requests and strong commitments.
We young economists, entrepreneurs and change makers of the world,
summoned to Assisi by Pope Francis,
in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, want to send a message
to economists, entrepreneurs, political decision makers, workers and citizens of the world,
to convey the joy, the experiences, the hopes and challenges that we have gained and gathered up in this period by listening to our people and to our hearts. We are convinced that a better world cannot be built without a better economy and that the economy is so important for the lives of peoples and the poor that we all need to be concerned with it.
For this reason, in the name of the young people and the poor of the Earth,
we ask that:
- the great world powers and the great economic and financial institutions slow down their race to let the Earth breathe. COVID has made us all slow down, without having chosen to do so. When COVID is over, we must choose to slow down the unbridled race that is suffocating the earth and the weakest people who live on earth;
- a worldwide sharing of the most advanced technologies be activated so that sustainable production can also be achieved in low-income countries; and that energy poverty – a source of economic, social and cultural disparity – be overcome to achieve climate justice;
- the subject of stewardship of common goods (especially global ones such as the atmosphere, forests, oceans, land, natural resources, all ecosystems, biodiversity and seeds) be placed at the center of the agendas of governments and teaching in schools, universities and business schools throughout the world;
- economic ideologies should never again be used to offend and reject the poor, the sick, minorities and disadvantaged people of all kinds, because the first response to their poverty is to respect and esteem each person: poverty is not a curse, it is only misfortune, and it is certainly not the responsibility of those who are poor;
- the right to decent work for all, family rights and all human rights be respected in the life of each company, for every worker, and guaranteed by the social policies of each country and recognized worldwide by an agreed charter that discourages business choices based solely on profit and founded on the exploitation of minors and the most disadvantaged;
- tax havens around the world be abolished immediately, because money deposited in a tax haven is money stolen from our present and our future and that a new tax pact be the first response to the post-COVID world;
- new financial institutions be established and the existing ones (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund) be reformed in a democratic and inclusive sense to help the world recover from poverty and imbalances produced by the pandemic; sustainable and ethical finance should be rewarded and encouraged, and highly speculative and predatory finance discouraged by appropriate taxation
- companies and banks, especially large and globalized ones, introduce an independent ethics committee in their governance with a veto on the environment, justice and the impact on the poorest;
- national and international institutions provide prizes to support innovative entrepreneurs in the context of environmental, social, spiritual and, not least, managerial sustainability because only by rethinking the management of people within companies will global sustainability of the economy be possible;
- states, large companies and international institutions work to provide quality education for every girl and boy in the world, because human capital is the first capital of all humanism;
- economic organizations and civil institutions not rest until female workers have the same opportunities as male workers because, without an adequate presence of female talent, businesses and workplaces are not fully and authentically human and happy places;
- Finally, we ask for everyone’s commitment so that the time prophesied by Isaiah may draw near: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2, 4). We young people can no longer tolerate resources being taken away from schools, health care, our present and our future to build weapons and fuel the wars needed to sell them. We would like to tell our children that the world at war is finished forever.
All this – which we already experience in our work and in our lifestyles – we ask knowing that it is very difficult and that perhaps many consider it utopian. Instead, we believe it is prophetic and therefore that we can ask, ask and ask again, because what seems impossible today will seem less so tomorrow thanks to our commitment and our insistence. You adults who control the economy and businesses have done a lot for us young people, but you can do more.Our times are too difficult to ask for anything but the impossible. We have faith in you and that is why we ask much of you. But if we asked for less, we wouldn’t be asking enough.We ask all this first of all from ourselves and we are committed to living the best years of our energy and intelligence so that the EoF can increasingly bring salt and leaven to everyone’s economy.