Nearly 300 participants traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for this year’s Acton University confer- ence, led by Acton scholars and prominent affili- ates of the institute. The four- day event, held downtown, was enormously successful, according to conference faculty and those in attendance. While many participants found AU close to home, one-third of this year’s attendees were interna- tional professors, students, church leaders, lawyers, and businesspeople, representing over forty-one separate countries.
The participants were able to choose from a host of available lectures on topics ranging from globaliza- tion and the environment to natural law theory and a Christian ethic of charity. As a new feature of this year’s AU, post-lecture discussion groups were held to give attendees a chance to explore further the issues speakers raised in their talks.
Acton’s new documentary, The Call of the Entrepreneur, was shown during the conference. The film received favorable reviews, especially from attend- ees living in countries where few tools exist for educating the pub- lic about the mechanics of the free market.
While over one-third of partici- pants had attended the confer- ence in previous years, AU 2007 also drew in a fresh crowd of academics, professionals, and church leaders interested in developing a coherent, Christian philosophy of economics. Equipped with books, teaching materials, and a solid exposition of issues critical to worldwide faith and liberty, partici- pants returned home better prepared to engage the marketplace of ideas in America and abroad.
I can say without hesitation that it was the most fruitful and enjoyable pro- gramme I have been on of its kind; fruit- ful because I learnt a great deal about free markets and enjoyable principally because of the robust debate and super friendships...
London School of Economics
Acton is a very unique organization, and I’m glad and thankful for its exis- tence, for its mission, and for its staff.
This year’s conferences were even more impacting and influential in my life.
Knox Theological Seminary
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
During Acton University, a group of African par- ticipants joined executive director Kris Mauren on a visit to Gordon Food Service’s Grand Rapids head- quarters for an up close look at ethical capitalism. Mauren called it a perfect opportunity for people from countries with barren and corrupt markets to see an efficient, principled business for themselves. The group met with Gordon Food Service manage- ment for a luncheon, then toured the company’s office and factory area. Harry Ayile, formerly from Ghana and now residing in Norway, was complete- ly blown away by the excellence and dedication he observed. “It was like ... wow,” Ayile commented with a smile.
Comparing Gordon Food Service’s methods to the way business is done in Africa and even in Europe, Ayile said his visit couldn’t have been more of an eye opener. “Before I came to Acton, I thought all people who did business were evil,” he said. Ayile recalled one food production company in Ghana that deliberately had been selling expired grain infested with maggots. “They would just sift out the maggots, package the grain, and sell it at full price,” he said. Ayile called the incident typi- cal of business practices in much of Africa, which lacks the institutional support necessary for free enterprise to flourish. He added that many busi- nesses “show very little respect for the consumer, as opposed to the way American businesses like this one care about their customers.”
Although Africa has a long way to go, Ayile said his visit was inspiring and gave him hope for the future of Ghana and other developing countries in Africa.
On Thursday, another group visited Alticor, Inc. in nearby Ada, Michigan. The participants, includ- ing a law student from Guatemala, a reporter from Romania, and a nonprofit administrator from Brazil, toured Alticor’s headquarters and learned about the company’s entrepreneurial history. Later, the group lunched with Alticor executives and held a lively discussion about Alticor’s business opera- tions, the value of free markets, and the impact of globalization. This second visit also allowed the participants to see how an American company applies the principles of entrepreneurship and free enterprise in today’s business world.
The Acton Institute has established relationships with four international affiliate organizations that share our mission and seek to advance the ideas of the Acton Institute within their own cultural context. Following Acton University, representatives of three such organizations from Zambia, Argentina, and Brazil visited our Grand Rapids office to brainstorm about ways to coop- erate with Acton in the future. In their meetings with Acton staff, the partners discussed prog- ress made in 2007, planned for future projects such as joint conferences, and received practical training tools to promote free-market principles outside the United States.