Difficulties and successes of the first productive business park of the Economy of Communion in Brazil
by Thiago Borges
from the pdf EoC Report 2016 (2.11 MB) on the "Economy of Communion - A New Culture" - Editorial insert of Città Nuova n.2/2017 - february 2017
Polo Spartaco was born in 1993 near the Mariapolis Ginetta, the citadel of the Focolare Movement located 50 km from Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the first concrete evidence of an economy practiced with the paradigm of communion. The companies that have been set up are quite different, but all animated by entrepreneurs convinced that aid and assistance are not enough to redeem the poor from their vulnerability - which is also the reason for the creation of the business park. Instead, they must get involved and become the protagonists in economic relations.
This is the spirit that animated La Tunica, the first company that settled in the business park. It was founded by Maria do Carmo Gaspar and Maria Aparecida Viegas: the former was a widow and mother of five children - she became an improvised entrepreneur in the clothing industry driven by her affection for Chiara Lubich and the EoC; the latter, the owner of two sewing machines, offered her machines and experience as a seamstress.
In addition to experienced staff, they also called several mothers of the nearby favela to work in the nascent company: a real action for social redemption, which allowed them not only to work but also to acquire a profession and hence, economic independence.
Over time, other production companies moved in: Rotogine, launched by French entrepreneur François Neveux, who is a specialist in large plastic artifacts and environmental technologies; Eco-Ar, with its cleaning products, started by Ercilia Fiorelli in a basement and then transferred to the business park; AVN Plastic Packaging, a machine shop run by entrepreneur Augusto Lima Neto from San Paolo. Two more companies joined to these: Prodiet Farmaceutica a commercial one sponsored by pharmaceutical entrepreneurs Armando and Roselì Tortelli, active in the distribution of medicines, and another service provider company from the financial sector called Uniben Fomento Mercantil.
To build and operate the business park a joint stock company named
Espri SA, was formed, to which nearly 4,000 members from all social classes have already joined. "We are poor but many," said Chiara Lubich inviting everyone to pull together resources to build a "laboratory for an economy of communion": many joined with enthusiasm and generosity.
In 2005 the Association of Workers of the Business Park was created: apart from the benefits such as micro credit and discounts at shops in the region provided to its members it also offers a place of mutual acquaintances, useful for creating occasions of communion.
Pasticcino is the latest arrival among the companies, having moved in to the business park five months ago. Specializing in the production of snacks for cafés, it is the "Brazilian branch" of a company operating successfully in the Argentinean EoC business park, Polo Solidaridad. With its five employees, the company took its first steps in Brazil by addressing the challenges of the start phase: the adjustment of production, opening markets and vocational training. "Pasticcino distinguishes itself from other companies in the industry for its way of building relationships between employees, customers and suppliers," says director Flávio Toledo. "Among us there is great freedom and friendship; we are all different, and sometimes there is some friction, but we always try to solve problems before they grow big, based on the principle that it is easier to work if we get along with each other, even if we are not alike. But we really need to commit to building relationships."
A New Type of Economic Action
From the experience of the financial company Uniben, in the field of insurance, Uniben Corretora de Seguros was set up two years ago. It seeks to build an atmosphere of trust and transparency with each and every customer: "It's a nice experience, especially of relationships - explains Mariella Francischinelli - because the commission we get for our work depends on the price of the insurance policies we sell: the more expensive the insurance, the higher the commission. But we offer the customer the solution that's more advantageous to them, even though this way our income is reduced - it may seem a bad strategy; yet we are starting to gather the fruits of this way of acting, through customer loyalty and new business opportunities. Our sales volume is growing by 15% per month." After two years of activity, the company achieved economic equilibrium and the first returns on the initial investment are on the horizon already.
Death and Resurrection
In recent years the economic performance of some companies in the Polo has deteriorated and their financial difficulties have also had an impact on the income statement of ESPRI, because they have not been able to pay their rent. Hence the new challenges for the future of the business park, the addressing of which has made a greater communion among entrepreneurs necessary: Uniben has decided to broaden its activities by offering, in addition to financial services, their management skills as well to companies in difficulty. They have been doing this purely for communion and with good results.
A group of experts who got in touch with the EoC in various ways has offered to examine the management of ESPRI and suggested new strategies: entrepreneurs performing activities in the Polo have pledged to strengthen the communion between themselves. They are confident that, even if the success or failure of their companies had depended on the circumstances, their communion would have still remained indelible. In 2016, the fiscal consolidation progress of the companies have also helped improve the results of ESPRI.
The proposals for the future are many: encouraging new businesses for the EoC culture, enhancing the processes of the formation of a culture of sharing and strengthening the communion among all. These are important goals, but they are achievable only if supported by a fruitful life of communion.