A new UN initiative aims to help spur recovery in post-conflict regions by guiding companies to invest responsibly
War and peace are linked inextricably by economic development. Often, even when the shooting stops, long-term peace is impossible without economic development. Yet investment will not flow where conflict lingers.
This grim Catch-22 has resurfaced lately with the unfolding catastrophe in Syria. Day by day, the death toll, physical destruction, and refugee displacements mount. The disaster is creating countless long term, chronic woes too. The destruction of 3,600 schools, for instance, in Syria has swelled by two million or so the global tally of young people forced out of school by armed conflict to some 50 million overall.
In Syria and elsewhere this creates a pool of underemployed youth, and a potential time bomb of social unrest.
Once conflict ends, if there are no jobs for young people, rebels and soldiers, “The guns will come back out… In the absence of economic development, peace is difficult to achieve, and harder to maintain,” Sir Mark Moody-Stuart told me. From his tenure as Chairman of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Moody-Stuart is familiar with the challenges, and opportunities, facing investment in conflict-afflicted regions.
Data on the economic toll of the loss of peace is difficult to come by, but an analysis by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), estimated that had the world been completely peaceful in 2011, global GDP would have been roughly $9tn higher — almost equal to the German and Japanese economies combined.
These days, as vice-chair of the board of the UN Global Compact, Moody-Stuart is working to get the private sector to reconsider these opportunities. “Not so very long ago, divestment from troubled areas was the goal,” he said.
Today, however, former critics are increasingly willing to “sit down with investors and senior management to engage constructively and work together on strategies that both develop business and contribute to peace and development,” he said.
I met with Moody-Stuart in New York at a midtown hotel where he was unveiling a new UN effort to help guide private-sector investment into regions where they can help peace was taking root. The platform, Business for Peace (B4P), will be formally launched today by the UN secretary-general at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. B4P builds on a decade’s worth of earlier efforts that are documented in areport, Responsible Business Advancing Peace, also released today.
The cases documented therein — and discussed at today’s meeting — are a reminder that the path peace via development is a highly local challenge, where solutions vary by context.
Peaceful cheese, fewer guns
Cheese is the focus of a long-running effort in the Caucasus. Starting a decade ago, cheese makers from regions spanning Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey came together under a single brand that has developed strong export sales.
The shared interests prevented the alliance from collapsing during the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. “It was one only regional alliances to survive,” said Diana Klein, conflict advisor at International Alert. Peace and development have their own momentum, she added, “If it’s working, it’s much harder for a single participant to act out.”
Some efforts can run counter to conventional wisdom. In the Philippines’ a subsidiary of Swiss cement giant Holcim set up a plant north of Manila where communist rebel group was active.
In 2005, the group attacked the facility, taking weapons from guards and causing $120,000 of damage. Rather than boost its guards’ firepower, Holcim took a slower, more complex path, meeting with community members to learn more why its plant — a large local employer — was targeted.
Their surprising findings? The guards’ firearms were part of the target. Rather than meet threat with force, Holcim opted for un-armed guards, a change which required careful community education.
“They had to convince their own staff they were safe, to convince the community that the guards are truly not armed,” said Sir Moody-Stuart, otherwise the guerillas may come back. Since this “social fencing” approach began, not a single incident involving firearms has happened.
A marathon effort
Building companies and attracting investors in the wake of conflict is a “very, very hard challenge,” said Klein of Conflict Advisors. “It requires a marathon mentality.” These investment efforts are reaching into some of the most challenging conflicts in recent memory.
In Sudan, still recovering from genocide in Darfur and the subsequent bifurcation of the nation, a team of B4P-affiliated investors with stakes in Sudanese oil services companies find their most difficult issue — company affiliation with human rights violations — impossible to resolve.
But while some strata of the market remain opaque, others are opening. Bit-by-bit the economy is coming back to life. Telecoms provider Sudatel, partially government owned, has emerged as the young country’s first multinational, operating in five neighboring countries. With 60% of Sudan’s population under 20 years of age, the company is focusing on serving young consumers. “To live together, people need to communicate,” said Ehab Osman, Sudatel’s CEO.
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