The Third Sector and its Roots

 “Do you know why I only eat roots? because roots are very important. ” La Grande Bellezza, a film by Paolo Sorrentino.

The third sector and NGOs in general are often born with the hope that the problem for which they were created disappears: drugs, AIDS, poverty, social exclusion, etc. This principle defines a particular behavior of these organizations regarding their development and growth, from which emerges the need to constantly adapt their reason for being so as to remain useful.

Therefore, the nature of all these non-profit organizations is in their evolution, that is the set of maturing and learning processes through which an organization fulfils its life cycle, updates its potential to transform, and adapts itself to new needs, but not to the growth of the organization in itself.

After having undergone an initial spontaneous pioneering stage, in the 70’s and 80’s, many of these organizations experienced great growth in professionalization and institutionalization and have emerged, little by little, from a culture of heroism into one of social responsibility, positioning themselves as reliable and credible intermediaries.

Within this context, I think it is appropriate to mention an excerpt from “Las raíces franciscanas de la economía de mercado” prepared by Luigino Bruni, Faculty of Economics, Universidad del Studi di Milano – Bicocca. In this work the author demonstrates how the charism of St. Francis of Assisi is influencing modern economic activities, before highlighting the deep significance as well as the scope of the concepts of gratuitousness and logic of gift in such activities. The author understands the market as a form of ‘philia’, an ancient Greek term often translated as brotherly love. The market is based on the determinants of this “brotherly love”: reciprocity, mutual trust, cooperation with others, the search for the common good (mine and yours). However, the driving force of human activities can go beyond this reciprocity basing itself in agape, the universal, gratuitous love; the love for humanity. Agape is present every time individuals act for the common good and find within themselves and in the act itself the resources to move forward even when there is no reciprocity.” (L. Bruni)

“Agape seems to have a transitory nature, occurring in history as a dawn that never comes to full light.

“I am convinced that while agape is a transitory experience by nature and is destined over time to evolve towards philia, or towards the contract / hierarchy, it plays a fundamental role in human affairs. Whenever agape occurs in history, fertilizing, flavoring and fermenting human experiences, this step, however brief, never leaves things how they are found. Even though it may only last a few years or decades, a few months or even days, this occurrence leaves its mark on history, and after each encounter with agape, the philia and the hierarchy have also changed.

“Thus after the Apostolic Age, the modern Church is no longer the old sacred community and does not share many of its characteristics, thus its experience of agape in the early days has infected and transformed it. The post-Franciscan agape market ceases to be the market of the late Roman Empire, or the agora of Athens in the time of Aristotle and Pericles. Once the agapic experience of Vincenzo de Paoli, Don Bosco or Francesca Cabrini has taken place, care for the sick, young people and immigrants is no longer the same. Ghandi transformed India just as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. When agape breaks into history, it increases the degrees of freedom altering it every time, thus opening up new possibilities. The market economy is no longer the same following the cooperative movement, fair trade and the Economy of Communion.

“The history of humanity lives on thanks to a tradition of testimonies of agapic experiences: without Christianity we would not have had St Francis of Assisi, without St Francis so many charisms of “care of poverty” in the modern age would not exist; with no rural or savings banks, we would not have ethical banking today and without the cooperative movement we would never have known social cooperation …and we could go on and on. One agapic experience preserves the seed itself, and even when it is forced to transform through ulterior motives, that seed passes to others, inspiring and cultivating new experiences in an ongoing relay that forms the lifeblood of history.

“It would be disastrous to attempt to stem the creation of prophetic and perfect experiences such as those born from agape, just because we fear that they will not last or are destined to be short-lived like the radical views of the early days: this would mean blocking civil progress, the true human innovation; thereby, blocking the progress of history as a continuous process of rapidly evolving, agapic experiences whose death fertilizes the land. Agape is the one true human and civil innovation, because it is its exceedance that innovates. For this reason, in the experience of even the most hedonistic and anonymous markets we can glimpse echoes of the Franciscan brotherhood, and within it the agape from whence it originated, thereby, salvaging it as an authentically human experience when reunited with its original and fundamental root.

“And every time a person anywhere in the world or in any situation, lives a life of agape inside or outside the markets, by not surrendering to pain or exploitation, by risking his life, by not submitting to death logic or blackmail, or by venturing into an economy of gratuitousness even in a context marked by selfishness or consumerism, then the agapic economy is possible here and now, and forever; an agapic economy that does not merely replace the civil economy based on “philia,” nor that of Smith, but that can actually be its cornerstone.”

(Luigino Bruni: Franciscan Roots in Market Economy and in the Encyclical “Caritas in veritate.” Ambivalences and possibilities – Theological Script/ Vol. 44/2012 – p. 159-161)

Globalization; demographic concerns; population ageing; migration flows; unemployment; and advances in modern technology and robotics which usually tend to destroy more jobs than they create, are forcing us to reflect on our new social protection systems and our well-being, not to dismantle or reduce them to the minimum, but to enhance and disseminate them as necessary investments which will protect the common good and ensure sustainability in its most profound sense.

The Third Sector, together with other social actors, will have an important role to play in this challenge, providing that it does not confine itself in its role as service lender to public administration; thus breaking from the paradigms of the last century where it was a key beneficiary of the social intentions of the civil movements of 1968 and of the Second Vatican Council which revolutionized Western social policy with Christian ethos.

Consequently, roots are very important!