The self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi almost two years ago in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, sparked a revolution that swept away his country’s regime, as well as that of Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Other repressive regimes are still under threat from the Arab Spring.

For years, beneath a veil of apparent stability lay crumbling foundations. Tunisia’s youth were stagnating in a country with high rates of unemployment and deprivation. There is no doubt that unemployment is a key driver of conflict. Consequently, job creation has entered the peace-building arena as peacemakers have come to realize that the business community should not only help create jobs, but also systematically inform the discussion on how to stabilize fragile states.

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 concluded that sustainable peace is composed of three basic elements: security, justice and jobs, delivered by transparent and responsive governments.

To help ensure this sustainable peace, the private sector needs to be part of peace-building efforts. But what’s in it for business? One obvious incentive is that responsible companies cannot operate in countries crippled by persistent insecurity, corruption, ineffective legal and judicial bodies, and damaged infrastructure.

The commercial, physical and reputational risk associated with operating in unstable and conflict-ridden areas places peace promotion squarely at the top of the agenda for the private sector. And there is the profit incentive: stable societies, certainly in the long run, have a bigger potential for growth and provide more market opportunities than fragile societies.

In May 2012, PeaceNexus organized an informal gathering of key international business and peace-building leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland, to explore the potential avenues for collaboration. Outcomes from the meeting highlighted that the private sector can:

  • Provide infrastructure, basic services and essential resources when, and where, the state cannot
  • Implement non-discriminatory regulations and practices that help reduce social or ethnic divisions
  • Invest in training, education and infrastructure necessary for a local workforce, transferring economic power from the few to the many
  • Promote open and transparent practices that avoid corrupt, crony capitalism, and even participate in negotiating a peace that favours a better economic climate for all

In return, peacebuilders can contribute to a favourable business climate by: promoting basic security through security sector reform and police training; building capacity within the government to improve the legal framework for business; providing education to potential workforce; and facilitating dialogue between communities, local authorities and companies on important issues such as land ownership.

If the Arab Spring and the developments of the last two years demonstrate anything, it is that the private sector is both a major stakeholder and indispensable partner in building sustainable peace: the opportunities for collaboration are many and fruitful.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Conflict Prevention consists of business and peacebuilding leaders seeking to foster this crucial relationship.

Authors: Anne Gloor is the Executive Director of the PeaceNexus Foundation and member of Global Agenda Council on Conflict Prevention and Chiara Trincia also works for the PeaceNexus Foundation, focusing on programme support and research.

Image: Despite recent events, Haitian’s continue to find inventive ways to stay in business, such as this toy UN tank made from recycled plastic bottles selling for $20 a piece. REUTERS