Social businesses (or social change businesses, as we refer to them) and entrepreneurship have grown over the last decade and now address a range of social issues, such as poverty reduction, environmental change, and minority rights and empowerment of minorities. However, perhaps the most systemic and often most devastating of social issues, violent conflict and war, have been under-represented in the field.
Who’s Currently Working on Peace, Peacemaking and Peacebuilding
Macro or Political Level
Peacemaking occurs at at the macro or political/diplomatic level when hostile parties end violence. Typically, politicians or representatives of the conflicting populations negotiate an agreement that settles the root causes of the violence. Public sector actors support these activities; governments and/or legitimate parties negotiate as representatives of their constituent populations; NGOs and think tanks conduct policy research and advocate those leaders for peaceful policies. The challenge here is that peacemaking requires political will or an interest in ending the conflict, whether that comes from internal public, international, economic or other pressures. In this system, there is little room and most importantly, financial rewards for businesses to participate.
Micro or Individual Level
The UN defines “peacebuilding” as various activities associated with capacity building, reconciliation and societal transformation. Different actors understand it as occurring at different times in the peace process (usually after a negotiated agreement has been reached), but what they do agree on is that these efforts are directed at individual people. You may have heard reconciliation described as the “hearts and minds” work; the idea is that if the barriers between conflicting peoples are broken down and trust and empathy are built in individuals, they will be less likely to commit or return to violence against others. This work is typically done by NGOs, and both private and public international development agencies, which arises a particular challenge as this work is expensive and difficult to scale.
Social Businesses in Peacebuilding
Now, however, social businesses are becoming more involved in this kind of work, namely, in peacebuilding efforts such as post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation and as it relates to capacity building and poverty reduction. Dehumanization of the “other” and loss of economic opportunities are often touted as contributing factors that either trigger or perpetuate conflict. Businesses are a prime space for conflicting parties to build trust by working together, while also providing income, addressing these root causes and providing the double bottom line of reconciliation and poverty reduction. Read stories about social entrepreneurs in post-genocide Rwanda here and here.
Peacemaking, Peacebuilding Businesses: A New Frontier
At Sesamaise, we see a special opportunity for social change businesses to bridge the gap between the micro and macro levels and leverage social businesses for peacemaking AND peacebuilding, especially in ongoing violent conflicts such as the one between Israel and Palestine. A vehicle is needed to bring people together at scale (peace NGOs can’t get it done alone- insert link), transform their attitudes toward the “other” and their behaviors to organize themselves, and achieve the critical mass of internal pressure to demand peaceful agreements to conflicts from their leaders.
We believe businesses are uniquely positioned to do just that for 2 main reasons:
- At the individual level, they provide an alternative motivation or incentive for people to come together, one that all people share: the desire to earn a decent living and be able to provide more opportunities for their children.
- At the political level- if they are profitable and provide a social value, they can achieve scale and approach the tipping point for changing political calculations
If we, conscious-minded consumers, create demand for businesses that participate in peacemaking and peacebuilding, we can reverse the financial incentives and recruit more businesses and their employees to build peace in their communities.
Stay tuned to this blog series to learn more about how Sesamaise is building a Peace-Building Social Change Business in Israel-Palestine.