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.
On the Road to Assisi
News that I had been awarded a Georgetown fellowship that would enable me to participate in the “Economy of Francesco” gathering was an exciting moment. I looked with anticipation at the opportunity to engage in three days of fellowship with other young people from around the world, taking up the unique opportunity offered by Pope Francis in seeking to explore ways to reimagine the global economy and translate that vision into Church guidance.
Also, as a “double Hoya”—having completed my undergraduate degree at the School of Foreign Service and pursuing my master’s degree in the McCourt School of Public Policy’s evening program—I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to connect with fellow Hoyas, interested in furthering social justice conversations we’d explored on Georgetown’s campus.
However, like many things in 2020, the gathering did not go ahead as planned. As COVID-19 case numbers rose, the event organizers shifted the spring gathering to a virtual model of engagement. Following this shift, I was able to join a thematic village community (the gathering’s term for a working group) with a mandate to consider topics related to “Women for Economy.” The Women for Economy community was tasked with exploring challenges and crafting proposals to increase women’s participation and recognition in economic activities.
Even prior to the global pandemic, I had found this workstream particularly appealing. I hoped to connect with other young professional women and men navigating similar personal and professional questions related to the role of gender in society and to try to identify constructive approaches for achieving greater parity in expectations, opportunities, and outcomes. The gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly on women’s participation in the workforce, gender-based violence, widening socioeconomic inequality, and other metrics—only served to emphasize the salience of this topic in my personal and professional life.
Based on personal and professional interests in international development and social justice, I selected a focus on the thematic pillar of “Social Inclusion and Inequalities.” I was also asked by event organizers to facilitate a small group around this pillar—seeking to brainstorm ideas, bring together theory and practice, and ultimately come up with two to three concrete proposals to share back with the broader village community.
Having the opportunity to engage with a small cohort over the spring and summer months was very rewarding. In addition to discussing theoretical concepts and practical ideas for increasing equity and social inclusion, I was also able to meet and form relationships with a fantastic group of women with diverse backgrounds and similar interests in international development and social justice.
Meeting new people is not something I thought would be possible in a global pandemic! Our Zoom conversations were often the highlight of summer quarantine-weeks. A number of my group-mates were also Georgetown alums, which was a pleasant surprise and fun way to engage with members of the Georgetown community beyond in-person events.
Ultimately, our group developed recommendations for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, sharing these recommendations with the broader “Women for Economy” village community. Our recommendation that the Catholic Church should issue guidance related to paid parental leave expectations will be incorporated into a final, village-wide proposal that will be presented to Pope Francis for further consideration later this month.
I look forward to tuning in for the virtual conference, and I hope to stay engaged with the “Economy of Francesco” community members I’ve been able to meet in this process.
Reflections of the Road to Assisi
Last month, I joined thousands of other young people from around the world at the “Economy of Francesco” gathering. The event was very different from what we prospective participants had anticipated one year ago: in November instead of March, virtual instead of in-person.
But this unexpected context did not detract from the sense of urgency around the conference’s key theme of creating a more equitable and just society. If anything, the virtual environment—and months of group preparations in advance of the event—underscored the gravity of our conversations.
We weren’t “just” thinking about what a new economic paradigm might look like. We were considering practical proposals that aimed to mediate the pervasive inequalities that exist and that for many of us (privileged) participants have come into sharper relief this year.
So many of the conference’s sessions were so compelling! Having an international event spanning multiple time zones made it difficult to join all discussions in real time. Yet, I think the virtual format also permitted everyone to benefit from a diversity of speaker and participant opinions and life experiences. The virtual format also eliminated the need to opt for one session over another, as sessions were recorded and available at later times.
However, for me perhaps the most meaningful part of the conference was the preparatory work. Having the opportunity to come together within the Women for Economy village and small groups over the spring and summer were a much-needed bright spot during pandemic lockdown. This also facilitated getting to know other young people who were interested in similar things. While this process required more effort over a longer period than the initially-envisioned days-long conference, this format was also very worthwhile for the new relationships and reflections it offered.
And, it was with some gratitude that I was able to watch as our village’s work was presented to the entire conference for discussion and feedback. That the need for gender inclusion and equity in any new economic model was a key thematic takeaway from the event was no small feat, and I look with hope to how the Church will amplify this message moving forward.
While it would have been great to meet in-person, I have been very grateful for this year’s journey to the “Economy of Francesco.” I am very grateful to the conference organizers for ensuring we could all gather in a healthy and responsible way, and I am grateful to Georgetown for encouraging our community to participate.
Paige Kirby (SFS’12, G’21) is an international development professional passionate about achieving equitable outcomes through evidence-based policy making. A “double Hoya,” Paige received her Bachelor of Science from the Walsh School of Foreign Service and is pursuing her Master in Public Policy from the McCourt School at Georgetown University.