Interview with Business Owner John
By Genevieve Pollock
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, 8 SEPT. 2009 (ZENIT)
People are searching for meaning in work, ways to aid people and the
environment while earning profits, and Benedict XVI is pointing the way,
says an Economy of Communion member.
John Mundell is the president and founder of Mundell and Associates, an
environmental consulting company based in Indianapolis.
In this interview with ZENIT, he explained some reasons why Benedict XVI
incorporated the Economy of Communion, a growing worldwide business
network, into his latest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate."
Part 2 will be published Wednesday.
ZENIT: What are some of the basic tenets of the Economy of Communion?
Mudell: To understand the Economy of Communion, one has to begin to
understand what the word "communion" means in the vocabulary of the
Catholic Church, and what a spirituality that includes communion
How do we live as "church" or as united people, and what does that mean?
How does this fit into the message and mission of Jesus?
As one begins to understand this, the fundamental basis for the Economy
of Communion, the rest begins to follow as a natural outgrowth.
The Economy of Communion was born from an idea that arose within the
Focolare Movement and its founder, Chiara Lubich, in 1991 when she was
visiting Brazil and the local Focolare community there.
The previous week she had been reading John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus
Annus," a reflection on the hundred years after Pope Leo XIII's first
social encyclical of the Church.
Chiara was particularly interested in the topic of the Church's
involvement in the social sphere of the world. As well, as she came to
Brazil she had been made aware of the needs of the poor present in the
local Focolare community. Our community down there had people who were
well-off, but also had people who were suffering and needed help with
food, education and shelter.
What Chiara saw is that, despite the Focolare practicing a communion of
goods over the 50 years of its history at that time, despite the
individual efforts to share and help those in need within our own
community, we still fell short, and so something else needed to be done.
Thus the idea was born of starting businesses that could operate, share
profits and help the needy associated with the community.
From 1991, this movement began to spread across the Focolare world, and
18 years later we have over 750 businesses involved in the Economy of
It is something rooted in the experience o f the early Christians, a
community that was described as being one in heart and mind, where there
was no needy person among them. The idea of recapturing that experience
of the early Christians gave rise to this way of doing business.
The mission is to promote a culture of giving and social justice through
these businesses that are animated by the value of universal fraternity.
These businesses are for profit, and are present on every continent; I
think we're in 50 countries. About half of the organizations are service
businesses, a quarter of them are manufacturing, and the rest are
The profits from these businesses are put in common. One part of the
profits is kept inside of the company to help it to grow, because
without capital, companies can stagnate.
Another part of the profits goes to the education of people in this
culture of giving, in this attitude of the Economy of Communion. We hold
seminars, conferences and meetings to spread these ideas.
The last portion of the profits goes directly to the poor, to help with
basic needs: food, shelter, education and health care. But it is a
little different than a philanthropic gift of the profits.
We have relationships with the poor in each geographic location, and we
really know what is happening in their lives. They are also seen as
equal partners in this Economy of Communion. So when they express their
needs, it is seen as something of equal value to us sharing our economic
Someone likened it to: not giving a person a fish, nor teaching them how
to fish, but fishing with them. In the Economy of Communion we fish with
them. It is not something we do apart or for them; it is something we do
That is a whole mind shift in this concept of corporate social
responsibility and the classic notion of businesses that are helping the
ZENIT: Many people would see the values of the corporate business world
as being opposed to those of Christian charity and social justice. How
have you found that those two have been able to work hand in hand?
Mundell: I think the time is ripe for this idea of incorporating social
mission within a business and we are seeing a lot of that over the last
three to four years. We have seen an increasing interest in the idea of
corporate social responsibility.
Many organizations, even Fortune 500 companies, are becoming more aware
of their social responsibilities in business operations.
They talk about the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. People,
because they are interested in assisting with social problems; planet,
because they want to become environmentally aware; profit, because they
need it to sustain the business.
This idea of corporate social responsibility is there in the secular
world, and people are grappling with it. They realize that they owe
their shareholders a return on their investments, but they also realize
that being corporately responsible is also good for business.
One could argue that they are being corporately responsible because it
is financially advantageous to them. But I say, however we do it, and
whatever the motivations, it is still a good thing.
The Economy of Communion can be seen as part of that overall movement of
corporate social responsibility, but it is really more than that.
It is a different model, because in present trends, there are a lot of
individual businesses trying to operate in a good way, but not connected
to anything else.
In the Economy of Communion, we incorporate the model of the first
Christian communities, and we operate as 750 businesses in a network
that has global relationships. We stay in touch with each other, and try
to operate in the same way.
In this way, we can circulate needs and move resources into different
places in the wo rld that require them, based on a collective way of
The Economy of Communion is about what we would call a "collective way
of living out a spirituality," the Focolare spirituality of unity that
John Paul II has spoken about in previous encyclicals.
The spirituality of communion influences the way we operate as business
owners, because we are centered on relationships, and the human person
as the focal point in the company.
In a Christian viewpoint, we have the potential to develop these
relationships to a point where there is mutual love. And as Christ said,
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of
them." In this way, we can actually have the presence of God, of Christ,
in these relationships.
So our model is a little different, but within the sphere of this talk
about social enterprises, social entrepreneurs or corporate social
responsibilities. We are within that discussion now, especially now that
the Pope has mentioned the Economy of Communion in the encyclical.
ZENIT: When the Pope talked about the Economy of Communion in the
encyclical, did you find that his ideas confirmed the principles of the
project, or did it shed new light on the topic?
Mundell: I think both. The encyclical is a wonderful work and it is
going to take all of us some time to take it in and grasp all of the
nuances that the Pope has laid out.
It certainly has confirmed and supported our efforts over the last 18
years. For example, in chapters three and four it talks about the need
to create space in the market for these new kind of operations, based
not just on the pursuit of profit alone, but also on pursuing principles
of mutuality and social ends.
It recognizes this new form of business that is between a for profit and
a not-for-profit. The Pope holds up these for profit businesses with a
social mission as something that is promising, something that should be
encouraged and supported in the different contexts, structures and
countries of the world.
He sees this kind of attitude, this Economy of Communion, as a way to
steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of
communion and the sharing of goods.
The Pope has also given us a challenge, to expand what we are doing, to
be more open and to have the best kind of businesses and the best models
possible, so others can see that organizations can be successfully
operated in this way.
Some people do not think you can operate a for profit business this way
and be successful, but we have 750 organizations that can say it is
We are successful, but success is also measured in different ways. It
can be measured in how much we help those in need, in the impacts of
these businesses in the local communities, in the relationships they
have developed, and also in the way they have become models to steer
other larger companies to a more civil way of doing business.
Interview with Business Owner John Mundell
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, 9 SEPT. 2009 (ZENIT)
Running a company
according to Christian principles pays dividends that provide sustenance
during the economic recession, says a business owner and member of the
Economy of Communion.
John Mundell is the president and founder of Mundell and Associates, an
environmental consulting company based in Indianapolis.
In this interview with ZENIT, he shared details about the Economy of
Communion, a worldwide business network mentioned by Benedict XVI in
"Caritas in Veritate."
The business owner spoke about the highlights of an Aug. 21-23 meeting
in New York, a new international internship program, and how the network
is surviving the eco nomic recession.
Part 1 was published Tuesday.
ZENIT: Have you found other people or business owners looking into the
Economy of Communion after the encyclical came out?
Mundell: Yes we have. We had our North American Economy of Communion
meeting recently near Hyde Park, in the Focolare Movement's little city
called Mariapolis Luminosa. In that meeting we had about 65 people, and
one fourth of those had never heard of the Economy of Communion nor the
Focolare Movement until they heard about it in the encyclical.
They came simply because of what was said in "Caritas in Veritate," and
the desire to hear more about it.
In the last two months, there has been an increase in awareness that
this is something to look into, even though it is a small project in
terms of the full world economy.
What are 750 businesses in the world we live in? But there's no other
idea that has this many organizations globally operating with this kind
of attitude and these principles.
I think people are understanding that when the idea of the Economy of
Communion has become incorporated into Catholic social teaching by the
Pope, it is something that needs to be looked at.
ZENIT: Could you give us some of the highlights from the seminar?
Mundell: It was a three-day seminar titled, "Person-Centered Business:
Hope for Today, Sustainability for Tomorrow."
It focused on the idea of the human person as the center of the
business, rather than the old way of looking at business as just a means
of generating profit.
We had an academic panel to talk about the encyclical, and a session on
the influence of these kinds of businesses and their impact on their
When these businesses operate in the local community, and build
relationships, we can see how it h as helped the poor, or built bridges,
because in the Economy of Communion we like to tear down walls and build
bridges between different entities.
ZENIT: What are some of the ways that these businesses are spreading
this person-centered approach?
Mundell: First, it is simply the way they treat their employees, and
operate with their clients, their competitors, and the people that
surround them in their daily business.
They are not short-term thinkers. They do not just take advantage of an
economic situation with a client, but rather they try to have that
Gospel attitude of love when they interact with their employees and
They are quality-driven, but quality not just to obtain a profit;
rather, it is to help the client in a sincere way, to meet their goals
People who work inside the businesses as well as the clients sense
something different. Often times these clients ask: "What is the
motivation behind this business? I've never seen people operate in this
kind of way."
Second, it is the way the business operates in their local community.
For example, here in Indianapolis we saw a lot of businesses going
through difficult times during the economic downturn. We decided to try
to not only keep ourselves economically viable, but also to help these
other small businesses survive by trying to find opportunities for
collaboration or to bring them work.
In difficult times like this, going to the extra mile to help someone,
even when it does not seem like it will help your business, is
recognized by the local community.
We also do things like work in schools and with local churches. In
America there are a lot of good businesses that are active locally. We
also do that, but we try to go beyond what one might expect in order to
become part of the local community.
Lastly, a new thing we have established is an international internship
program, where we have youth from all over the world come and work in
these businesses to try to understand how to run an ethically driven
organization, with a certain set of morals and principles.
These interns come from a variety of fields: management, engineering,
administration, etc. They come to both learn the technical aspect, to
become better at what they do, and also the entrepreneurial aspect, the
heart and soul of the business and how to run it.
This program is just starting to take off, in the last three to five
years. This year our business had four interns, from Argentina, Brazil,
Italy and Spain.
They came to learn more about environmental work, but also to understand
how to operate a business according to this principle the Pope talked
about, where you have a sense of communion and relationship as the basis
of the business.
ZENIT: What kind of impact have you seen in other countries?
Mundell: In some countries like Brazil and the Philippines the Economy
of Communion has had a substantial impact on helping the poor, and has
been recognized by the governmental agencies.
The president of Brazil, for example, knows about the Economy of
Communion, because it has helped the poor in the favelas, the
shantytowns around São Paulo, where the Focolare communities are. We
send a lot of the support there from the businesses, and it has helped
to employ the poor and has become a sustainable model.
We also have a micro credit program that is operating now, that is
relatively new, because in the last two or three years we have
understood that it is not just about making those profits and giving
It is how you distribute those that is important, how you encourage,
track and sustain the poor on their way out of poverty toward a more
sustainable future. That is the real challenge, to do this while
respecting their integrity and not be see n as the old style do-gooders.
ZENIT: How has the Economy of Communion network faced the current
challenge of the global recession?
Mundell: Fundamentally we have faced it together.
It has been difficult. This year, I'm sure we will have less profit to
But we have also had something unusual happen. During these difficult
times, when people are faced with the choice of working with different
companies, relationships become even more important.
Thus, those companies that have fostered relationships around the world,
have seen that in difficult times, people will work with people they
respect and they believe are the right people to work with.
So in one sense we have seen support for what we are doing, from the
relationships we have made an effort to develop during the good times.
It is like a sign of God's providence. In trying to do what we think is
God's will in the business life, these relationships are actually
becoming supportive for us.
It is as if we have been making deposits in a bank account through our
attitudes, our love and our relationships with others in the community.
In difficult times, this providence of God acts like a withdrawal that
we are able to take to sustain us till things get better.
Thus, I would say on average, we're doing better than most businesses,
though that does not mean that it is not difficult.
We also have a certain attitude about how to accept difficulty,
sufferings and challenges. We view difficulties in light of the
suffering of Jesus on the cross, when he cried out, "My God, My God, why
have you abandoned me?"
We understand that in our suffering, we are part of that transformation
of the world into the new heaven and new earth.
So even during these difficult times, when we go through it together,
and we understand the meaning of suffering, we sustain ourselves perhaps
better than the average company.
ZENIT: How did you get involved with it?
Mundell: I started a business with the Economy of Communion 14 years
I previously was the technical head of one of the largest environmental
consulting companies in the world, and decided through my involvement
with the Focolare Movement that I had this desire.
I had never had the desire to start a business before. I always thought
of businessmen and entrepreneurs as people who always seemed to be
focused on money and profits.
When Chiara Lubich began this notion of the Economy of Communion, I
could see that one could actually make it a vocation, a way to sanctity,
a way to live out your Christian life in the world.
So I left my previous position and started my company, and today we have
about 20 employees.
ZENIT: Do you find that this is usually how it happens with people, that
they get involved with the Economy of Communion and they like the idea,
and so they go off and start businesses? Or is it more the idea that
people who already own businesses hear about these ideas and try to
incorporate them in the established organization?
Mundell: We've had both, actually. We've had people who have been out in
the working world a long time, and are very good at what they do, and
realize that this is something that will bring meaning to their lives.
There is a big push to find the meaning of work, to ask, "How do I
integrate myself and my faith with my work life?"
This is seen as one of those ways of doing that, of practicing your
beliefs within the context of a faith tradition. Thus we have people who
are experts, and they start a business. Or they convert the company they
have according to this new vision and begin operating it according to
Economy of Communion principles.
It gives me great hope that people are finding out about this project.
It has been one of the most life-changing experiences for me, having
been involved with it and being part of the network and community of
business owners that are trying to live these principles out.
If one is searching for meaning in the business life, and a sense of
joy, one can find it by trying to live this lifestyle that the Pope is
And really, it is born out of a lifestyle within the Catholic Church. I
think that is how early Christianity spread. People said, "Look how they
love one another; look, there's no one in need among them."
That was pretty dramatic in those early years, and I think it is also