Istituto Acton held a private viewing and debate on The Call of the Entrepreneur in the romantic city of Verona, better known for its romantic association with Romeo and Juliet than with one of Italy’s most enterprising commercial regions.
Arranged and sponsored by the investors group – Noi Soci – of Cattolica Assicurazione, a private insurance company founded 115 years at the turn of the 19th century, the documentary was shown on April 1 to a private audience of 220 of the company’s stakeholders, colleagues and business partners – who actually showed up early – a rarity of time management and courtesy not often experienced in the southern city of Rome, where Acton’s Italian office is located.
The company’s original mission, based on protecting the private landholdings of farmers against natural disaster, was the brainchild of 34 entrepreneurs who boasted more than 14 Catholic priests in its original investment group.
When I heard this story, I had to ask the president of Cattolica Immobilare (the real estate investment firm owned entirely by Cattolica Assicurazioni), Enrico Racasi, to repeat what he had just told us.
“Few people realize this, but among the insurance company’s original founders there were actually 14 priests who were very much concerned about the survival and welfare of local enterprise”, Racasi said.
“We still commence our executive meetings with prayer and often meet for Mass beforehand … We need priests to become entrepreneurs again. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we were all working privately together for the common good? But times have really changed!”
Debate and commentary on the film included inspiring remarks from Verona’s mayor, Flavio Tosi, a “no excuses” conservative politician from the north. Tosi said that politicians should be much less concerned about “legislating a good society” in order to “let private individuals lead the way” to work hard and improve society themselves.
“Everyone should work with a spirit of calling and moral purpose … All we (politicians) can do is encourage free enterprise among our citizenry through adequate public policies and fiscal incentives.”
One of the entrepreneurs present on the speaker panel, Giuseppe Pasini, president of Federation of the Italian Steel Companies, Federacciai, said Jimmy Lai’s story as portrayed by the documentary was most inspiring.
Pasini said today’s entrepreneurs need to dig down to find inspiration for their enterprise within their deep moral values and convictions.
“Just like Jimmy Lai, entrepreneurs are moved by the values imbedded in their spirit. In Acton’s film we paid witness to an upstart refugee from Communist China, whose businesses are a way of vindicating his difficult past, to fight for freedom in his homeland, and done in loving honor of his parents who let him to pursue his dreams freely abroad. This was a very moving story for me and should be for other entrepreneurs.”
Kishore Jayabalan, Acton’s Rome director and the event’s keynote speaker, summed up the problem of diminishing entrepreneurship and sluggish economies in Italy and other industrialized nations of the West.
“The failure of the economy is not just a failure of the system,” he said, “but of the person.”
Jayabalan concluded, however, that we cannot just blame ourselves and individual moral characters for our current economic woes. Our institutions, too, play a vital role in spurring on healthy free enterprise. “The obstacles to entrepreneurship are not unique to Italy. More recently the same can be said of the United States -with higher taxes, more regulations, state-mandated health care – all of which create institutional burdens to the entrepreneurial vocation.”
Entrepreneurs look for opportunities. States can provide all kinds of disincentives in the name of social justice, but end up killing the “golden goose” of entrepreneurship, Jayabalan added. “The state has an important role in providing law and order, protecting property rights, and defending the sanctity of life from conception to natural death…Beyond these things, the state should avoid trying to predict market outcomes or pick winners and losers in the market economy,” he said.
At the closing of the event, the president of Cattolica Assicurazione, Paolo Bedoni, in his gentlemanly northern Italian ways, apologized for there not being more guests present – though the sala was nearly completely full to our absolute delight.
Bedoni’s final remarks left us inspired to continue our international mission: “When I read Fr. Sirico’s book”, he said while referring to The Entrepreneurial Vocation, the Acton monograph that inspired the documentary and given to all guests at the event, “my hands were trembling because of its great truth.”
Our collaborators were so enthusiastic that they are now looking forward to co-sponsoring similar documentary showings and debates in the industrial cities of Mantova and Milan this fall.