Pedro Ary, a journalist and a friend, reports on the 2 March Panel Discussion. Because of the participants’ interest that the discussion be pursued more deeply, a second Panel Discussion is already scheduled next Fall.
“Business and compassion. Surely two incompatible words, rooted in two completely different worlds with nothing whatsoever in common. Not so, say the speakers at a very interesting debate held in March 2nd in New York City and sponsored by Heart’s Home USA, the International Center for a Culture of Compassion and the American Bible Society, in whose installations the conference Business and Compassion: Re-Humanizing Our Economy took place on a cold Manhattan evening.
Sure enough, one of the five highly regarded specialists in the ethical dimensions of business and economics, Anil Singh-Molares, always equated the notions of compassion and giving with the words “weak” and “gentle”, while business and companies are seen as strong and tough. But that was before. Before this CEO of EchoMundi realized that we do have to change our view on compassion and founded the Compassionate Action Network, a community of groups and individuals committed to help building a more compassionate world. Anil Singh-Molares also explained his focus on education and presented the experiments his Network is supporting, at all levels: in a kindergarten in New Delhi and at higher level: a school of business centered in the idea of compassion. “And it works” he says.
Another inspiring life story is that of Frederic de Narp, CEO of the high-end company Harry Winston Diamond Co. Working in the luxury business is no reason to neglect the other less fortunate men and women of the world. On the contrary! This executive who worked previously for another luxury company, Cartier, and works closely with multiple charities, says his passion for precious stones can and should translate into a passion to be compassionate because “we all have an urge to give”. Accordingly, his company is happy to give a significant percentage of its profits to charity. And he adds, in conclusion: “There is only one Creator but we are all responsible, in charge of co-creating.”
So, “does a company have a soul?” asked Matthew Bishop, the New York bureau chief of The Economist and author of several books, in particular Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Change the World, and member of the panel. There is no answer to that question but it is essential to stress how people’s perceptions of business are changing in view of the current financial crisis. “The way we react will be very important in how the crisis will end.” concludes this member of the panel. Certainly, a large source of hope for this journalist is the very American trend of large philanthropic gestures, by the wealthiest businessmen and CEOs. In fact, 60 of the 100 richest people in the US have signed the Giving Pledge, an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
In order to engage in corporate giving, one must first understand what a business is. The Reverend Robert A. Sirico, the President and co-Founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, reminds us that it is vital to create wealth before distributing it. The goal of businesses is the creation of superficial wealth, wealth that can subsequently be shared. “Piety is no substitute for technique.” This great thinker of the connection between virtue and economic thinking and author of numerous papers on the subject published in leading newspapers, stresses the importance of a holistic vision of compassion in the business world, one that includes employer, employee, client and society at large. This prominent voice of the Catholic Church in such matters doesn’t hesitate to state that “frequently, the current notion of compassion is all wrong”. The idea is not to give ”back” to society, but to give freely, from the heart. The Reverend does not want us to forget the definition of compassion:”it is to suffer with, it is the willingness to embrace the suffering of others”. In the end it all adds up to that. And to save the whole humanity, one person at the time.”