Interested in a business paradigm based on the common good?

Structures of Grace: The Business Practices of the Economy of CommunionStructures of Grace: The Business Practices of the Economy of Communion by John Gallagher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have long been interested in a business model based on The Golden Rule. This book presents a case study approach to ten such businesses who are members of the Economy of Communion which is a world wide organization dedicated to the common good. If you are looking for a refreshing paradigm for business then this book is a must read for you.

Every Wall is a Door

I first read the quote, “Every wall is a door” by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the wall of a Facebook friend. It continues to be one of my favorites. Just yesterday we got some unhappy news. When bad news comes it invites a response and more often that not I’m prone to think of the misfortune.  There is a lot wisdom concerning news like this. Romans 8:28 says. “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Another favorite expression is: “never put a question mark where God puts a period.” Life is full of paradox. In fact I’ve come to regard these paradoxes as a sign of blessing. As I was getting my tea made this morning I reflected on the many blessings in my life.

A little over three years ago I had become depressed at the thought of retiring. I thought my life was over. But in the three years hence I have become a frequent contributor and community moderator at I have re-entered the classroom teaching and learning about Lego Mindstorms and robotics in general. I’ve taught programming and digital citizenship classes to children and adults. I have become active in the EdCamp movement and look forward regular communication on social media with those friends.  I’ve become a successful grant-writer and that has allowed me to give back to the community in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve learned about nutrition and wellness through involvement at The Warming House , Genesis House and the Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Franklinville. Through the interest and work providing sustenance for those less fortunate has led to deeper involvement and learning about organic farming, open source agriculture and other life giving initiatives. I recently agreed to be an animator for justice, peace and the integrity of creation for the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Region of the Secular Franciscan Order and created a website to aid in that process. 

What once seemed like the end of the road has become a gateway to new life and new purpose. I am grateful for these opportunities to live, love and grow.

Peace of the City

A few months back I purchased some surplus iPads from a local school district. I had intended to use them in an after-school program where I am a volunteer. When I discovered that I didn’t need them because we already had enough computers I laid them off to the side. A little over a month ago a young woman I had met at Mass at Mount Irenaeus announced on social media that she had been hired to teach at Peace of the City in Buffalo, New York. I asked if she could use these extra iPads. She thanked me and said, “Yes.” Soon thereafter I received a call from their business official who told me where I could bring the tablet computers. I drove to the city and followed the directions of my GPS. I took a reluctant tour of a neighborhood on the west side of Buffalo that not too many non-residents have seen. Eventually I got to the site which is the site of a former Catholic school. I knocked at the door and soon a staff member came to let me in. I dropped off the iPads and a Chromebook and had a short visit with the business manager and quickly left the neighborhood. As I drove away I thought of the children and how each day they came to this school and what an oasis of learning it must be in one of Buffalo’s less lovely neighborhoods. I thought of how little choice they had of their lot in life. Soon after my visit I got a nice thank you from their teacher, Emma on Facebook and then a note from the school too. What I didn’t expect to happen was the lovely note that came in today’s mail from Emma and a few of the students who had gone out of their way to craft lovely cards of their own creation. That really touched my heart and made me want to do more. Thank you to Emma and the children of Peace of the City who are truly a blessing in my life. Peace.

Compassion is the fuel for a new economy

Chade-Meng Tan’s talk gave renewed hope to an idea I had for a model economic development and empowerment for youth that promotes the greater good. Last summer I  participated in a course at St. Bonaventure University’s Franciscan Institute. It was called, “Retrieving a Franciscan Philosophy for Social Engagement.” As part of the course I was required to come up with a timely application of the principles which we were studying. The following is taken from a paper I wrote this summer.

“Life reduced to its simplest equation is about relationships. Implicit in these relationships is contract. Most of the time the contracts are implied and at other times in the are complex legal agreements governing business transactions. We live at a time and in a culture that is desperately looking for  a response to life that is grounded in principles that respect both the buyer and the seller. Principles that invite not only common property but value for what we can call the common good? Some might argue that such ideas are too idealistic and that nowhere is there any evidence that anyone has successfully applied such an approach.”

Chade-Meng Tan’s talk provides evidence that such principles are used very successfully at Google. Glad to have found this talk and thank you to TED for publishing it.

[ted id=1113]

Open Source – A model for Social Enterprise

I first became acquainted with open source software in the mid-1990s. My brother James asked me if I had heard of Linux. I had not heard of it up until that time. A few weeks later I bought Red Hat 5.0 at the nearby Staples. Now, the open source model applies to more than software, but then even the thought of working for the common good appealed to me. There was after all a higher calling in this work. It reminded me of the early Apple II days when people shared their work and their code.

In the years that followed I became sold on the utility of open source software and the concept of working for the greater good. I believe it’s possible to sustain oneself while at the same time providing a valuable service to the customer. It’s a win-win proposition. Open source software really fueled the development of the internet. Platforms like WordPress, Twitter and Google itself run on open source. But what does the future hold and can the open source model be applied to other ventures too. This summer I came across an open source eye ware manufacturer in the United Kingdom called Botho. This quote taken from their “Why Botho” page really sums it up.

Open Source is about listening to our community, understanding our needs, developing solutions and facilitating our growth in a selfless way.

“Facilitating growth in a selfless way”. That’s really the heart of open source and social enterprise. That’s appealing to me.

Fully Human

Earlier today I was reading Joan Chittister’s book, “Becoming Fully Human.” It’s a great read and filled with bite sized quotes from Sr. Joan and others. One of those morsels resonated with me.

The purpose of life is to let God work through us to make the world a better place for every living creature. Anything less than that which calls itself sanctity is a sham

I’ve been thinking a lot about social enterprise and how well this desire to make the world a better place for every living creature fits in that paradigm. Are there ways to earn a livelihood that make the world a better place for every living creature? What does such an enterprise look like? When I think of social enterprise I think of Grameen Foundation and Kiva which allow micro finance that empowers entrepreneurs and others looking for financial assistance. In a time when greed seems pervasive it is ennobling to see businesses designed to help the neediest among us.

Economic Development for the Southern Tier

I’m meeting on Wednesday with an attorney in Buffalo to help me setup a 501c3 entity whose purpose is to wed social enterprise with economic development and community empowerment in New York State’s southern tier. That’s my backyard and this idea sprang from a course that I took at St. Bonaventure University’s “Franciscan Institute” this past summer. The course taught by noted author Keith Warner, OFM inspired me to consider how we could help “at-risk” youth in the area, students at St. Bonaventure University, foster entrepreneurs, encourage sustainable business and provide an incubator for other entrepreneurs.The project which is currently called “mPath” is still in its infancy. We have one board member and some people who are interested in being involved.

As a 501c3 we will need to raise money. That’s something I know very little about. I’ve been in a partnership and now the CEO of DGW Enterprises LLC. Those businesses fit a more traditional model of providing service for a fee. This venture is much more ambitious and requires some skill sets that I have not employed yet. The southern tier of New York State which includes Cattaraugus, Allegany, Steuben, and Chautauqua counties are among the most spectacular tourist vistas in the Empire State. Nonetheless, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties are among the state’s poorest. An area that was once home to dairy farming, agriculture, oil and gas production and industrial development has been languishing for over thirty years. Communities and school systems are in decline. The area is home to Alfred University, Houghton College, State University at Alfred, Fredonia State College, Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure University. Graduates of these institution have not found local employment a lucrative market. Politicians continue to promise a chicken in every pot and a return to the prosperity of yesteryear. Until now the rhetoric has been hollow. How do we empower and mentor youth with realistic twenty-first century skills. How do we create a sustain an economy that keeps our youth and encourages the development of the area in a manner that respects the earth and blesses its inhabitants.

Contemporary society needs new models of engagement and practice which will result in healing the social fabric through the offer of hope to a beleaguered citizenry. Globalization is an economic reality which cannot be sidestepped or avoided. We need leaders who can embrace a world view that reflects not and either or proposition but one that is both and. The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition embodied in the writings of St. Francis of Assisi, John Duns Scotus, St. Bonaventure, and others indicate a way forward. We seek an ethic that looks for and appreciates the common good and invites fraternity among us. In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called “civil economy” and the “economy of communion”.

One of the most important things is for every business to measure what matters — not just profits, but impact on our communities, employees, and the environment. I want to re-create my own LLC as a B-Corp, but more than that I see mPath as an incubator of social good that connects at risk youth, with aspiring college students and their institutions that form partnerships and provide a think tank for the creation and sustenance of vision and direction for the southern tier that is not wed to any particular politics other than empowerment for all.