Theme 1: The Role of Business in Advancing Peace Through Commerce

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A discussion moderated by Cindy Schipani, Professor of Business Law, Ross School of Business

Visit Biographies for more about presenters

How can business contribute to sutainable peace?
In this session leaders from business and NGO institutions provide their understanding of the ways that commerce and peace link together. The presentations focus actual experiences of institutional leaders and empirical testing done of the relation of business and peace. The speakers range from groceries to tourism to technology to international development.

What do leading business and NGO leaders see as the contribution business can make to sustainable peace?

Watch the four videos and join the discussion with presenters below.

Steve Killelea, Australian Entrepreneur and Philanthropist, Founder of Global Peace Index

"The Compelling Case for Business to Embrace Peace"(6:41)

Walter Robb, President & Chief Operating Officer, Whole Foods Market

"How We Do Business Matters: the Case for Conscious Capitalism"(5:34)
Presentation slides Full Presentation Video

Roger Dow President & CEO
Travel Industry Association of America

"Peace From The Perspective of the Tourism Industiry"(9:28)

John Sullivan Executive Director
Center for International Private Enterprise

"The Center For International Private Enterprse's Public-Private Partnerships and Peace"(8:37)


Discussion: How can business contribute to sutainable peace?

1. Is asking business to contribute to peace an extension of corporate social responsiblity or is it something different?
  1. Each speaker provides a concrete, positive example or set of examples where businesses have made a contribution to social harmony. Do you think the kinds of businesses and NGOs they represent in these industries can replicate what these organizations have done? Are there other busineses that you think could also play a leading role in promoting peace?

  2. What impact, if any, do you think the recent global economic downturn will have on these efforts?

Hello everyone and welcome to the WBI-ICR eConference: Peace Through Commerce! Today we begin our nine week discussion on these novel ways of thinking about the role business can play in making the world a safer place. Sometimes some (or all) of us may miss some (or all) of the mark, but my hope and expectation is that we will end up making good progress and advance as well as refine the ideas of how business can foster peace.

Our first moderator has a special place in the history of this effort. Ten years ago, there were very, very few people talking at all about what business could do to foster peace. Trade and peace? Yes. But business behavior and peace? That was different. When I became serious about wanting to pursue this, the first colleague I talked to was Cindy Schipani. She is now (and I was then) a professor at the University of Michigan Business School and her willingness to explore this topic with me made a huge difference to the effort intellectually and equally important, her credibility at Michigan gave the idea itself the credentials that allowed us to move forward. So it seems fitting that the first moderator for our eConference would be Cindy Schipani.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the first discussion of this conference on how business can contribute to sustainable peace. I hope you will join this discussion by adding your thoughts and experiences on how business may have a positive impact in promoting more peaceful societies.

This is very exciting. Is awesome to be part of this unique eConference. I think asking business to contribute to peace is an extension of corporate social responsibility and a call to future long term profitability in the economy.

Governments, Civil Society, Media, local and foreign businesses should engage in promoting peace by implementing social, economic and environmental consciousness.

In order to create political stability in countries, measures should be put in place by businesses to focus on responsible CSR behavior.

I guess the question for me is one of chicken or egg - which comes 1st - peace or business / economic growth? In presenting his research, Steve Killelea seems to suggest that economic growth is a driver of peace (or at least an indicator) - but I would have to argue that without peace there is very little hope of economic growth - research by saferworld and others shows that the average conflict costs a country 15% of its GDP over the period of the conflict and that it takes many years for a country to claw its way back to where it was before.

Equally so poverty does not equal conflict prone - that is far too simple an analysis - and in fact prosperity does not equate to peacefulness - his own index shows that to be false. Neither does his analysis on years in education hold - again from his own world index.

What does seem to hold is that without post conflict economic growth the chances of returning to conflict is higher. And what also holds is that it is much cheaper (in financial terms) to prevent conflict compared to the cost of resolving it and reconstructing the economy after the fact. However, I see very little political will (or business will) to act decisively before the fact - because that is “meddling” and is risky.

I have spent the past year looking at the CSR aspects of this and it is almost impossible to find a company that has a specific CSR focus on peace and stability. They will invest in HIV, education, orphans, water etc - but very few in conflict prevention, mediation, conflict resolution etc.

There are some good examples of business acting to prevent or deter conflict - the Kimberly Process being the most notable - but again there is very little appetite to extend that kind of process to other commodities. Furthermore the Kimberly process is at best self imposed sanctions and is not an expansive business growth strategy.

I would value other perspectives on this.


One more overarching comment - relating to the topic of the day: “How can business contribute to sustainable peace?”

The obvious point is not to be part of the problem - in other words not to fuel conflict or instability by their business practice. I am sure that very few corporates set out to fuel conflict but I wonder how many make strategic decisions based on conflict potential analysis that is based on a real understanding of the drivers of conflict in a particular region. For example land access, or exclusion of certain groups, or access to limited resources.

I could go on but am really interested to hear others perspectives.

I wanted to start off first, by stating how great it was to hear thoughtful business people stand up and promote peace and business. As discussed, in today’s world, these two words have been viewed as contradictory, which is something that needs to be stopped. Being a student in the business school, it has almost become a taboo to show interest in entering the corporate world because of all the greed and corruption that has been occurring for decades. Although companies have started to become more “socially aware”, my concern is that many of them are merely doing so because they understand that it is the “trendy” thing to do. For instance, there are still companies out there that have laborers working in sweat shops, while concurrently trying to “go green”. How can consumers differentiate a business that actually cares about this new movement of business and peace vs. a company that is solely doing it in order to reap the economic benefits?
Thank you!

Very interesting points.

What I have seen from field experience is corporations not always able to “read” the social context in proper time horizons. I mean, being able to positioning strategically in an scenario where their investment activities could positively correlate with peace promotion. By this last one, I mean for example, base their purchasing decisions in promoting local economies. Investing in a value chain of suppliers will not render results in few months. The analysis perhaps would start with increasing literacy or vocational skills education opportunities. These examples will take years to render positive value in constructing social and human capital that corporations could use and promote peace at the same time.

Corporations should be able to present themselves as another stakeholder with a clear and consistent message. They should know how to wisely use their rights as corporate citizenship among the host communities. In this last case, there were many cases of guilty by association in countries where there is tension between civil society and central governments. The social license to operate is a clear example.

Conflicts are not caused by overnight reasons. There is always a trend that could be measured by some qualitative indicators as I think is the message in the Global Peace Index or other similars. There are interesting tools in the area of social analysis in regards to conflict prevention. The challenge perhaps is that corporations perceive the risk prevention actions too big or complex to be tackled by their sole participation. This is the moment where instead they must have access to a good stakeholder analysis and start interventions aiming to promote peace within the large influence of all the stakeholders involved.

I hope this helps in this interesing discussion.

  1. I would have to say that it depends on various factors: business mission and vision, market, country, clients, etc. It would not be part of CSR if, say, Ratheon decided to invest in peace it would most certainly go against what the company is all about. Oh sure, they do have Ethics, Environment, Safety and other programs; but to a company of that nature, investing in peace would be awkward to say the least, just like maybe to another company it would seem so natural. In response to the question, I believe it should be part of CSR where available, so that it’s easy to implement since most companies have a CSR agenda already.

  2. Yes, I believe they are capable of replicating what the example businesses have done given enough will and resources. Can’t really answer the second part of the question.

  3. It definitely has an impact and we’re seeing it now, at least in my country. Budget cutbacks and massive layoffs do not leave much room for scenarios such as the one presented by Mr. Killelea. Companies are downsizing and “non-critical” operations, such as CSR, are among the first to go.

These are very interesnting topics because it´s a kind of corious questions, but I think that the problem is that these, business and peace are very near, and this knowledge give us the opportunity to know how we must build our society and poors countrys, if we create peace and business we will be helping in a suitable development.

I had have the opportunity of visiting very poors countrys, I also live in a developing country, but I had visited Haiti las summer and I concerned that if we do not have a peace, a kind of culture of business and development, we are not going to grow, so there´s my opinion, both of them

Now, I created and work in a NGO, this is contributing in these topics, fist helps in economics development into a indigenous area, and then the education we give tries to create an enviroment of peace and building over the problems. I think that education provides quite good solutions for peace and growth

Thank you for creating an open forum in which NGO’s and Business can offer their views and expertise. Such a group has the power to substantially affect the outcome of the world situation.
I am grateful to be a part of this discussion.

So true! Things cannot and will not change by themselves. That is why we need to come together as Poverty Alleviation Leaders and create change ourselves.

First, I must note the presentations and comments have been very insightful. I completely agree with Dow. The tourism industry plays a substantial role in promoting global peace and awareness. It’s unfortunate that travel is down due to the state of the global economy. What better way to understand cultural diversity than to roam the world.

  1. Business intent to be socially responsible may create generous efforts toward peace, but if the goods, services or practices of the business damage peace, the company’s social responsibility is weakened and its motives are suspect. Defining peace and what creates it seems very important to this discussion.

  2. The business sectors represented by the speakers appear more compatible with peace than some. Tourism, healthy foods and the 2 NGOs have less conflict with peace endeavors than say polluting industries such as pharmaceuticals or utilities. However, any business willing to take into account the impact of its products and practices on human and environmental well-being will find ways to contribute to peace… beyond giving money to social causes. I believe those businesses with the most direct impact on human health are the businesses that can most effectively lead in promoting peace. Could we consider human health as the base of sustainability and sustainability as a prerequisite for peace?

  3. If the global economic downturn brings us to a greater awareness of how to live and produce essential goods such as food, housing and energy sustainably, then I believe the downturn can have a positive impact. Here again the question: what creates peace and sustainability? Is peace the absence of violence? Can we create sustainability from having science and technology save us? What role does personal responsibility play? Can some humans live in peace and prosperity while others struggle along behind them?

I think what Nancy has a valid point on directly impacting health, personal responsibility and technology. My small business model is derived from my past work in community development and health. Looking not only into the impact the products and service have in postively or negatively impact my customers health but how the process fo the business can engage the community in providing a living model on helping my empoyees (who come from marginalized groups) gain the psychological and economical empowerment. In addition I live and work in the community where I do business; as a positive deviant in terms of utilizing environmental accounting practices to better capture the cost and provide the stimulus to develop more efficient ways of using energy, human resources and space to offset the higher initial costs of using more energy/time efficient technology and balanced life human resource policies.

I agree with Nancy and believe that the global economic downturn can bring some positive impact in the near future. Science and Technology can save us, because it forces people to accept it on a macro scale. People cut costs and become more self-reliant in a downturn and therefore spend less; which is the perfect catalyst for change by means of technology. Utilizing certain technologies to save lives, create altered food and feed many, and sustain clean, long-term energy; this will in affect, bring eventual peace to society, because basic resources are no longer controlled or completely dependent upon.

It’s interesting to be part of this calling group. Peace as a word has eluded most Developing Nation in whatever form you might think. Nations country has suffered peace in practice and concept. However it’s important to note that peace a as fanning instrument of development in any society is function of All be it corporate, media, and civil society as the case may be. A good example of this is Niger Delta conflicts in Nigeria where both Multi Nationals shun off their responsibility in maintaining peace at the community. The effect today is what the world is battling with on the production of crude oil. Peace is a universal concept that is important for every living organization, personal or whatever to ensure it’s achieved.

What a great first day of presentations and comments. Thank you to Tim Fort, the World Bank Institute, Inspiris (hosts of BusinessFightsPoverty), and all involved. As ED and Chief Integration Officer of FLOW I was fortunate to participate in the November 2008 PTC conference and have the daily honor to work on promoting Peace Through Commerce. I am encouraged to see the interest in and enthusiasm about the idea of Peace Through Commerce, and the prospects for peace embodied by ethical entrepreneurs and businesses.

With respect to the discussion questions I post the following responses:

Building on Walter Robb’s presentation, here are the principles of Conscious Capitalism, 1. The business has a deeper purpose (beyond ROI), 2. the leaders of a business will serve their business best by recognizing that their business functions in a system of interdependent stakeholders and that the best approach to business is to serve all of the stakeholders in a way that optimizes the overall system, and 3. that the role of the leader is to serve. The Whole Foods Market Stakeholder Model provides a clear representation of the principles of CC applied. Based on this approach, peace can be integral to a company’s business, part of the service it provides to its stake holders, an investment in the context in which it does business, and a function of its responsibility as a citizen. As Roger Dow reflected and as the Global Peace Index represents, for an industry like the travel industry, peace is essential to the industry and the industry plays a substantial role in promoting peace.

FLOW is dedicated to liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good, as we recognize the historical and ongoing role entrepreneurs play in advancing innovation, generating wealth, creating jobs, and promoting peace in the process.

We collaborate on on-the-ground projects that explicitly aim to advance Peace Through Commerce (many of which also explicitly aim to Accelerate Women Entrepreneurs) and we are developing an ongoing outreach and education program to advance the idea and practice of PTC. We are always looking for new stories of PTC projects, and we welcome explorations into ne collaborations.

We look forward to the next two months of conversations on this platform, and to the ideas and actions that will come from them.

Let me start by thanking the Organisers of this wonderful e-forum , Thank you very much to allow us share experience and knowledge with the leading Business Companies and NGO all around the Globe.

Well in my own Perspective, i truly believe Business has a leading role to play in promoting not only peace , but also development. Take an example of the Current conflicts mainly in Africa and the rest of the world. The whole choas is always organised through molising the Youth who are in most cases Jobless and poor to go and promote instabiltity.

But if we can come together to create avenues for more Business Opportunites that will create more jobs, this will help create a more Busy enviroment for this age group , thus leaving it with less time to attend to such mobilisation or else they will be interested in protecting their Business and Jobs , thus creating peace , Development and stablity.

This can be done by working together with NGO’s which reach down to mobilise communties

I conclude therefore by asking all the concerned authorities to provide more funding to emerging markets so that we they can merge together with the Developed World and also paving way for a trade free zone to enable the smoth flow of business , not forgetig Corprate responsility by big companies.