• March 18, 2011

A Compassionate Economy

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.”

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