“Powering Change at the Speed of Trust” #thegiantsequoias

[Too Many Words About] My Audience: I am writing to you, dear Shared Ownership colleagues, to give you a sense of how we might all benefit from expanding the reach and impact of the Catholic lay order Focolare’s Economy of Communion (EoC) initiative. As of 2012, there were 861 such EoC businesses worldwide and 35 in the U.S. One of the EoC’s goals is

To form new entrepreneurs and renew present ones who willingly share their profit to sustain the goals of the EoC: reduction of exclusion and its subsequent poverty, diffusion of the culture of giving and of communion, development of businesses and creation of new jobs; business people who can conceive and live their activity as a vocation and service for the common good, aiming at the excluded in every part of the world and every social context

from https://www.focolare.org/usa/professional-life/economy-of-communion/

For these handful of businesses and the surrounding “cloud of witnesses” of the Catholic lay Focolare community, I  want to share in my analysis of how I intend to help them find and reach more likeminded business owner clients. We are looking for owners whose communities are facing structural injustices (planetary, economic, racial, housing, healthcare) and seeking ways to address these injustices.

What one thing do I want to give my readers? To show how a single person running an EoC business based on these principles can do some part of connection building to “make a difference” in light of what’s coming in 2021. Some of the specific fault lines are that I see businesses continuing to face include

  • Overwhelm with the multiplicity and complexity of issues
    • High unemployment
    • Healthcare access
    • Constantly changing COVID/government regulations
    • Disruption to multiple segments of the economy
    • Supply chain disruptions
  • Personal inner ungroundedness, bankruptcy and exhaustion
  • Longing to participate in a life-giving community
  • Barriers to capital access (or implicit conditions attached to capital access)

What are the concrete parameters of this and future articles? It will be to focus on topics around

  • creating relationally and spiritually grounded businesses
  • building community in and through business locally by asking
    • “What is your firm uniquely positioned to do?”
    • “What are your employees’ unique talents?”
    • “How can your company’s history be leveraged?”
    • “How can your company practices impact the community?”
    • “What is your firm’s local community ‘ecosystem’”?
  • questions about surplus management: what’s the right level of profit? (cf Completing Capitalism, pp. 2-3)
  • worldwide connection building
  • planetary stewardship

My goal is to write to business owners who are looking for intentional “allies” that focus

  • on living out of these core values,
  • on encouraging other allies and
  • on discovering other allies to expand this movement


“Powering Change at the Speed of Trust”

#thegiantsequoias #JonHokama

As I’ve considered this week’s prompt, I’d like to reflect on the power I have (or don’t have) and how I want to exercise it within the EoC. Then I’ll discuss the potential leverage points and how I envision helping the EoC to expand its influence within our shared ownership ecology.

I was hired as a contractor to help the EoC make progress in two main areas: rebuilding a community and raising funds for the organization.  Given the name, Economy of Communion, I understood my primary mission was along the lines of one of the stated purposes:

To form new entrepreneurs and renew present ones who willingly share their profit to sustain the goals of the EoC: reduction of exclusion and its subsequent poverty, diffusion of the culture of giving and of communion, development of businesses and creation of new jobs; business people who can conceive and live their activity as a vocation and service for the common good, aiming at the excluded in every part of the world and every social context

from https://www.focolare.org/usa/professional-life/economy-of-communion/

For a management consultant who specialized in working with businesses for the last ten years, what could be more exciting than that?

I began my work by meeting key members past and present to develop a “needs assessment.” I quickly discovered that the EoC is a much broader, more diffuse and relational organism than I had anticipated. I can now see more clearly that there are several key sub-stakeholders within the EoC:

  • Employees
  • University prof/students—who are committed to Cath soc teaching/Focolare
  • Business and non-profit leaders
  • Retirees
  • “Gen” (18-30) who are looking for mentors to show how to live out their received faith
  • Others attracted to the charism taught by Chiara Lubich and lived by the Focolare

Some EoC members have local groups or gatherings with regular interaction but many feel isolated yet deeply committed to living out the charism. All looking for encouragement and support to live out the love-based way of life of the EoC/Focolare founder Chiara Lubich.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the majority of my EoC audience and traditionally oriented business owners I was attempting to attract, I have rolled out a series of monthly webinars called “Keys to Business Success” –based not on traditional businesses best practices, but based on the core relationship-first EoC best practices. While I had five years of success creating business owner communities around learning core business principles and creating a community of owners supporting one another, I’ve found it difficult to “make it so” within the EoC.  I think I “know” what’s the most strategic or efficient way to develop a group, but I am realizing that I need to adjust and adapt in working with a much more diffuse and fluid community. In retrospect, I feel I tried pushing the EoC too much toward the business owners’ needs so I am now bending programming to be more inclusive of all.  I find it challenging to coalesce the various constituencies with their diverse needs and interests. (This has also made fund-raising difficult). The common need of all groups is to be supported in living out the charism in their context.  I am constantly reminded that I can’t move too fast but must proceed at the speed of trust. Being more in the moment seems increasingly valuable to me so I can organically pivot to whatever presents itself.

The EoC is a key initiative of the Focolare and their current stated goal is to get their ethos and way of life expressed more deeply into American culture.  While the EoC is a key initiative of the Focolare, there are just a handful of business owners influencing the group. So the overarching flavor of the EoC is that deep commitment to live the Gospel in all  relationships and to uphold Jesus’ teachings on unity (“that all of them may be one”–John 17:21).

I am now seeing I have two key leverage points where my interests align with areas where the EoC wants to build momentum: 1) Working with Gen: the EoC has a deep commitment to cultivating the development of young adults and have regular programming and several groups on the West Coast (see Youth Center North America [YCNA]in Hyde Park, NY) . 2) Working with the leaders: changing leadship is a golden opportunity to set new rules for leading. I can help new and old commissioners of the North American Commission of the EoC coalesce into a cohesive team with a more focused direction for EoC priorities and activities in 2021.

The Gen are young in their development and desire mentoring and support from other EoC members. My personal calling to mentor Millenials—and my past experience in university ministry– align well with the needs of that age group in the EoC.  This is the age group that has been financially set back by both the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the recession of the current Pandemic. The whitewaters of life they are navigating are unprecedented.

I am developing a relationship with a key YCNA leader who leads and understands Gen at a grass roots level. Bringing two Gen onto the commission, one from Canada and at least one female, will help diversify the commission. There is a NYC model (Project Luce) that may be also serve as a model for future local “chapters.” If I were to paint a picture of the EoC at the end of 2021, I hope to encourage the commission to consider something like this

  • The EoC could build on their Gen foundations to build broader groups in at least 4 locations—perhaps Indianapolis, NYC, L.A and another West Coast location. Ideally each geographic location would have some mix of the constituencies (business / Gen / community / employees).
  • Commissioners would work with each location to resource local programming to fit the needs of that mix of folks and the needs of the local community.

Two commissioners are moving into a new ventures and the remaining two commissioners are stretched extremely thin. Adding two or three new commissioners will allow the EoC to look at the EoC initiative with fresh eyes. This is  an opportunity to create a new team and establish a clearly agreed upon vision for the coming year. I plan to use the next four months to guide the commissioners through a Drexler Sibbet “Team Performance Model” process we saw this week:

TeamPerformanceModel DrexlerSibbet

  • Step 1: A new team needs to build trust together. Exploring together the questions “why am I here?”, “who are you?” and “what are we doing?” provides the potential to build an experience of being a team.
  • Step 2: As commissioners explore the “how can we do it?” and “who does what, when, where?” they can begin to take ownership of implementing the overall vision for the EoC NA.

The commission, however, has a history of being more of an advisory and activity organizing body. It will be interesting to see whether or not the commission decides they want to transition toward a self-organizing team model.

If the commissioners find a way to collectively live out the core values with one another, I am confident it will accelerate and deepen the impact of the EoC initiative.

5 thoughts on ““Powering Change at the Speed of Trust” #thegiantsequoias

  1. Jon, you make me want to learn more about EoC concepts, thank you. One thing strikes me: in the community you are trying to build, you mention that a few business owners have out sized influence. It occurs to me that is a frequent occurrence, because they are viewed as being more valuable than others because of the financial value we place on their activities. Can you set conditions for the governing group (and the group at large) that expose traditional assumptions like this that might be holding the group back? Are they bringing assumptions from traditional American society into their group, instead of the other way around? Do they (and you) explicitly wrestle with those tensions and how they play out or is that off limits for group discussion?


    1. Hi Sharon. To clarify, actually, the influence of the business owners on the steering body of the movement is welcome. [I’ve seen the phenomena you mention in many churches and other non-profits]. I only wish there were a higher percent of business owners in the Focolare/EoC in No America! (Around 30 are listed on the official website). Your question about assumptions is very helpful. As a newcomer to the EoC, I do see the movement differently from the commissioners who have grown up in it. I think the charism of the Focolare is so strong that it would be foreign to most who’ve created small businesses with non-Focolare backgrounds. What I am trying to do is find those who are attracted to and hungry for such a communion of businesses. Part of our work in the EoC is building bridges with the “traditional” business world to EoC core values, as I have attempted through tools like the assessment that accompanies this month’s call on “Beauty and Harmony in the Workplace” (see the #5 Key to Business Success” assessment in the right column of https://jonhokama.net/events-courses/ ). Looking forward to talking with you on that walk this week!


  2. Jon,

    I’ve long known the name Focolare, but I had no idea that the Economy of Communion was their initiative or that they were involved in so many things. I love their charism and how they are trying express it in the the world of business. I can see why you are attracted to working with them. Your list of problems that business owners face is pretty good. The one that really spoke to me was that missing life giving community. It’s hard not to feel alone in a business or alone in an industry where folks don’t share your values.

    In terms of the issues your facing as you try to organize the commission further develop the group in NA. Wow, there’s a lot of moving parts. A couple of open questions come to mind: This seems like more than a business group, is that true? If so, what do you see they can coalesce around? Because there is the common bond of Focolare, I’m assuming there is a kernal in there where the diverse groups can come and get their needs met?

    This is good stuff, I’m excited learn more.


  3. Nick–I’ve found the isolation of owners to be a consistent theme when I ran business advisory groups of folks from different industries and world-views. Owners need a safe place to form trusting community where they can say, “I don’t know…” I am trying to figure out how best to do that within the EoC (mixed group, similar world view). So you’re accurate that we have an implicit and sharpening Chiara charism (see the repository at https://jonhokama.net/events-courses/ ). Thanks for your reflections, Nick.


  4. Jon. This is great. I understand much more clearly what you are trying to do, what your positional power is and what your challenges are. Here are some questions I have:
    – In what ways is the EoC movement related to the broader social impact/social enterprise movement?
    – What are the boundaries or not around membership? It seems to me like this is for entrepreneurs/businesses who identify as catholic. Is that right? Or is it for anyone, but guided by these principles that emerged from a catholic spirituality? If the latter, what would make non-catholic entrepreneurs/businesses feel inspired to/comfortable joining? If the former, what are the strengths and limitations of a culturally-specific movement in the broader context?


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