Photo credit: UN Women
This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Miklian, J., & Medina Bickel, J. P. (2018). Theorizing business and local peacebuilding through the “Footprints of Peace” coffee project in rural Colombia. Business & Society, online publication, 1-40.
In the context of conflict-affected areas in Colombia:
- The positive reputation of the business association in question, a focus on conflict resolution at the community level, and the integration of local community members as trainers are all factors that can contribute to the success of business-peace initiatives.
- Business-peace initiatives can be successful: 64% of respondents reported improved social fabric in their community, and 80% identified at least one positive economic outcome of the project.
- Businesses seeking to build peace should embrace local ownership of project development and establish relationships with local conflict actors, which can, in turn, grant access to conflict-affected areas.
- Striking an appropriate balance between local ownership of project implementation and international funding can be an asset in business-peace initiatives.
Recent enthusiasm for the untapped potential of the private sector in peacebuilding has meant that multilateral organizations and peace practitioners have begun advocating for the participation of the business community in peace and development work. Yet, there is concern that these initiatives can do more harm than good. For example, private firms may usurp the role of local government in their development initiatives and “blue-wash” their practices in conflict-affected settings.
a practice employed by companies whereby they collaborate with United Nations agencies to showcase compliance with the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact by paying lip-service to environmental and human rights goals but not actually complying with them.
Berliner, D., & Prakash, A. (2015) Bluewashing the firm? Voluntary regulations, program design, and member compliance with the United Nations Global Compact.” Policy Studies Journal, 43(1), 115-38. https://doi.org/10.1111/psj.12085.
As business-peace initiatives become more sought after, it is important that research be directed towards understanding what is working and what is not working to avoid exploitation of local populations for profit. Considering the research gaps in the field of business-peace activities and the growing popularity of the approach, the authors seek to investigate the conditions that contribute to the success or failure of business-peace initiatives through a case study of a business-peace initiative in Colombia.
The Footprints of Peace (FOP) project by the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, or FNC) was implemented from 2011 to 2015. The FOP project was designed by FNC and a Spanish nongovernmental organization (NGO), Humanismo y Democracia (Humanism and Democracy, or H+D), and funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). Founded in 1927, FNC is a membership organization of 500,000 coffee farmers and represents all of Colombia’s coffee growers. Among the several peacebuilding and development projects pursued by FNC in collaboration with government agencies, NGOs, intergovernmental agencies, and multinational corporations since the 1990s, FOP is the largest, having assisted 50,000 disadvantaged people affected by armed conflict in four of Colombia’s 32 departments (geographical regions akin to U.S. states or counties). Implemented solely through local FNC trainers, FOP was designed to provide business skills, promote sustainability of water resources, and encourage community conflict resolution. Participants were recruited to attend monthly sessions, which included corresponding economic, sustainability, and social modules.
The authors examined FOP through a qualitative case study, conducting 70 interviews at seven sites between January and September 2017. The interviewees were relevant stakeholders, including farmers, conflict victims, government officials, FOP project principals, and conflict actors. The interviews consisted of 20 open-ended questions to assess the local population’s impression of the program.
The interviews indicated that FOP was successful with regards to both social and economic outcomes: 64% of respondents reported improved social fabric in their community, “including increased dialogue, social cohesion, integration, communication, and brotherhood,” and 80% of respondents said FOP had produced at least one positive economic outcome in their community, mostly related to coffee production. FOP provided tangible assets, such as coffee trees and/or seeds, as well as training on cultivation techniques, as components of its economic assistance. The authors also noted that the auspicious timing of FOP, which took place after a major demobilization of different paramilitaries but prior to the formal cessation of hostilities between FARC and the Colombian government. FNC trainers were able to “gain deeper access into communities and hold events more openly” because of the reduction in armed conflict.
In addition to indicating the success of FOP at building social cohesion at a local level and providing at least one economic benefit, the interviews conducted in this study identified the circumstances that enabled its success. Three main narratives emerged from the interviews as possible conditions contributing to FOP’s success: the positive reputation of the implementing business association, a focus on family– and village–level violence, and the integration of local trainers.
The success of FOP also confirmed five existing business-peace arguments. First, the experience of FOP affirmed that businesses can help build peace. Second, the centrality of local FNC trainers to FOP’s success validated how imperative local ownership is in project implementation. Third, the importance of relationships with the local power structures was confirmed. As a business entity, FNC was able to obtain permission from conflict actors to operate without disruption in rebel-controlled areas. Fourth, FOP demonstrated that under the right conditions, collaboration between businesses and international development agencies can yield success. FOP was the result of a collaboration between a business association (FNC) and an NGO (H+D) and was funded by an external partner (AECID). H+D’s project design complemented FNC’s goals, and local communities played a role in determining the allocation of international funding based on need and merit throughout the project. Lastly, FOP proved that it is possible for businesses to reap rewards from business-peace initiatives, specifically related to improving community relations, reputational gains, and profit.
Bearing in mind the lessons learned from the FOP initiative, this case study provides an actionable foundation for the private sector to design and implement peace and development projects in post-conflict scenarios.
Practitioners and peacebuilders should pay attention to the research contributions related to project mandate and implementation from this study.
The social module of the project was designed to facilitate community conflict resolution by “promot[ing] societal change as individuals,” and excluded reference to any “conflict history or national conflict elements.” The authors do not discuss the rationale for concentrating efforts at the interpersonal level. It is interesting because building peace in the context of civil wars often pertains to addressing big ideas and conflict actors, such as distribution of wealth, security sector reform, etc. Yet, in the case of FOP, the project focused on building peace between individuals at the family and village level. Because of this decision, participants in the project could readily apply the training to their daily lives, and positive outcomes were immediate. The success of FOP’s project mandate supports the notion that successful peacebuilding projects in civil war contexts can address more than just national–level issues with known conflict parties by creating opportunities for peace at the interpersonal level, as well. Building peace amidst a civil war can, and should, occur at multiple levels of the conflict and be inclusive of civilians and their immediate communities.
FOP was a successful collaborative project funded by an international organization, designed by an international NGO, and implemented by a local entity. This level of collaboration should not be overlooked—especially, as the authors point out, since “many unsuccessful or ineffective business-peace ventures have been unilateral activities by firms.” Moreover, many peace projects are undertaken by international NGOs and external funders without the input and participation of the local communities in project design or implementation. Top-down approaches to peace face an uphill battle, as they can be viewed as nefarious by the local community and may fail to consider adverse impacts of their peace work. Bearing in mind finite time and resources for successful peacebuilding interventions, external stakeholders should be cognizant of all factors that can contribute to success. In the case of FOP, project designers and external funders recognized the importance of local implementation and took advantage of the far-reaching network of FNC and its positive reputation. Participants were receptive to the training, and conflict parties did not disrupt project activities because FNC trainers were trusted and familiar. External peacebuilders can constructively work to build peace from afar through business-peace initiatives, but they must be mindful to identify a local entity that has a positive reputation in the region and the capacity to successfully implement the work.
Mapping Militant Organizations. (2019) “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.” Stanford University. Last modified July 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/revolutionary-armed-forces-colombia-farc
Seyle, C., & Wang, J. (2019). Private sector peacebuilding: A review of past cases and lessons learned. OEF Research. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://oefresearch.org/publications/private-sector-peacebuilding
Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC): https://federaciondecafeteros.org/wp/federation/about-us/?lang=en
Keywords: Business-peace initiatives, private sector, conflict resolution, FARC, Colombia, conflict-affected settings, peacebuilding
The following analysis appears in the Special Issue on Peacebuilders in Volume 4 of the Peace Science Digest.