By Morgan Frost and Pamela Beecroft
CIPE works with partners in a number of conflict-affected contexts around the world. While political, security and humanitarian issues typically draw the most attention, CIPE has found there are major benefits to working with the local private sector on economic issues at almost every stage of a conflict and recovery cycle. As the examples below illustrate, local businessmen and women can play a unique and indispensable role in reducing violence, building peace, and rebuilding countries and communities.
In Mexico, the notorious Tijuana Cartel, which had gathered strength during the 1990s, dominated large swaths of the city, turning it into a battlefield that endangered citizens and deterred businesses. In 2006 and 2007, local businesses, civil society, and government leaders worked together to develop solutions to effectively reclaim the community from criminal networks. For a time, their efforts succeeded in significantly reducing violence and improving the city’s economic life. In 2015, CIPE led a project that helped Tijuana tell its story, which showed how private sector leadership and collaboration with government and civil society can address high levels of criminal violence. Since then, violence has sky-rocketed again in the city for a number of reasons. CIPE will help Tijuana business leaders and their allies seek to repeat their past success and improve life for citizens and businesses again while refining the earlier model and collecting new evidence about what works.
In Syria, CIPE helped a group of Syrian business leaders build an economic think tank, now based in southern Turkey, called the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF). The organization is a leading source of information and analysis about the economic situation in Syria, as well as an originator of market-oriented solutions, which humanitarian agencies, local councils, and other stakeholders can use to respond to the situation on the ground. SEF has also expanded opportunities for displaced Syrian businesspeople in Turkey by negotiating access to an underutilized free economic zone and facilitating the transition of Syrian-owned businesses into the formal economy. Other initiatives encourage entrepreneurship, including a new CIPE-led project to incubate food-based enterprises and provide workforce training in the food sector.
In Sri Lanka, few concrete actions have been taken to expand economic opportunities for marginalized groups in the post-conflict period. CIPE is supporting a local think tank to work with business associations to identify policy issues that local business associations from across the country can join together and advocate for, transcending ethnic, religious, or regional barriers.
In Yemen, CIPE has helped business leaders to define their economic vision for the future, which resulted in their inclusion in international peace talks. At the same time, the private sector is helping to provide humanitarian relief, restore economic institutions such as the banking sector, and build support for peace.
From these and other experiences around the world, CIPE has seen that, even in places where violence and legal sanctions limit the ability to be on the ground, the private sector can have an important and positive impact in conflict-affected areas:
They support survival. Those who keep their businesses going during a conflict, at least intermittently, help generate cash, services, and products that support at least a basic economy and help civilians survive. The private sector also has funds and logistic capacity that can assist with humanitarian relief.
They are part of the glue that holds society together. Businesspeople can help to preserve social and civic fabric by continuing to do business across different conflict lines and work together in associations or other civil society groups.
They lay the groundwork for the future. The private sector can develop consensus during a conflict on an economic vision and a post-conflict roadmap, which can help jump-start reconstruction when it happens. In some cases, they are also valuable participants in peace negotiations, ensuring that the economy remains on leaders’ radar along with political and humanitarian issues.
They build bridges. Commerce across former conflict lines helps re-develop the pragmatic and personal relationships that promote longer lasting stability in a region or country. Businessmen and women can also provide needed peacebuilding leadership in communities.
They jump-start economic activity once violence ends. Business people are often the first ones to start up after a conflict, generating a new influx of cash and stimulating a recovering economy.
They create jobs. Small and medium businesses, as well as entrepreneurship, are the source of most new jobs. This helps citizens get back on their feet, as well as absorb unemployed youth and former combatants who can be a source of instability during a conflict-to-peace transition.
They create prosperity for the future. Peace is generally not sustainable without economic prosperity that citizens can feel. A healthy private-sector-driven economy is one of the most sustainable engines for development, which will not only support reconstruction but help communities grow for the future.
CIPE recently formed a partnership with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, which consists of a network of over 100 organizations working to resolve conflict and create sustainable peace in 153 countries. As a result of the recent partnership, Senior Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa Pamela Beecroft will speak October 12 on a panel at the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s 2017 Annual Conference. The panel will seek to highlight new perspectives on what businesses can do to advance peace.
Morgan Frost is a Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE.