While SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions isn’t one that many business schools report on, it is definitely one that business schools can and directly impact. It is crucial that students understand, research, and explore, as the UN Global Compact Business for Peace Platform puts it, why contributing to peace is important for business and how business can make a positive contribution to peace. Equally important is ensuring students understand how business may also be having a negative impact on peace. Within the PRME network, the PRME Working Group on Business for Peace brings the community together to explore this topic further from an academic lens. I spoke with Christina Bache, PhD and Visiting Fellow at London School of Economics and Political Science’s foreign policy think tank, IDEAS, as well as the current chair of the PRME Working Group about its past, present, and future.
How did this working group come about, and what is the aim?
The PRME Working Group on Business for Peace was launched in 2016 to support applied research that will provide tools for incorporating business for peace into management education, establish which business practices contribute most directly to peace, and encourage the sustained wide-spread integration of contributions to peace into company operations and strategy. The PRME Working Group comprises academics and practitioners interested in supporting activities and research on specific thematic and issue areas.
Back in 2016, Robert McNulty, from Bentley College, was invited to chair this new working group and chose John Katsos, Associate Professor at American University in Sharjah as the co-chair, given his essential presence in the field. Since 2018, I have been co-chairing the working group along with Bob Sicina also from American University, with the continued support of McNulty and Katsos.
Why should business schools take this topic seriously? Are they?
The Business for Peace field is still evolving, so we see differing perspectives on the meaning of peace among academics. Of course, companies cannot substitute the need for strong institutions, and fundamental reforms of governance structures. However, there is growing recognition among scholars, policymakers, and practitioners that business has the potential to shape the conditions that determine whether instability will evolve into a durable peace or collapse into armed conflict. Regardless of their size, sector, and composition, companies can have a transformative effect on societies through their operations and how they engage with communities.
What are some examples of how schools are engaging in this topic?
For example, 15 years ago, our co-chair, Bob Sicina, put together a course called ‘Peace Through Entrepreneurship’ at American University. Before this no such course existed but today half of the students from the School of International Service enroll in it. The interest in the role of business in society has increased significantly among students. There has also been a coordinated effort between professors from the Kogod School of Business and the School of International Service to develop a multi-dimensional learning experience.
As a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s foreign policy think tank (IDEAS), I am part of the UN Business and Human Security Initiative. This initiative aims to develop a model framework of Human Security Business Partnership to encourage collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, and civil society to address a wide range of security needs on the ground – working towards the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, the initiative seeks to address how business can protect and empower individuals and communities in areas affected by conflict and crisis. Another positive example of how schools are engaging in the role of business is the Better Together platform which aims to capture and inspire action, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, by companies to work with government, civil society and communities across the world.
How do you recommend business schools approach Peace?
Against the backdrop of global challenges such as the climate crisis, mistrust in institutions, and growing inequality, it is crucial business schools highlight how business can shape the conditions for peace when formulating courses, conferences, and research. Each of the Sustainable Development Goals is an important avenue towards the realization of inclusive, just and peaceful societies. In that regard, business can have a transformative effect on societies, including their workforce and labor market, through the practices they enact and how they interact with communities and the government.
For example, women’s economic inclusion is central to realizing women’s rights, gender equality, and meaningful participation in peace and transition processes, increasing the durability and quality of peace. Employment generation usually does not automatically translate into greater economic security for women, given the multitude of structural and cultural barriers. However, business can strengthen women’s economic inclusion and safeguard women’s rights by easing access to the labor market and improving job retention by pursuing an inclusive business model. The role of business in society is especially significant when the disruption of global, regional, and local markets has severely compromised women’s livelihoods and economic security in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also essential business schools lean on expertise from other disciplines to maximize their educational efforts. We need more examples of interdisciplinary collaboration if we want to prepare students to address the array of global challenges stated in the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change, environmental degradation, fragility, inequality, and poverty.
What has the working group done thus far?
Since the inception of the Working Group, we have organized a few in-person events. In 2016, Katsos organized a PRME B4P conference in Sharjah, held along-side the Global Compact’s Business for Peace Annual Meeting in Dubai. That event brought together academics, students, and other important stakeholders to discuss how institutions can better promote research and practical application. In 2017, several of our members joined a three-day long dialogue, which was organized by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue to discuss the role that business plays in peace and transition processes.
Since 2018, we have focused our efforts on deepening our online presence. We thought we could reach more people interested in the field by creating a website that houses an online repository of publications and organizing events online. We have conducted several webinars in collaboration with groups such as the World Bank and the ICRC, For a full list, including videos, click here.
- In September 2018, Dr. Nathalie Ralph, Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, and Prof. Linda Hancock, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University presented their work on “Renewable Energy Companies, Technologies, and Business for Peace.”
- In September 2019, Jay Joseph, Ph.D., from the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut, presented his work on “To Build Enduring Peace: The Role of SMEs in Conflict Zones.”
- In March 2020, Professor Robert Sicina, Co-Director—Blockchain Hub Kogod School of Business at the American University, gave an overview of his course “Peace Through Entrepreneurship and Global Business Practicum.”
- In May 2020, Alan Bryden, Head, Business and Security Division, Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance and Claude Voillat, Economic Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross, presented their work on “Reimagining Business, Security and Human Rights in COVID-Affected and Fragile Contexts.”
- In September 2020, I presented my work on “Maximising The Role of Business in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Environments: Women’s Contributions to Peace.”
- In November 2020, Mark van Dorp, Bureau Van Dorp, and Marcel Smits, Institute for Economics & Peace presented ways businesses can measure their social impact in fragile and conflict-affected settings.
What’s next for the Working Group? What about your wish list? If you could do anything, what would it be?
We will continue developing our presence online since it’s a great avenue to reach a diverse group of people interested in the Business for Peace field. We are looking to other stakeholder institutions as possible partners for future webinars. Many of our members will present their research at upcoming conferences and will have pieces published soon. We have also been collaborating with several student interns, including Christopher Medley and Maya Ragab, and greatly value their contributions to the smooth running of the working group.
As mentioned, many of our members frequently conduct and publish their research, which is included in the Working Group’s online repository. However, the field needs more examples of how formal and informal businesses are engaged in fragile and conflict-affected environments. We would love to acquire adequate funding to support robust research projects among our members. We are open to joining research groups at academic institutions if such an opportunity arises.
How can one join and get more involved in the Working Group?
Those interested in getting involved in the Working Group can reach out to us via our website or send us an email address.
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