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.
Lessons Learned from the Business and Peace Working Group
Throughout the “Economy of Francesco” event, I was part of the Business and Peace working group. The structure of this working group consisted of various sessions that examined the origins of conflict and the absence of peace. The main thesis was that conflict does not emerge by itself and that it is mostly the consequence of inequality, economic vulnerability, injustice, and poverty.
In this sense, one of the most outstanding conferences of this working group included lectures from economics professors Julio Camilo and Raul Caruso. Both scholars examined the relationship between peace, trust, and the role of business. I personally never attended a conference on this subject and found it fascinating how they established a clear relationship between the role of businesses and peace. I was initially sceptical about this relationship, as I always regarded the origins of war as a consequence of political confrontation by leaders of different factions, groups, or countries.
Prior to this conference, and given my background in comparative politics, I always related disputes with conflicts about identity, which afterward lead to border disputes or the will of one group to dominate over another one. But I found the relationship between the role of businesses and peace very enriching. The main argument that was given throughout various sessions of this working group is that if businesses are able to create opportunities for inclusive development, the chances for conflict can be reduced. In this sense, it is imperative for businesses to be agents for trust vis-à-vis their workers, customers, local authorities, providers, and neighbours of their community.
I learned in this conference that businesses can be agents for peace only if leaders of the company are courageous. This may sound like a simplistic approach, but what it refers to is that businesses can promote greater inclusion among different groups and consequently reduce identity conflicts or social inequality. By so doing, business leaders must be determined in acknowledging that social unrest and war harm their business operations and revenue. Therefore, one of the main responsibilities of businesses is to have a greater perspective on social developments and try to engage as much as they can in reducing inequality gaps. This can be done when hiring a workforce, positively engaging with local NGOs, and being aware of potential conflicts that can emerge in their field of action.
These lessons learned in the Business and Peace working group are very related to my coursework at Georgetown. Throughout the past two years, I have been particularly focused on the intersection of the public and private spheres with the intention of pursuing a career in this sector. My focus has more been on large public-private partnerships, as well as on the overall impact that social and political developments have on corporations. Therefore, this experience has been very enriching because it has widened my perspective on the social responsibility for businesses, which goes beyond environmental or sustainable goals, but also involves a proactive approach that can ensure stability and peace.
Overall Experience of the “Economy of Francesco” Conference
The “Economy of Francesco” conference was a truly inspiring event. Despite the online format, it was very encouraging to be part of a global community that is committed to making the world a better place. In my working group on business and peace, I engaged in very interesting discussions about the origins of conflict and how businesses, as well as institutions, play a crucial role in guaranteeing peace and global stability.
Throughout the overall event, it was fascinating to discover a global community that deeply cares about the current state of the world and is actively engaged in trying to reverse global challenges. The main debates were around climate change, global social inequality, and how to build a more inclusive economy. It was very inspiring to hear from outstanding leaders such as Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Jeffrey Sachs, or Mariana Mazzucato. Hearing their perspectives—but also their optimism—was very enriching.
However, perhaps one of the most special moments was hearing the video message of Pope Francis, who emphasized the unsustainability of the current economic system and the need for new leaders who in the private and public sectors seek to have a positive social impact. He specifically mentioned the work throughout the “Economy of Francesco” event, and how important it is that young people come together to discuss global challenges and create a community with shared values and a common purpose.
For me personally, this event has helped me to realize how important it is to have a social conscience and to acknowledge the severe challenges that the world faces. In a sense, this conferenced served as a wake-up call and made me realize that it is precisely our generation that must address and solve them. I was also very encouraged by the diversity represented in this conference and to be able to directly engage with participants from different continents who also share the same concerns. This also gave me hope, because whilst we widely discussed many negative impacts of globalization, I could also experience a very positive one, which is the fact that we are interconnected and that this interconnection contributes to a shared responsibility on challenges that cannot be solved locally, but globally.
Finally, I am very much looking forward to next year’s event. Whilst the virtual environment provided a unique challenge, it proved to be a productive tool to create lively discussions. However, I am very excited about debating these issues in person and to engage in vibrant discussions in a unique setting such as the one that inspired the great work and legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Jacobo (G'21) is a graduate student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Originally from Spain, he is primarily interested in the intersection of business and government. Before pursuing graduate studies, he worked for two years at a European financial institution. Additionally, he was an intern at the United States Congress and the 2016 presidential campaign.