Business for Peace in Geneva: The International Day of Living Together in Peace 2024

June 4, 2024

On May 16th, the Business for Peace Foundation had the great pleasure to attend the roundtable discussion for International Day of Living Together in Peace, hosted by AISA ONG Internationale, at the UN Building in Geneva. The city of Geneva was chosen to host the seventh edition of the International Day of Living Together in Peace this year.  An array of key actors from member states of the UN, non-governmental organisations, experts in education and actors from civil society gathered around the theme of “Education for a Culture of Peace”, discussing how we can implement peace in all forms of education. With 700 people in the audience, our Executive Director, Marius Døcker, spoke alongside Dominique Steiler, the UNESCO Chair for Economic Peace Culture at Grenoble École de Management, Michele Guillaume-Hofnung, President of the Guillaume-Hofnung Institute for Mediation, and Saïda Benouari, Head of the Mediation Unit of AISA International NGO. The panel was moderated by Hamis Demmou, Doctor of Paul Sabatier University – Toulouse III and former president of AISA International NGO. On the topic of economic peace, Marius emphasised the need for a mindset shift in business, highlighting the significant role businesses play in addressing societal issues.

In a world where conflict and violence are on the rise, it is crucial for all sectors to collaborate in seeking solutions for sustainable peace and for ensuring a better future for generations to come. Sheikh Khaled Bentounes, the initiator of the International Day of Living Together in Peace, said, “we must make our enemy our partner”. These words resonate deeply today and can be applied to the context of business and peace. Businesses can be an important force for good by placing responsible and ethical practices at its core. If done right, responsible business can make meaningful contributions to lasting peace, development and prosperity while ensuring long-term business success. The Business for Peace Foundation celebrates businessworthy behavior and leadership, which implies ethically creating economic value that also creates value for society. The shift of businesses towards the normative ideal of being businessworthy was at the heart of our message in Geneva. We strongly believe that business can be important catalysts for peace and thus must be included in the talks and work for developing peaceful and inclusive societies in the world.

During our visit to Geneva, our Executive Director, Marius, signed the Geneva Declaration on Education for a Culture of Peace: Putting Peace at the heart of Education and Learning. The declaration sets out seven articles containing a common frame of reference and affirms the signatories’ commitment to ensuring that Peace is at the heart of education and learning. By signing this document, the Business for Peace Foundation has pledged to mobilise our efforts to advocate and implement the content of the declaration. Peace should always be at the heart of education to ensure a better world for the future generations. An important step in realising change, we must invest in education: “Education is a sacred duty and we cannot avoid this responsibility towards our children. Put our skills, our assets, our knowledge and our technology to work in synergy at the service of the common good and the future. The Business for Peace Foundation encourage all our stakeholders to commit to the Education for a Culture of Peace by signing the Declaration here.

In addition to the celebration of the International Day of Living Together in Peace, the BfP also met with a number of organisations at the forefront of this work in Geneva.  Thank you to Principles for Peace, Interpeace, International Trade Centre, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and Peaceinvest for the important discussions on the role of the private sector in securing positive social change.

This trip to Geneva has given us important insights for our work ahead. Business for Peace is committed to convey the important message of being businessworthy and we have some exciting projects coming very soon. Stay tuned for more updates in the months to come.

Harley Seyedin: Promoting Sustainability and Social Inclusiveness in South China

1st of March 2023

Written by Ingrid Moshuus, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

Dr Harley Seyedin is the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China and of Allelon Energy Systems and has spent the last three decades in South China, building a multi-national electricity and low carbon infrastructure development business. The promotion of a sustainable development model that will benefit the people and future generations have always been at the core of his work. In 2017 he was recognized with the Oslo Business for Peace Award. We had a chat with him about his work and how he implements sustainability into the core of his business operations and investments.

From Power Plant to Industrial Park

When Mr Seyedin first started in China, the country was under major development. Harley traveled around China and witnessed poverty in the different villages, which prompted him to get involved in the country’s development and contribute to the growth of the local communities. One of his first projects was the construction of a power plant in the city of Dongguan, which the local community was eager to be included in. Mr Seyedin engaged the local community by providing them with 40 percent of the interests of the power plant, he trained members of the local community to operate the project, and he implemented only one expatriate in the project for the first three years. After the three years, no foreigners operated the project and it became a locally-owned business. The power plant was a success because of the centrality of the local community in the project. Harley emphasises that when a project is over, the local community should grow and prosper as a result. They have today shut down the power plant to reduce their carbon footprint, but the land has been kept and protected, providing new opportunities for the local community. Currently, they are developing the land into a massive industrial park to manufacture high technology products and medical equipment. The project also holds developmental components, including the building of a K-12 school system, a firehouse, an underground bus station, and creating thousands of jobs. In this way, his business operations are contributing to a positive and sustainable development of the local community.  An essential aspect in all of Harley’s work is sustainability. For him, sustainability is about ensuring a better future for our future generations. A sustainable business will raise the living standards of the people and communities affected by the business operations and investments and include them in the entire process, as Harley demonstrated in the development of the power plant and its transformation to a industrial park.

Promoting Sustainable Investments and Social Inclusiveness

In his work, Harley has a strong commitment to the promotion of sustainable investments: “my legacy in business will be long-term sources of sustainable revenue for the local communities in which I have undertaken development projects”. In the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, he works to help other companies make sustainable investments while simultaneously making profit, helping them overcome any adversities or difficulties they may face. In September 2022, he led a delegation of 116 business executives to the China International Fair for Investment and Trade, where the members of his delegation linked 2 billion USD in new sustainable investment deals. He also continues to lead the Chamber’s charitable events and projects. One project helps impoverished villages and raises money to pay for poor and orphaned children’s immediate life-saving medical procedures. The efforts they have put in place so far have directly contributed to saving the lives of 225 children. “I strongly believe that one of these children will make a massive difference in the world someday”, thus the saving of these children’s lives is an investment in the future and the development of a better world. 

Adapting to Uncertantity

We are living in unprecedented times affected by uncertainty. Harley Seyedin always keeps the threats of uncertainty in mind when developing business ideas, as one can never know what the future holds. Back in 2006, Harley had read an article, written by Keith Bradsher, about whether businesses are prepared in the case of an outbreak of a flu pandemic, which prompted him to conduct a survey of his businesses’ preparedness. They discovered that the companies were not prepared, and as a result developed and implemented a crisis plan in the case of such events. When the pandemic hit China in January 2020, Harley’s companies were some of the least hit in China due to the years devoted to preparing their crisis management plans. Mr Seyedin emphasises that although we have returned back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses always have to be prepared for new crisis situations, seen with the devastating war in Ukraine. Businesses have to be adaptable and flexible, plan forward and be prepared for unexpected events.

A Businessworthy Leader

We asked Harley Seyedin what makes a good business leader. Money is a core measure for a successful business and can enable the creation of positive change, but that alone cannot measure success and define a good business leader, he answered. A good business leader strives to do good for society such as engaging the local community affected by the business operations, create positive effects for the community, and help accelerate processes that will create positive change. For a business leader this might require different and unconventional ideas, but it will produce results in the long-term. A businessworthy leader contributes to society in a unique way, such as Harley Seyedin have demonstrated through his business operations in China. 

Harley Seyedin won the Oslo Business for Peace Award in  2017 for his businessworthy entrepreneurship, promoting social inclusiveness and opportunities for the dispossessed as systemic features of development. You can read more about him here

Interview with Juan Cano: Accelerating Sustainable Impact in Colombia

1 November 2022

During the last year, Juan Andrés Cano and the team at PeaceStartup have consolidated a new structure and business model centered around impact entrepreneurship. They are moving from being “simply” an NGO to solidifying their role as an impact accelerator. Their team is growing, and the number of projects they manage has also increased in just over a year. We sat down for a chat with Juan Andrés to discuss entrepreneurship and the impact of PeaceStartup in Colombia.

Accelerating Impact in Colombia

Creating connections between different market actors has always been one of PeaceStartup’s core purposes. However, Juan Andrés and his team realized that this wasn’t enough, as many small businesses did not have the capacity to maintain those commercial relationships in the long term. For this reason, they decided to re-think and re-structure PeaceStartup’s business strategy and go through an acceleration process with Bancolombia, one of the largest financial institutions in Latin America.

Now, their main workstream has become accelerating entrepreneurial impact in the country. Through its accelerator program, PeaceStartup is currently supporting 254 entrepreneurial activities, 30% of which are led by women or women associations and families. Most of these initiatives are focused on agriculture and are located in 56 municipalities, 60% of which are prioritized in the country’s peace agreement.

As an accelerator, they have established three core lines of work: capacity-building with a long-term vision that takes as a starting point the existing market needs; investments in the form of grants, fixed assets, machinery, microcredits using crypto coins, and stocks, and finally; project management support. The main objective is listening to the market and ensuring that the products and services are commercially viable. Juan estimates that PeaceStartup’s accelerator program has impacted 3,500 families directly and 12,000 indirectly. 

PeaceStartUp's Venture Studio

The second innovation in PeaceStartup’s activities is their venture studio. The main objective of this initiative is to find market solutions to the existing peace and development challenges in Colombia. As an NGO, they didn’t have enough “financial muscle” to close the existing market bottlenecks. Now, they have re-structured to act as a business group with an impact foundation matrix. 

Juan Andrés remarks that the peace process and agreements led to an almost immediate increase in investments in Colombia. However, almost six years later, some of these investments have proven unsustainable, as they invested in products and services that were not viable in the market or didn’t have a commercial outlet. To address these gaps, they have initiated four projects, mainly within the agricultural sector.

The first one is “Ormiga Comercializadora”. After a thorough process of stakeholder mapping and consultation, they identified two main supply chain challenges for small farmers and entrepreneurs in the agri-business: last-mile logistics and maintaining the quality of the products until their delivery. Through this project, PeaceStartup becomes a supply chain actor making sure that small farmers can sell their products for a fair price, and also ensuring payment on delivery and last-mile liquidity.

They also act as intermediaries, emphasizing the need for fair trade conditions. Juan Andrés gives the example of one of their most recent collaborations with the food company Crepes and Waffles. The company was facing challenges with the distribution of their products as they wanted to buy from small local farmers and entrepreneurs, but they had a very complex value chain – each of their products requires very specific freezing conditions. For this reason, they needed an actor in the middle of the distribution chain that could deal with both challenges. PeaceStartup stepped in to become that intermediary buying from the small farmers, ensuring fair trade conditions while acting as a middle distributor. This also allowed them to ensure the traceability of the products and transparency of the supply chain, as well as the liquidity in the end-mile.

The second project is “Ormiga Financiera”, still in the pilot phase. Its objective is to implement a closed-loop cryptocurrency market in cooperation with farmers and agricultural cooperatives. The project was set to pilot in Antioquia but was paused due to covid. However, Juan is hoping they can move ahead soon, perhaps in a different municipality. 

The last agricultural project is “Fondo Semilla” (“Seed Fund”) through which they support entrepreneurial initiatives that do not necessarily fit in the investment thesis from impact investors from the Global North. The main difference with other seed investment initiatives is that PeaceStartup bases its decisions on actual market needs that they have previously mapped through research. At the moment, they are trying to identify new investment vehicles for specialty products such as Colombian coffee and cocoa. They are working to consolidate this investment thesis approach, but the partners, investment capital, and brand are already in place.

Last but not least, they are collaborating with some international cooperation agencies with the objective of bringing energy to off-grid communities by installing micro energy networks. However, the project was not sustainable because they had installed the grids in areas where the population did not have a need for those energy levels. As a result, the networks became abandoned and once they malfunctioned, the population did not have the resources or knowledge to fix them. 

PeaceStartup is now collaborating with private and public partners to create an integral project using blended finance, build commerce and create logistics networks. The first step was to map the areas that are most in need of energy access before installing the energy networks. The next step is to involve business partners 1) that sets and operates these energy grids in the long run, ensuring that they are repaired whenever needed, 2) commerce the products, 3) finance the local business. 

Bringing Business and Human Rights into the Picture

Juan Andrés tells us as also about PeaceStartup’s think-tank. After many years operating in Colombia, they have accumulated a great deal of knowledge both in the practice and in the theory about the needs of the territories. Acting local, but always thinking global, they are supporting the private sector and advising them on the best ways and practices to operate in different areas of the country, always considering the specific contextual needs and characteristics of each place. 

They view this as a long-term investment, as they can bring business and human rights as well as ESG considerations into the private sector activities, but always from a practical perspective. Their goal is to reflect on these aspects before the investments are completed, instead of retroactively working to fix them once the investment is done.

Juan Andrés received the Oslo Business for Peace Award in 2015 for his work in ethics, sustainability, and human rights within the private sector. You can read more about him here.