By Jelena Mair
Business and Peace are not mutually exclusive. Business does play a crucial role in society. More so, business impacts and depends upon its surrounding. It impacts the
social well-being of people and planet, whether intentionally or unintentionally, both locally and globally through the chosen ways of operation and production.
Equally, does business play a key role in contributing to economic development, peace and stability in the areas where it operates. Business provides jobs and revenue to local markets; sets examples of sustainable business practices and can provide support for various social programs through strategic social investment.
In short, business is an inherent aspect of our society, and therefore, if we are striving for a more peaceful and sustainable world, for-profit private enterprises are the most crucial actors in achieving this goal.
In the last decade many systems around the world have been in crisis. The economic market has crashed and the environment is showing severe signs of degradation, both putting our future at stake (Galtung et.al., Klein, McKibben, McDonough and Braungart). The current dominant western economy model, despite creating great
wealth for a few, has failed on its promises, caused grave global financial crises and left many countries and people in economic devastation and hardship.
The spread of markets and democracy, led by America, has radically transformed the world and created the most powerful elite the world has known. This dominant economic legal framework has created a situation where “business” stays self-contained within the broader societal context (Porter & Kramer, 2011, p. 6) Such a self-contained system within a dynamic and diverse world is contradicting in its attempt and misses the opportunity of harvesting its full potential.
The time is urging us to start looking forward and to find sustainable and equitable solutions to the challenges we face. It is now time to find ways to create an economic system that works in accordance to and understanding of the fundamental structure that defines human life and the planet, otherwise we will slowly but surely self-destruct.
Many scientific reports across different disciplines highlight the causes and sever dangers of the current economic system, yet there seems to be a general notion that the system is unchangeable. Too few discussions are being raised publicly to accelerate this needed social and economic change.
From within the business sector there is much discussion and a yet small, but fastgrowing movement on the way. Global affiliations and business networks are being initiated with the goal to help transform the economic sphere in one way or another, from philanthropic and venture social entrepreneurship to development, governance and investment.
Within the financial sector there are different hubs emerging such as Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI backed by UNEP), Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIEX). On a larger, more global scale there are the UN Global Compact, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and the Business Call to Action (BCtA).
Rather than dwelling on why the current system does not work I am urging to look at how business can do both, work for peace and do business. Peace can be interpreted in many different ways, in the business context it can always be related to having basic human needs satisfied and providing nature to the ability to reproduce (Galtung et al. 2010).
“Our challenge is to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
The idea of doing good for both our society and our environment and still being profitable is just emerging (Porter and Kramer, Jones, Emerson), though many businesses across sectors have appeared that create their company around a social mission (Indigenous – organic and fair-trade fashion, Indosole – Flip Flop’s out of recycled car tires, PaliGrow (1) – a social enterprise increasing life quality for refugees in Jordan, etc.).
The rise of socially conscious entrepreneurs and “entrepreneurial thinking (2)” is gaining momentum and challenging the conventional way of the currently dominant business mindset.
The advances in technology propose new potential in marketing, customer involvement and “persuasive technology (3).” Social media has created the possibility to
share information and create viral movements like Israel loves Iran (Pushpin, 2012) or Koni 2012 (Invisible Children, 2012). A new school of thought, initiated by the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, proposes that big social technology corporation such as Facebook, Google, EBay, PayPal and the like carry the potential to be the next big “defense industry” (the Peace Lab calls it Defense Industry 2.0).
The concept is based on the measurement of traceable data transactions between people across a difference boundary (e.g. age, religion, nationality, etc.). Peace Lab has formalised this data structure and named it MAPI’s (Minimum Acceptable Peaceful Interactions). Apparently billions of MAPI’s are recorded in hi-tech company databases every day.
The advances in technology have also brought forth a new form of economy, one based on sharing (e.g. shareable, bayshare (4) etc.). The changes within business thinking are already happening due to consumer pressure for corporate social responsibility, research in related fields proving sustainable industry to be more profitable in the long run (McDonough and Baumgart, 2009, Brauer and Marlin 2009), as well as the increasing demand of individuals wanting to work for a purpose and a greater good (Harvard Business Review, New MBA’s Would Sacrifice Pay for Ethics, 2011 (5).
Lasting sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems can only be found if the gap between the different social sectors (private, public, civil) and disciplines can be bridged. Inclusive and participative cross-sector cooperation and/or collaboration offer great potential for collective impact, which will be more effective to find true
sustainable solutions to the present societal problems.
A great example of using a crosssector interdisciplinary approach is the city of San Francisco. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management has partnered with BayShare (6), an organisation with the goal to help the sharing economy flourish while simultaneously supporting city stakeholders (citizens and government), in an effort to assist the citizens of San Francisco during emergencies (7). Its program (8) promotes the building of strong connected neighborhoods and cross-sector coalitions for faster disaster response.
Studies show that brands who invite their customers to actively participate in achieving a sustainable common social change, like Toms’ buy a pair of shoes and give one to someone in need (see: http://www.toms.com/toms-us-giving/l) find great traction within their market and increased customer loyalty (Kania & Kramer, 2011). Another study suggests that business has the potential to raise awareness of social or environmental issues and activate customers or clients to collectively solve societal problems (Stokes & Prinz, 2013). In addition there is also research demonstrating the increasing demand of consumers for conscious consumption (Bemporad & Baranowski, 2007).
The studies mentioned above demonstrate the business potential and dependency on the environment, society and context in which it operates. A separation of business
from its context is impossible. The true role of business in war and peace can only be defined by looking at its purpose, relationship, and sphere of influence (Dubee, 2005, p. 28). To evaluate and determine the role of business, one can ask these simple questions: does the business support or detract the provision of basic human needs and the integrity of the ecosystem in relation to its products and services, the production cycle, the business structure and culture; and what does it do with its profit? (Galtung et. all. 2010) !
On a general industrial level this would mean to use a strict Cradle-to-Cradle industrial framework allowing and learning from nature’s self-reproduction with technologies based on recycling and waste reuse. Current violence supportive industries such as weapon manufacturers could focus their technology on renewable energy, recycling technologies and disaster relief equipment. !
In Switzerland the discussion of the government’s responsibility in arms trade has been raised again and again since 1938. Three public raised initiatives to ban arms trade
have been rejected due to the government and the related industrial lobbies propagating that weapon manufacturing is a big part of the Swiss national income, that jobs will be lost and that it is tradition to defend its nation.
These are the same kind of arguments we hear from politicians and lobbyist around the world and are widely propagated in the mass media. The arguments are built on scarcity and patriotism but have little to do with reality (Mair, 2011).
The Swiss governmental owned Ruag shows by example that it is possible to transform a weapon manufacturing company into a civilian and environmental sustainable
focused company. Ruag’s weapon productions have been reduced in the past years to about 15% of the company’s total production. The rest 75% of the business focuses now solely on civilian airplanes and recycling technologies (Kriegsmaterial.ch, n.d). !
In summary, the potential for peace industries is much bigger then propagated due to the current western mindset based on militarism with a goal to keep the oligarchy of
rulers as it is.
This mindset has created a capitalist economy based on the one rule, which is to make money above all―life, nature, god and spirit. Our relationship with money is
troubled. Having more does not make people feel more relaxed, but rather the opposite, increasing the fear of not having enough and needing more (Rosenblith, Henderson, Twist, Schor, & Sherrills, 2009).
Money used to be a tool created to increase the quality of life but has become life itself. Wealth is measured by the amount of money an individual, a group
or country is able to accumulate. As the renowned futurist Hazel Henderson says, the main error of the current capitalist system is that money is mistaken for wealth. The true wealth is not what one accumulates in money or property, but our human potential, our talents and natural resources.
1. PaliGrow is a young social enterprise. I met the founders in fall of 2012 in Jordan. In 2013 the organization became a US certiCied B-‐Corporation. The website of PaliGrow is still in the makings. Currently information can only be found on their Facebook page.
2. “Entrepreneurial thinking” or “entrepreneurial mindset” involves looking beyond the current and visualizing what the future can bring with individual and collective initiatives to solve societal problems and create products and services that serve a greater purpose. It also refers to the ability to view the world and its surroundings as a marketplace and in turn developing the necessary actions to exploit opportunities that present themselves – see more here.
3. “Persuasive technology” is technology that attempts to change the way users think and behave. It is an interdisciplinary approach to harness the way users interact to create shifts in the way they perceive the world around them. Applications for persuasive technology can include advertising, health education, and political activism. Many examples are ubiquitous and users may not be consciously aware of the way the technology around them affects their behavior, habits, and attitudes. See more here.