Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 10, No. 10, October 2014
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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The Economy of Communion Model:
A Spirituality-Based View of Global Sustainability
and its Application to Management Education

Katherine J. Lopez, Zaida L. Martinez, Linda B. Specht

This article was originally published in
Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, Vol 1 # 1, 2013

Abstract: This paper describes recent concerns with management education and offers the Economy of Communion (EoC) Model as an example that may be used in management education programs to illustrate a spirituality-based approach to sustainability. with its foundation in Catholic social teaching, the EoC model gives priority to the development of relationships among internal and external stakeholders, with profits regarded as an outcome of sustainable practices that respect both people and planet.

Keywords: management education, sustainability, spirituality, spiritual leadership, economy of communion, Catholic social teaching


Concerns regarding the role of business in society have long existed (Flanders, 1945), but have been voiced with increased urgency in recent years following numerous business scandals, the global financial crisis, and an increasingly unsustainable focus on market growth. Central to these concerns is the notion that a business has responsibilities to society beyond maximizing profit (Shum & Yam, 2011), including responsibilities for controlling the company’s environmental impact, contributing in a positive manner to societal and economic development, and considering the various stakeholders’ needs in the decision-making process (Dahlsrud, 2008). Handy (2002) emphasized that “[t]he purpose of a business is to make a profit so that the business can do something more or better,” describing this obligation as “a moral issue” (51). These concerns are echoed in recent management education initiatives, including the Principles for Responsible Management Education (Principles for Responsible Management Education, n.d.), and special issues on the role of sustainability in management education (Rusinko & Sama, 2009; Starik, Rands, Marcus, & Clark, 2010).

Recommendations for incorporating sustainability in management education include both curricular and co-curricular activities, and single discipline and cross-disciplinary approaches (Rusinko, 2010). According to Shrivastava (2010), most of these approaches rely on the traditional analytical tools that are part of a business school’s curriculum rather than on a change in students’ behavior. He advocates for an integrative pedagogical approach that engages students emotionally and spiritually so they begin to develop a passion for sustainability. How we define sustainability is also important. By defining global sustainability as “achieving environmental conservation, social justice, poverty eradication, social entrepreneurship, desirable production and consumption patterns, species preservation, and spiritually rich lives,” Stoner (2013: 1) emphasizes the connection between our physical and spiritual experiences. To be true to this point of view, our pedagogical approaches to sustainability in management education should help students develop a mindset where they are able to make the connections between spirituality and sustainable practices.

This article introduces the Economy of Communion (EoC) as a practical and spirituality-grounded approach to business that provides a “real world” example for addressing sustainability. First, we briefly examine how sustainability is commonly addressed in management education. Second, we review the relationship between spirituality and leadership and its relevance for integrating sustainability in management education curricula. We then introduce the EoC model, the Catholic social teaching principles on which it is founded, and its spirituality-based approach to sustainability. In the final section, we review the contribution of EoC principles for developing pedagogy in management education that integrates spiritual leadership, sustainability, and social justice.

Sustainability and Management Education

The role of business schools in developing ethical future business leaders has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Critics cite a pedagogical overemphasis on the scientific approach and on analytical skills at the expense of integration, holistic thinking, and norms of ethics (e.g., Bennis & O’Toole, 2005; Hawawini, 2005; Mintzberg & Gosling, 2002; Pfeffer & Fong, 2002).

A concern with traditional pedagogy is the tendency to overly emphasize analytical skills when addressing ethical situations, leading to a legalistic approach to ethical decision making. Cheffers and Pakaluk (2011) observed that the problem with legalism (i.e., a strict adherence to the letter of the law) is that rules are not sufficient because they are incomplete. In unanticipated circumstances, they may allow a business to act unethically while ascribing to the letter of the law. Ultimately, the content of business curricula has important implications for developing future business leaders and managers who are aware of how their actions either help or hinder sustainability. As Brennan, a finance scholar, noted,

... if we go on hammering into our students the mistaken notion that rationality is identical with self-interest, we shall gradually make our agency models come true, but at the cost of producing a society that will not function. (Brennan, 1994: 39, cited in Donaldson, 2002).

Ghoshal (2005) lamented that “by propagating ideologically inspired amoral theories, business schools have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility” and connects the pedagogy to improper corporate practices (76). The failure to question concepts based on classical economic liberalism, such as self-interest, market growth, and wealth maximization, affects how business managers, students, and educators address sustainability. For example, the teaching of agency theory in management courses can result in selfish actions by future managers (Donaldson, 2002; Ghoshal, 2005). Because these types of actions are short-term oriented, they discourage an analysis of the long term implications not just for a business but also for the society in which that business operates.

More importantly, these theories and pedagogical approaches can also lead to excluding discussions on issues of social justice and the common good (Cima & Schubeck, 2001) that are essential for global sustainability as defined by Stoner (2013). Globalization makes these concerns even more pressing, because the strategic actions of multinational companies are typically based on a profit and shareholder wealth maximization model. Although these entities contribute to the economic growth of the developing countries in which they operate, the social and economic consequences for these countries are mixed (Fosu, 2011; Lenagala & Ram, 2010; Huang, Teng, & Tsai, 2010). Moreover, the corporate emphasis on profit and wealth maximization in a global economy exacerbates the problems of the poor in developing countries that lack adequate legal and governance structures to protect the most vulnerable (Bardy, Drew, & Kennedy, 2012; Chakraborty et al., 2004). Indeed, although studies show that trade and income growth generally improve environmental quality in developed countries, the effect is the opposite in developing countries (Baek, Cho, & Koo, 2009). Thus, the role that businesses play in shaping local communities accentuates the need for a more integrative approach toward how these issues are addressed in management education.

According to Waddock and McIntosh (2009: 298), the social contract between business and society is “badly broken” and calls for management education that “goes beyond the usual recipes for corporate (social) responsibility.” They emphasize that “a mind, body, heart, and soul approach is key to developing leaders who are whole people and who respond to leadership situations with their whole person rather than as homo economis or just with an analytic frame” (316). Reflecting on the inadequacy of addressing sustainability from an economic perspective alone, while drawing on their Christian beliefs, Sandelands and Hoffman (2008: 136–137) remind us that

[a]gainst the bend of modern thinking, which catastrophically sunders the natural from the spiritual and the secular from the sacred, the idea of sustainability confronts us with the presence of God in the world. Economic calls to sustainability fail because they do not speak to that part of our being that is fully human, to that part of us beyond nature, to that part of us that hungers for meaning, and for the transcendent absolute.

Taking this point of view when addressing sustainability in management education requires a more holistic perspective—one that includes spirituality and its relationship to leadership.

Spirituality and Spirituality-based Leadership

Interest in scholarly articles on spirituality in the workplace has increased significantly, particularly since the turn of the century (Oswick, 2009). Although scholars vary in their definitions of spirituality, they usually recognize both secular and sacred values as a source for spirituality (Delbecq, 2009; Epstein, 2002; Harlos, 2000). In reviewing the conceptualization of spirituality in different professional fields, Rovers and Kocum (2010) emphasize three facets of spirituality: faith (acknowledgment of a higher power), hope (a search for meaning in one’s life), and love (a relationship with God, others, community, and nature). All three facets of spirituality are important in the development of future business leaders who are able to transcend a focus on self-interest and a narrow view of business goals.

Rejecting agency theory because it ignores a transcendent view of human beings and places shareholders at a higher level than other stakeholders, Daniels, Franz, and Wong (2000: 543) call for a focus on transcendence in defining business goals so that leaders “serve broader goals than mere profit.” They seek to offer students a transcendent perspective where “the core purpose of commercial activity is to serve people, not vice versa” (Daniels, Franz, & Wong, 2000: 543). Importantly, Smith and Rayment (2008) regard spirituality as essential for fostering a sense of connection with others in response to urgent global issues, so that business may take part in offering a solution to global challenges rather than exacerbating them. Spirituality, then, can inform how leaders envision their role and their impact on others.

While several leadership models—including authentic leadership, servant leadership, and spiritual leadership—address the moral dimensions of leadership (Reed, Vidaver-Cohen, & Colwell, 2011: 415), the spiritual leadership model explicitly links spiritual values, the needs of others, and organizational outcomes (Fry, 2003; Fry & Slocum, 2008; Fry, Matherly, & Quimet, 2010). Recognizing the importance of spirituality in the workplace, Fry (2003) notes the need for leaders who can respond to the spiritual well being of their followers and who are attuned to the universal spiritual values of humility, charity, and veracity. His spiritual leadership model focuses on developing leaders who are intrinsically motivated to create a vision for the organization where members feel that their lives have meaning. It also fosters an organizational culture founded on altruistic love, that is, “a sense of wholeness, harmony, and well-being produced through care, concern, and appreciation for both self and others” (Fry, 2003: 912). Fry (2003) sees hope (an expectation of fulfillment) and faith (a trust that what is desired and expected will happen) as providing the foundation for an organizational culture based on altruistic love.

Because altruistic love is the basis for overcoming fear, Fry (2003) sees it as a key component for developing a sense of well-being among an organization’s members. This helps create an environment of trust. As a result, organizational members “experience meaning in their lives, have a sense of making a difference, and feel understood and appreciated” (Fry, Vitucci, & Cedillo, 2005: 836), and this, in turn, can have direct implications for positive organizational outcomes. The spiritual leadership model, therefore, can provide a path that leads to the triple bottom line of “People, Planet, and Profit” (a term coined by Elkington, 1997) which advocates treating the ecological and social dimensions of a business on equal footing with its economic dimension.

The EoC model exemplifies the spiritual foundation of this leadership model and its emphasis on positive organizational goals that address the long-term needs of communities. In the next section, we review the EoC model, its spirituality-based approach to leadership, and its commitment to sustainable practices with a focus on the common good, social justice and poverty eradication.

The Economy of Communion (EoC) Model

Chiara Lubich, the founder of the ecumenical, inter-religious Focolare Movement (Gallagher, 1997; Zambonini, 1991), initiated the EoC project in 1991 after witnessing abject poverty in Brazil (Gold, 2004). Lubich (1991: 9) cited various papal encyclicals as inspiration for extending the Catholic Church’s teachings into the realm of the EoC businesses. Fundamental to these teachings are the “social” encyclicals, beginning with Rerum Novarum (Leo XIII, 1891) which addressed the role of work and the worker in response to the effects of the Industrial Revolution on both individuals and communities. During the Great Depression, the issuance of Quadragesimo Anno (Pius XI, 1931) commemorated the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum and called for relationships between capital and labor to be characterized by cooperation. The notion of subsidiarity, the network of relationships and the participation of the worker in decision-making, was introduced in this encyclical, and would become a fundamental element of the Church’s social doctrine. From 1961 to 1981, the social encyclicals addressed issues ranging from decolonization (John XXIII, 1961) to relationships between peoples and governments (John XXIII, 1963) and the plight of those seeking to escape poverty (Paul VI, 1967).

In 1981, however, the Church’s social doctrine was sharply focused upon the spirituality and ethic of human work with Laborem Exercens ( John Paul II, 1981), and its emphasis on work as a place of dignity where a person may find the fulfillment of a vocation. John Paul II’s later encyclical, Centesimus Annus (1991), marked the centennial of Re- rum Novarum, and addressed the dignity and rights of workers and the purpose of material goods. While emphasizing the right to and use of private property, the encyclical advocates its use in an economy of service to mankind and examines the proper role of profits. Expressing an appreciation for a free economy, it offers the vision of a business enterprise as a community of solidarity—a “society of persons,” not just of capital—which must contribute to the common good ( John Paul II, 1991). The fundamentals of Catholic social doctrine, as found in the various encyclicals, include notions of human dignity, concern for the common good, subsidiarity (participation in decision making), justice in distribution of goods, stewardship of resources, and solidarity with the poor. These fundamentals and their linkage with EoC principles will be discussed in a later portion of this article and illustrated in Table 2; however, it is from these convictions that the EoC was formed, with its emphasis on private property ownership as a fundamental human right and a means to acquire goods so that “all people and all nations have their share of the world’s goods” (Araujo, 1991: 16).

This focus on the common good, while respecting the right to private property, has attracted scrutiny as well as acknowledgment of the EoC model’s conformity with Catholic social teaching. Zamagni (2007), whose work emphasizes the role of values in the economic sphere (with particular focus on the common good), participated on the task force that assisted Benedict XVI with the formulation of the most recent social encyclical on business and economics, an encyclical that recognizes the contribution made by the EoC model (Benedict XVI, 2009).

Benedict XVI noted in Caritas in Veritate that the “economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society” and stated that “[s]pace also needs to be created within the market for economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process” (Benedict XVI, 2009). He describes “[t]oday’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures,” as requiring “a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise,” and goes on to cite the EoC model as “a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends” (par. 46).

The EoC project currently reflects the diversity and unity of the lay movement from which it emerged, which includes not only members from various Christian denominations but also Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and others who have no particular religious conviction but share a desire for unity and dialogue with others (Gold, 1996). The EoC principles are very similar to the key components of hope/faith, vision, and altruistic love in Fry’s spiritual leadership model and its link to intrinsic motivation (Fry, 2003). The EoC model reflects not only the hope that persons in need may be helped through the formation of businesses, but rejects the idea that the individual exists in isolation from others, embracing the idea that human beings are “persons in community” (Gold, 2010: 57). The influence of the EoC’s culture may be found in a closer examination of the principles, practices, and challenges of the approximately 800 EoC businesses and other organizations that have chosen to adopt EoC principles and practices. For purposes of simplicity, the composite of EoC principles and practices will henceforth be referred to as the “EoC model.”

The EoC model focuses on promoting communion and reciprocity among the various stakeholders (management, employees, customers, competitors, and the broader community), placing value on relationships and the happiness of others (Bruni & Uelmen, 2006). Ferrucci (1998: 27) describes this as “a capital of relationships” within and among the EoC businesses “which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.” The guiding principles of the EoC model are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. EoC Principles (adapted from New Humanity, Inc., 2004)

These principles reflect the mission and vision of EoC businesses which developed from a lived spirituality. Their genesis is congruent with the element of the spiritual leadership model that describes those who “embody a vision for their own lives that has meaning, makes a difference, and that incorporates the values and attitudes of altruistic love in social interaction with others to ‘do what it takes’ to get the job done” (Fry, 2003: 720). The concern for all stakeholders and the sharing of power by those in authority, evident in EoC principles, are congruent with the spiritual leadership model (Fry, 2003). EoC principles conform with Catholic social teaching, with its focus on human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, justice, stewardship, and solidarity with the poor—elements that have been identified as critical to “any organization claiming to be authentically human” (John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, 2008) and that resonate with a view of sustainability that addresses social justice, poverty eradication, and spiritually rich lives. Table 2 summarizes the key elements of spiritual leadership and Catholic social teaching, and describes how they relate to the EoC project.

Table 2. Spiritual Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching
and EoC Business Principles

The EoC model is novel in that it includes a voluntary sharing of profits beyond the corporate entity, so that the profits are “shared not only within the company but also outside of it … between companies and, even more importantly, with those in need” (Sorgi, 1991: 12). One critical component of a company’s profits is reserved for reinvestment in the business to provide for sustainability and continued growth. A second allocation is made for the support of educational programs. Concern for those in need results in a third allocation of profits to help with such basic necessities as food, clothing, medicine, and jobs. This third allocation is viewed not as a charitable endeavor but as an aspect of the relationships of the many stakeholders of the business—placing the human person at the center of the business, with the beneficiary also assuming the role of benefactor (Gold, 2010: 89). The voluntary distribution of profits does not contemplate a literal division into equal amounts allocated to each need, but is a “reference point that has to be adapted to the concrete economic situations in which the businesses find themselves” (Molteni, 2002: 94).

EoC businesses “compete freely with non-EoC business on equal terms, and so have to be as profitable as any other business” (Gold, 1996: 15). However, EoC businesses are concerned not only with the production of wealth, but also with its distribution (Molteni, 2002: 91). As the EoC model developed during its first twenty years, EoC management principles were adopted by business leaders who are able to share profits (Mundell & Associates, n.d.) as well as by business leaders who are engaged in leadership positions in non-EoC businesses (Netuitive, n.d.) and are unable to share profits, but are otherwise committed to their ultimate goal of building relationships that transform the “business space” (Gold, 2010: 135–160). By engaging in business practices that lead to sustain- ability and address the common good, EoC businesses (and EoC-inspired businesses) operate within the social contract between business and society that Waddock and McIntosh (2009) viewed as broken.

The accountability of EoC business leaders comes from their sense of “calling” which provides an intrinsic motivation and from the reciprocal nature of their relationships with other EoC business leaders and stakeholders. Ultimately, EoC business leaders are “convinced that it is necessary to let the values [they] believe in shape every aspect of social life, and therefore also economic life, so that it too can become a field of human and spiritual development” (Lubich, 2007 [1999]: 276). In this regard, the EoC model conforms with the elements described by Fry (2003: 719) as essential to a model of spiritual leadership—the encouragement of hope/ faith, the establishment of a standard of excellence, and the sense of “calling” that ultimately benefits people and planet as well as profits. Ultimately, the primary benefit of introducing the EoC model in management education is that its principles reflect a business model where sustainability and spiritual leadership are integral components of a business.

Contributions to Pedagogy in Management Education

As noted earlier, the technical orientation and economic assumptions of courses can create barriers to a holistic consideration of sustainability. In a background paper for an international conference on mission-driven Catholic business schools, Naughton, et al. (2008) addressed this challenge by suggesting four distinct yet overlapping integrating dimensions viewed as critical for developing a distinctive Catholic vision of business education: integration of 1) virtue and technique, 2) faith and reason, 3) faith and work, and 4) business and the needs of the poor. The introduction of the spiritual leadership model with the EoC project as part of a management curriculum offers one approach for further integrating these dimensions with the principles of sustainability in a Catholic business school, and can also be applied to other programs.

Integration of virtue and technique focuses on “the integration of moral ends with the proper means of the business” (Naughton, Bausch, Fontana, & Pierucci, 2008: 8). This type of integration goes beyond learning business techniques to learning how to recognize the goals (including sustainability) that are worth pursuing and the best means for achieving those goals. Fry (2003: 696) notes that “leaders must get in touch with their core values, and communicate them to followers through vision, values, and personal actions.” The EoC approach to business is useful for providing students with examples of business leaders who integrate both economic and spiritual reasoning in their decisions and actions— ranging from capital decision making to support for the community and its sustainable development.

Integration of faith and reason reflects the Catholic tradition of viewing business education as an extension of the liberal arts. From this perspective, the concern is not just with the “instrumental rationality of how to get things done,” but, more importantly, with the habits of the mind that lead students to “questions of ultimacy and of faith” (Naughton et al., 2008: 10). The integration of faith and reason engages business students in fundamental philosophical questions, such as questions regarding the meaning of the human person within the context of business (Naughton et al., 2008). With its goal of “transform[ing] from within [the] usual business structures … establishing all relationships inside and outside the business in the light of a lifestyle of communion” (Lubich, 2007 [1999]: 276), the EoC model offers opportunities to integrate faith and reason, particularly with respect to issues involving people and planet as well as profits.

Integration of faith and work addresses the “divided life.” Naughton, et al. (2008: 13) believe that “[w]e live in an age where our categories are no longer distinctions but separations or walls: public/private, faith/ work, church/state, spirituality/religion, reason/revelation.” The recent questionable behaviors of some business executives reflect this compartmentalization. A core element of the spiritual leadership model is having “a clear, compelling vision [that] produces a sense of calling … a sense of making a difference and therefore that one’s life has meaning” (Fry, 2003: 714). EoC business persons strive “to make this [business] aspect of their life consistent with everything else they do,” that their values “shape every aspect of social life, and therefore also economic life, so that it too can become a field of human and spiritual development” (Lubich, 2007 [1999]: 276). This emphasis upon holistic thinking and behavior can help students to integrate sustainability principles and practices with their personal and future business decisions, potentially making a positive contribution toward global sustainability.

Integration of business and the needs of the poor reflects the view that “[b]usiness is an inherently social enterprise constantly impacting families, communities, nations and the global community” (Naughton et al., 2008: 15). Although the main goal of businesses is not to solve social problems, businesses contribute to the common good by providing important services to society and should consider their impact on both internal and external stakeholders. The responsibility of business programs includes forming students in a way so that they can “see the ‘expanding chain of solidarity’ in which business operates …. Not to take this ‘expanding chain of solidarity’ into consideration can have devastating consequences, especially for the poor” (Naughton et al., 2008: 15). A fundamental value of the spiritual leadership model is the concept of altruistic love. With its genesis in the slums of Brazil and its goal of forming reciprocal relationships between those in need and those with means of assistance, the EoC provides a model of solidarity between businesses and all stakeholders—within the business, outside the business, and within the broader community. Students introduced to the notion of solidarity through the EoC model have a concrete example of how it can be accomplished and of the contribution that can be made even by small entrepreneurships toward the goal of global sustainability.

Because the EoC model reflects the centrality of the human person and promotes the notion of business not as an end in itself but as a means for the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development, its usefulness need not be limited to mission-driven Catholic business programs. It is also compatible with the UN Bruntland Commission’s focus on “sustainable development” which includes social, economic, and environmental aspects. The Bruntland Report ultimately concluded that “[i]n its broadest sense, the strategy for sustainable development aims to promote harmony among human beings and between humanity and nature” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1991). This call for action reflects many of the same concerns that find resonance in contributions from the principles of spiritual leadership and the EoC model. Hence, Burckart (2002) has put forth the EoC model as one that is responsive to the Bruntland Report, and has generated a useful comparison between “sustainable development” and the “culture of giving” proposed by the EoC model (78).

One important element in the introduction of new curricula or pedagogy is the availability of teaching materials. There are a number of EoC resources available that can be combined with the extant literature on spiritual leadership to develop a transcendent view of the role of business. These resources include descriptive, case-based, and technical articles (Buckeye, Gallagher, & Garlow, 2011; Bruni & Uelmen, 2006; Linard, 2003; Ruggiu, 2008), and other resources available online (http:// Additional resources include over one hundred masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations, and a number of other publications (Bruni, 2002; Gold, 2004; Gold, 2010). A more in-depth study of the EoC businesses themselves would also provide a living laboratory for examination of the EoC model in the context of its potential contribution toward global sustainability.


The EoC model offers management education an example of a “real world” business model that promotes sustainability through its incorporation of spiritual leadership principles and Catholic social teaching. Its emphasis on conservation of resources, job creation, and sustainable profitability as a means for individual and community development has the potential to take it beyond the imbalances promoted by agency theory and the single-minded focus on shareholder value, to a consideration of “people, planet, and profit.”

It would be naïve to suggest that only the EoC model provides an answer to the challenges facing both educators and society; nonetheless, it does offer a fresh perspective. It is also a model that has emerged and flourished in a time of global economic upheaval. It is in this context that it is offered as a resource reflecting a greater openness to the role of spirituality in the development of sustainable business practices and in management education.


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Katherine J. Lopez is at St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas, U.S.A. Email:

Zaida L. Martinez is at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. Email:

Linda B. Specht is at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. Email:

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