In November 2020 Pope Francis convened “Economy of Francesco," a global online gathering of young people determined to make the economy fair, sustainable, and inclusive. Georgetown University asked participating students and alumni to reflect on their experiences in two essays: the first considers their pre-conference working groups and the second offers personal takeaways after the gathering.
Searching for Sports in a Global Pandemic
The year 2020 has featured plenty of divisive events all over the world—from the global COVID-19 pandemic and different countries’ responses to the virus to the polarizing presidential election in the United States. Individuals have different ways of coping with these hardships, and there are many COVID-19 relief resources available to those seeking support. While there are many forces working against unison, there is one powerful global phenomenon helping many of us endure 2020’s challenges: sport.
In preparation for the “Economy of Francesco” conference, I joined the Sports and Lifestyle village. During a virtual meeting, I listened as “Economy of Francesco” participants from Latin America, Africa, Europe, and the United States all described how sports and physical activity are helping them navigate the global pandemic. Mayo Clinic describes how exercise boosts endorphins and reduces the negative effects of stress, and I have felt these benefits firsthand in my own coping. Running outside and following virtual workouts have helped me stay healthy, energized, and positive throughout 2020—allowing me to bring my best self to work. I even sought out creative ways to bring these benefits to others in my workplace. I tried something new by leading multiple virtual workout classes company-wide and started a group where 25+ runners share running routes, exchange photos of scenic runs, and encourage others in their own running journeys. These anecdotal stories of the positive power of sport made me wonder: How is the world feeling throughout this moment of uncertainty about our ability to exercise and watch professional sports?
Google provides an interesting view into how the sports-conscious world has been responding to COVID-19’s many uncertainties via Google Trends. Google Trends displays data about the amount of people searching for different topics around the world at different moments in time. Chart A (shown at bottom) shows us that May 2020 doubled the previous record in search interest for Google searches globally of people wondering, “when will sports return” (considering the past five years of data).
Sports fans across the globe were left without athletics as an entertainment outlet around March 2020. The English Premier League paused play on March 13, 2020 and did not resume until June 17, 2020. Unsurprisingly, as Chart B demonstrates, searches for “premier league” in the United Kingdom fell substantially beginning in March and later came roaring back in mid-June.
The United States felt similar trends across its major sports leagues. The National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended play on March 11, 2020 and restarted July 30, 2020 with a unique NBA Bubble format in which players remained completely isolated from the outside world until the end of their respective team’s season. Major League Baseball completed a baseball season, and the National Football League is currently underway. College basketball was caught at the peak of uncertainty in February and March. As Chart C illustrates, Google Trends shows peaks every year over the past five years in March for “march madness,” but there was no surge in interest in 2020 due to the cancellation of college basketball’s premier tournament. Luckily for us Georgetown alumni, we did not even have the chance to see if Georgetown once again missed out on the big dance.
Something I will never forget about my Georgetown education is the university’s focus on developing well-rounded students. The university’s mission statement mentions, “Georgetown educates women and men to be reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.” In 2020, “service to others” has taken on a whole new meaning. Chart D shows that October 2020 marked a peak of people searching for “managing stress” worldwide.
Sports may seem like something menial, but this year, helping someone stay healthy or enjoying a sporting event safely with loved ones could make a huge difference in navigating unprecedented global stress and uncertainty.
What Are We Working Towards?
Attending the “Economy of Francesco” conference was the culmination of a year during which the biggest question on my mind has been: What are we working towards? The conference promised to bring together young leaders from across the private sector, government, and all over the world to consider whether the current world economy is working towards the most sustainable outcomes. Personally, I’ve had a year of reflection about what I’m working towards. Should I spend more time working to advance my career, or with my family and loved ones now that this pandemic highlighted how truly fragile life can be? Can I make more of an impact by maximizing my own financial resources first, or by combining financial and social impact earlier in my career? The “Economy of Francesco” and the community of attendees showed me that there is creative thinking around these same questions around the world. The Economist covered the event with the fitting title: “Pope Francis hopes to anoint a new economic model.” It describes working towards a “circular economy” that considers our planet, the poor, and sustainable ways of living.
Are We Working Towards a Sustainable Future?
The “Economy of Francesco” is not the only community advocating for change in the way the world economy functions. In 2019, the Business Roundtable announced that its group of 181 leading CEOs were redefining the purpose of a corporation. For decades, corporations prioritized only shareholders, but the modernized version commits to the benefit of all stakeholders—including communities and customers. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson introduced a similar idea in the conference’s opening remarks. He quoted Pope Francis, stating that “the market by itself cannot solve every problem, let alone heal the economy as it is.” During the event’s sessions, I realized that youth around the world are hearing this call. Take the story of Allbirds, a start-up retail brand based in the United States and founded by a native of New Zealand (my favorite shoe brand!). They’ve sold over a million shoes globally and follow a “measure, reduce, and offset” policy to eliminate their carbon footprint as a for-profit B Corp. Many young minds across the world are thinking similarly about how to influence a world that prioritizes a healthy balance of financial well-being and the planet’s sustainability.
Are We Working Towards a Future Where the World Is United and Inclusive?
I was incredibly excited to attend the session featuring Professor Muhammad Yunus, Noble Peace Prize winner and founder of microfinance. While a student at Georgetown, I read his book Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. The session began by unveiling how young leaders from across the world view the word “finance” as a polarizing subject. A live word map showed that the word “finance” made attendees of the conference think of positive themes (investment and education), along with divisive themes (power, inequality, speculation). Professor Yunus seemed frustrated about the world’s current approach to finance and economics, highlighting inequality by mentioning that 1% of the world currently owns 99% of the world’s wealth. He also brought up an interesting “silver lining” created by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 created a level of unity not seen around the globe in recent decades. Every single country is working to eradicate the same evil, and we’re all facing the same threat regardless of wealth, status, or religion. Once the threat is behind us, my hope is that the world can find a more positive calling to create a similar level of unity as we work towards constructive collective goals. That’s what we should be working towards.
Carlos Jiménez (B'14) is a director at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, a digital marketing and technology company working to build world-class companies in Puerto Rico. Prior to Red Ventures, Carlos began his career at J.P. Morgan in NYC and GuiaBolso, a venture-backed FinTech startup in São Paulo, Brazil. Carlos graduated from Georgetown University with a B.S. in finance and marketing and a minor in Portuguese. He is a Georgetown alumni interviewer and proud third generation Hoya.