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Who we are and who we are not

I grew up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro in a village where the residents were either Roman Catholic or Lutheran, nothing in between. Most Lutherans did not know what it meant to be Lutheran except that they were not Roman Catholic. Similarly Roman Catholics simply knew that they were not Lutheran and that was all that mattered.

I used to bemoan this simplicity in knowing oneself by who one was not but during a meeting of the Steering Committee of the Economics of Compassion Initiative, I saw the value of knowing who one is not. Indeed that helps to sharpen one’s self-understanding.

As the working groups of the ECI continue to deepen their involvement in the concept of compassionate economics, it becomes more and more necessary that a clear message be articulated in order to engage the public. There are two tasks at the moment: one is – as already mentioned – to engage the public and the second is to create opportunities for an alternative economy.

The alternative economy we are calling compassionate does not seek to compete or do away with the current system. We are not an anti…movement; we are not a charity or philanthropic movement and we are not a mentor organization that is seeking to help those being left out improve their situation and function in the current system. As Peter Block put it, “we are not about servicing the casualties of the current system”

Our base is the community, not financial or capital. We rely on the knowledge of the community, not outside experts. The people know what is available in their community and what is needed to enhance and preserve their well being. It is not about self-survival and self-development, which promotes competition, but rather, cooperation and the well being of all.

Going forward, the working groups will share their work with one another. This is a powerful tool. When we think of the Jubilee Debt Forgiveness, for example, it may sound like a daunting imagination (it was for me). Yet debt forgiveness is practised daily, for example when a creditor offers a debtor an opportunity to pay only a portion of the debt. There is precedence also, on a larger scale, for example IMF’s debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative

We will also learn from similar initiatives in other cities. Our Economics of Compassion Initiative is a concept that is being practised in many places around the world. The only difference is in the title; for example, elsewhere it may be known as “Abundant Economy” initiative or Economics of Abundance, etc.

We are not alone, in other words. Indeed, around the world, there is dissatisfaction with the so-called free economy system, which is becoming more and more burdensome to 99% of the population while serving the 1% who control it. We are realizing that the system is neither free nor democratic.

Rather than simply bemoan this reality, we are seeking alternatives. The key is seeking. We want to learn from one another and to discover together. There are no answers laid out there. We look for the alternative together driven by our compassion for one another.

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