January 11, 2021

Michael Bakan (B’19)

Feature Series: The Economy of Francesco

Michael Bakan (B’19) is a strategy and consulting senior analyst at Accenture and is a part of the Finance and Humanity working group for the "Economy of Francesco" international conference.

Michael Bakan
Michael Bakan

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.

Value Congruence: Reflections from the “Economy of Francesco” Finance and Humanity Village

In the midst of the “Economy of Francesco” conference’s transition to virtual working groups, I joined the gathering’s Finance and Humanity village, where I eventually became part of a subgroup focused on detailing financial literacy resources for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The virtual nature of this engagement allowed for the formation of truly global teams, and I found myself collaborating with Matheus from Brazil and Mario from Italy. I was particularly drawn to this topic because I currently work in management consulting with a focus on commercial banking. While this industry and type of work can often seem void of mission and purpose-driven thinking, this working group allowed me to translate my professional skills into a creative environment grounded in social impact. We also worked very closely with other subgroups in the Finance and Humanity village, and together, our subgroup created a playbook for SMEs that details best practices while explaining how financial principles can be leveraged for social change.

Throughout the duration of the engagement, I consistently found myself drawn to the creativity of the collaboration. Talking to participants from other countries and learning their own business stories made it clear that financial literacy is a complex topic to understand in every country. With complexity comes the opportunity to exclude and leverage the complexity to advantage the few at the expense of the majority. Still, this working group committed to the truths of local businesses, and rather than condemn business as evil, we creatively thought about how we can best leverage the strengths of businesses to uplift communities and celebrate those at the margins of society. Our sole focus became financial inclusion and empowerment, demystifying the complexities and attempting to use storytelling, graphics, and culturally relevant metaphors to make key financial concepts engaging and more relevant to everyday language.

Participating in the “Economy of Francesco” has highlighted my own personal tension between what’s intellectually stimulating and what gives me deep passion and a sense of mission. While I enjoy the intellectual rigor of traditional fields like management consulting and commercial banking, I also find a deep passion and an energizing sense of purpose in applying the learnings from my profession towards a greater cause. Looking back to my time at Georgetown, the university often challenged me to think critically about how I could leverage my learnings for a deeper purpose. I remember that while working as a student analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, one of the fellows mentioned that the power of a Georgetown education is that it equips its students with a toolkit to discern value congruence in the professional world—to understand our own moral code and examine whether the companies we interact with are congruent with that code. The “Economy of Francesco” then challenges me to act upon the moments where those values do not align and cherish the privilege to stand in solidarity with those often excluded. As Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the twenty-eighth superior general of the Society of Jesus, put it, “What the world needs now is not words but lives that can only be explained through faith and a love of Christ poor.”

With only a week left before the official commencement of the “Economy of Francesco” gathering, I look forward to being captured by the imagination of economists and entrepreneurs at the actual event. This comes at a significant time in our world when institutions, structures, and traditions are being questioned, and the world is being animated by a cry for social justice. I pray that this gathering will help harness this energy for social good, and I pray that I might also be open and receptive to the messages of truth presented at this gathering.

Why Young Voices Matter in Imagining a More Just Economy

Gatherings with the weight and pull of the “Economy of Francesco” always leave me in awe of the power of multiplicity–the uniqueness of bringing together bright minds into a single space for a common cause. Within the broader scope of the “Economy of Francesco,” I found myself drawn to the gathering’s Finance and Humanity village, and in the months leading up to the gathering, I became an active participant in a working group focused on detailing financial literacy resources for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While this working group’s focus became increasingly narrow, the three-day virtual gathering of the entire “Economy of Francesco” consortium reminded me of the gathering’s broader reach. Although each working group was focused on distinct aspects of the global economy, I realized that all of the efforts were centered around the underlying premise that a more just world cannot be built without a more just economy and that participation in this more just economy is the duty of all members of the human race. In a time where faith often seems divorced from business, I found grace in the commitment to let faith, and especially Catholic social teaching, inspire economic conversation.

Participating in several of the larger plenary sessions made it very clear that this gathering served to provide inter-generational perspectives. In listening to the pope’s opening message and mission statement for the gathering, I became deeply appreciative for his specific intention to include young people in the conversation, and throughout the gathering, the organizers and keynote speakers consistently used language that pointed to the power of youthful energy in shaping the future of the economy. While economic conversations often require advanced credentials, I found this gathering to be powerful because it removed all traditional barriers and requirements for participation. It produced moments where youthful optimism beautifully clashed with experienced realism. Nobel Prize-winning economists were in dialogue with first-time business owners and recent university graduates.

In the end, while I initially thought that the most powerful moments of this gathering would center around the production of ideas, I personally found myself most drawn to the individual connections and conversations resulting from the gathering. As a participant, I was given the opportunity to connect with several other participants and speakers, and during one day, I was given a 30-minute one-on-one conversation with Jean Fabre, a resource person for the United Nations Interagency Task Force for Social and Solidarity Economy. During our conversation, Jean emphasized the important role that large multinationals can play in international development, and he consoled me of my internal fears of navigating corporate environments while balancing a desire to contribute to common good by emphasizing the role of intrapreneurship, whereby professionals can create positive change from within larger companies. Our conversation did not produce ground-breaking ideas, but it was a needed reminder of the values that I want to anchor my career around.

I will forever appreciate the creativity of the “Economy of Francesco”–imagining new economies requires thinking beyond traditional structures–and this creativity was consistently emphasized in Pope Francis’ ask to imagine an economy that fosters the whole of every person. Combined with youthful energy, participants of this gathering responded to the pope’s call to respond to the urgent “need for a different economic narrative.” In this first iteration, relationships were built and ideas were imagined, all in a virtual format. While I do believe that greater change will require more action-oriented plans and playbooks, I hope that in the near-term, the conversations will continue, the relationships will expand, the ideas will be socialized, and eventually, the key themes will start to diffuse into the hands of key decision-makers.

Michael Bakan (B'19) is a strategy and consulting senior analyst at Accenture, where he helps advise banks and other financial institutions on their digital transformation journeys. In 2019 he graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, where he studied international business and marketing.