Can the past be fruitful soil for the future?

I started imagining a day in the life of the new economy and found myself reflecting upon my current experience of living in a religious community. I have often thought that the way women religious have organized themselves offers many lessons for restructuring both our economy and our governance system. So I turned to how I live in my community for examples for the future.

Take our financial system. It is based on the principle that all use their gifts and talents for the highest purpose and best use of their abilities. For some that meant highly payed administrative positions, for some it meant subsidized positions working with the most vulnerable people, for some it meant positions of service such as teaching or nursing. The value was not the earnings but the service provided in line with the vision and goals of the organization. At the same time it was important to seek just compensation. The earnings were deposited into a common fund. From this fund the elderly are cared for, newer members receive an education, governance, finance and other programs are funded. Individuals submit a budget each year for living expenses within guidelines proposed by leadership, which can be negotiated for special circumstances. I sometimes say it is based upon earning what you can and receiving what you need, no more no less.

Our governance system is based upon democratic principles, including subsidiarity, collegiality and total participation. Leaders only serve one term. Assemblies every x years discuss and agree on goals and elect new leadership to work with members to achieve those goals as well as exercise stewardship over resources, such as land, buildings and finances. The commitment to be part of the community is formalized through a vow, so it is voluntary. Decisions are discerned together, one member one vote, and everything is discussed and decided with respect for diversity and individuality. There is a clear role for leadership yet all participate in developing the vision and goals. We developed a culture of cooperation and a shared future. I think that it is the willingness of each person to do their inner work, to share their gifts and talents for the good of the whole, to sacrifice when called upon that makes it work.

So it leaves me with questions about creating this type of shared economy with groups that are more diverse in multiple ways. It takes both the individual commitment and good systems to support the shared values. It takes a balance of respecting the individual and holding each one accountable to the shared goals and vision. for us that included a common fund and democratic governance.

Given our aging, I wonder how we could work with others who want to create a shared economy. How might we leave our legacy to them? It might be land, it might be wisdom, it might be systems, it might be art or writings or financing. When others speak of the churches getting engaged they don’t often think of religious communities but there is much to be shared. Might our different “motherhouses”, as we call them, be a locus for new communities to form based on the values of a shared economy? How might they be incorporated into a new infrastructure?

Reflective Script

How do I combine the ideas of a progressive financial system with these ideas of a common fund and democratic governance system? And also incorporate others ideas regarding power, those on the margins, role of government and philanthropy, importance of culture, etc. ? I look forward to continuing the discussions even after the workshop ends because the issues are bigger than life size! and if we are serious about it being a cooperative, then how do we model that as we try to create the new?

Published by Corinne Florek

I am very interested in promoting the cooperative model for workers as well as consumers. I think we need to change the infrastructure of our economy and cooperatives are my preference. I have been involved in community development investing for over 40 years and now that it is called Impact investing I want to critique what is wrong in the current thinking.

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