January 11, 2021

Ian Schwenke (G’21)

Feature Series: The Economy of Francesco

Ian Schwenke (G’21) is a second-year master’s degree student in the Georgetown University Global Human Development Program and is a part of the Vocation and Profit working group for the "Economy of Francesco" international conference.

Ian Schwenke
Ian Schwenke

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.

Vocation and Profit in the Economy of Francesco: Can an Economic Model Predict Success?

I am part of the Vocation and Profit working group in the “Economy of Francesco.” While we have unfortunately not been able to travel to Assisi, we still are able to meet occasionally during our “Connection Mondays,” where we get together and discuss with our fellow village members on various topics related to our group theme. We focus on themes in the intersection of economics and how they relate to an individual’s lifestyle and work, or vocation. Much of the discussion has evidently been monopolized by new unfolding events around the world in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but we still are able to focus on our specific topic, and especially how vocation and profit may change under these circumstances.

I originally joined this group as I am a second-year student, currently studying international development in the Global Human Development Program in the School of Foreign Service. International development economics, jobs and work, and human capital are subjects I study on a daily basis. In connecting with individuals from around the world and experts who will join the Assisi conference, I hoped to learn more about the global trends in economic development, and how these individuals from around the world view our shared future.

During one of the calls, the organizer of the call made a very pertinent point that I have been thinking about ever since during my studies in development economics. Sometimes, you cannot take economic theory and apply it generally to the functionality of the world around you. His example was as follows,

“You have a deliverable due early the next morning at work. You know that while you could always return to work early tomorrow morning to finish the deliverable on time, you want to impress your boss. So, you decided to stay late at work and finish the deliverable before it was due so that the boss can walk in and receive it first thing in the morning, and you will take credit. In economic terms, this is a marginal benefit. However, since you stayed late at work, you missed dinner with your family, enjoying your favorite pastimes, or saying goodnight to your children.”

Although the marginal benefit may have been the right economic decision, sometimes profitability in your career is not the most important thing in life. Twenty years down the road, you may be successful, but also filled with regret. In the field of international development, when you are working across vastly different cultural contexts in unfamiliar countries, you have to keep in mind that the economic models of success you studied may not truly define success or happiness the same way to others. Sometimes, especially in regard to occupation and income, there is not necessarily a universal truth for what is right and wrong, and problems must be approached objectively, asking questions and seeking to understand others along the way.

Despite changing circumstances, I have enjoyed the “Economy of Francesco” working groups so far and am looking forward to attending the online conference soon.

Economy of Francesco Live: Promoting Human Development via YouTube

The online “Economy of Francesco” conference was a three-day event where multiple leaders, non-profit organizations, religious figures, musicians, and more joined together to talk about how the world needed an economy that worked for all people. This event was especially pertinent given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as we heard individuals talk about how the poorest are the most affected by global events today. While vaccines are being trialed and released, we cannot help but wonder how we can effectively implement a new economic system where the poor are treated fairly and allowed access to lifesaving services.

Of course, this was not quite a proper substitution for the in-person event, and there were quite a few events that were late, did not take place, or simply were not translated at all during the event. Unfortunately, my particular section of the conference for which I participated in my working group had an Italian-only panel with no translations, so I was unable to follow the conversation.

That being said, they did try to integrate participants’ feedback live into the conference, even though the vast majority of it was pre-set and recorded beforehand. The most striking glimpse into the participants of the conference was simply the live chat that happened alongside the YouTube stream. There were participants chiming in from Brazil and Bosnia to South Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The event in English which I enjoyed the most was a message from Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who is the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. I greatly appreciated how the first religious figure they brought to discuss the “Economy of Francesco” was of African (Ghanaian) descent. He spoke about the need to create economic models to help the poor—a necessity to change from a liquid economy to a social economy that invests in people, creates jobs, and trains workers. He asked what kind of wealth is necessary to improve the world. He continued by stating that the purpose of a business cannot be only to make profit, but to be a community of people brought together to act. The key is to recognize each person’s dignity despite their role in a business and allow them to act for the common good.

His title “promoting human development,” along with his message, aligns strongly with my studies as a Master of Global Human Development candidate. His words on changing the structure of economies and businesses to work for people involved in them echoed current international development dialogues of private investment in social change, corporate social responsibility, and impact investment. Although much of what was said during the conference may not be an immediate action item, I think this sort of dialogue that Cardinal Turkson presented is useful framing for real-world initiatives.

The remainder of the conference provided informative and interesting insight into thought leaders from around the world and their perspectives on economic change and how social issues fit within a new economic model. Along with virtual tours through the city of Assisi, and meet-and-greets with various members of the town, I do feel like I had a very small glimpse into what it would have been to be there, and I do hope to stay connected with the conference moving forward.

Ian Schwenke (G '21) is a second-year master’s student in the Georgetown Global Human Development Program in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. After returning from service as an English professor in Peace Corps Benin in 2019, he now studies international development with a sectoral focus on education and a regional focus on sub-Saharan Africa.