In Memoriam: Merrill J. Fernando, Oslo Business for Peace Honouree

It is with profound sorrow that we remember and celebrate the life of Merrill Joseph Fernando (1930-2023), a visionary entrepreneur, and a stalwart advocate for ethical business practices and peace. Mr. Fernando’s legacy is deeply intertwined with the ethos of the Business for Peace Foundation, and his contributions have left an indelible mark on the global business community.

Merrill J. Fernando receiving the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Award by Business for Peace Foundation's Chair Per L. Saxegaard. Photo: Carl Christian Raabe
In 1985, Mr. Merrill J. Fernando embarked on a transformative journey to bring the finest Ceylon tea to the world through his visionary venture, Dilmah. His dedication to excellence, authenticity, and sustainability not only elevated the tea industry but also set a precedent for ethical entrepreneurship. Beyond the realm of commerce, Mr. Fernando believed in business as a conduit for positive change. His commitment to fair trade, direct sourcing, and sustainable practices set the stage for the integration of responsible business practices long before they gained widespread recognition.
Mr. Fernando’s legacy extended to matters close to his heart through the establishment of the Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation. Through this foundation, he championed education, healthcare, and social empowerment initiatives in Sri Lanka, underscoring his conviction that business success should be intertwined with societal betterment.
Recipient of the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Award, Mr. Merrill J. Fernando’s alignment with the Foundation’s principles was truly exemplary. His steadfast dedication to ethical conduct and peace in business resonated deeply with our mission. Business for Peace Chair Per L. Saxegaard remembers Mr. Fernando fondly. “When Merrill received the Award in the Oslo City Hall on his 85th birthday, in 2015, the audience of close to 1000 people all rose instinctively and sang the birthday song to honor him. It was a beautiful moment. I believe that Merrill J. Fernando’s success was not just because he developed the correct recipe in business. In contrast to the usual faceless corporations; behind Dilmah, there was Mr. Fernando. His warmth, personality, and passion will remain signatures of the Dilmah culture forever. It could be seen so well reflected in his sons, Dilhan and Malik, to whom we extend our deepest condolences. What a great and inspiring human being he was!
We confer our deepest gratitude to Mr. Merrill J. Fernando for his invaluable contributions to the cause of ethical business practices and peace. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones during this difficult time. As we bid farewell to a luminary whose life exemplified the union of ethical business and societal impact, we carry forward his legacy. Let us continue to honor Mr. Merrill J. Fernando’s memory by emulating his dedication to ethical entrepreneurship, responsible leadership, and the belief that business can be a catalyst for positive change. Through our actions, we pay homage to a life well-lived and a legacy that will inspire generations to come.
For more, visit the heartfelt memoriam section on the Dilmah website.
In Memoriam: Merrill J. Fernando, 1930-2023. Recipient of the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Award.

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

Selima Ahmad: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh

1st of December 2022

Selima Ahmad MP, is the Founder and President of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and serves as an elected member of the Parliament of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In 2014 she received the Oslo Business for Peace Award for her work empowering women and developing entrepreneurial talent. In this interview, we discuss her recent projects and expectations for the business sector after COVID-19.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Selima’s work in the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry has focused on women entrepreneurs, especially at the micro and grassroots levels. They have identified one key challenge that most of these women face: women make the initial investment of time and resources, but men in their families take the benefits. Once the business starts flourishing, men take ownership of the business and remove women from it. 

To solve this problem, the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce is running a project to educate and empower female founders by teaching them how to register and legalise their business, obtain a trade license, scale their enterprises into SMEs and follow the tax order. This project will allow women to retain ownership of their businesses and provide them with independence and financial freedom.

COVID-19 has changed the business landscape in the country, which is seeing a boom in e-commerce enterprises. Traditionally, female entrepreneurs have been shy about using online business platforms, but during the pandemic, something changed. Online commerce became the only available platform to conduct business, and women realised they could have more competitive prices when they eliminated the costs of a physical store.

The Chamber of Commerce is currently running a digital capacity-building project for over 5,100 women focused on three main industries: fashion and design; catering and baking; and mobile repair and digital services. Regarding this last point; they are implementing a program with Meta to train female entrepreneurs to learn how to conduct business using their platforms.

Gender-based Violence and Equal Representation in the Workplace

In collaboration with the Centre for Private Enterprise in Washington, they have launched a new initiative to address harassment and violence that many women suffer in the workplace. There are policies already in place that deal with gender-based violence in the home, but they are lobbying to bring more policies and practical solutions that create a harassment-free environment for women in their workplace.

One of the main objectives of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh Prime Minister, is to achieve 50% representation of women in all spheres by 2030. Selima notes that there is still a long way to go in the entrepreneurial sector. One way they are trying to bridge this gap is through a new training institute that will bring female entrepreneurs from rural areas to the city, where they will have the opportunity to learn from women role models and learn from their experiences. The training institute includes a residential area where these women can live together during the training days.

Selima believes in the power of women sharing their stories and experiences. As she highlights, every woman, herself included, has faced some of the same problems, including harassment. For this reason, it is important to create a space where women can talk and learn from each other, and especially have access to women that are role models. “The journey is tough, but we can do it!” says Selima.

Addressing Structural Challenges for Women

Selima’s work as a Parliamentarian is trying to address two structural challenges that hinder women’s participation in the economy. 

The first one is early marriages. Bangladesh is one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest levels of child marriage, with 38 million child brides according to UNICEF. Although this trend is in decline and child marriage is prohibited by law, this is still an extended practice, especially in rural areas and low-income households. Selima’s work in Parliament is trying to raise awareness and develop initiatives that can educate women and their communities about the dangers of child marriages and give them other options through entrepreneurship that can allow them to be economically independent.

One example is Selima’s initiative back in her natal village, where she has made available a water pond, free of charge to a project led by 20 women. The government provided them with fishing equipment and other resources to start production. These women invested between 13 and 20 USD in this business, and this year’s returns have reached over 200 USD. In addition, they can also use the resources the pond offers to bring fresh food to their homes, and have created a space for the community children to be and play safely. 

The second structural challenge is infrastructure, in particular the roads in her district. Poor connectivity through land affects mostly women, children, and the elderly population. She is encouraging citizens to report bad road conditions using social media and raising their voices to make these issues known. However, corruption remains one of the main challenges within the infrastructure sector.


The Role and Future of Business in Bangladesh

When asked about the role business can play in the post-COVID recovery, Selima is clear: they must raise awareness and double their capacity-building efforts. Many things have changed in the last few years and consumers are more conscious and informed than before. This means that businesses can be more profitable when they are compliant with the law. However, corruption in the regulatory and license bodies is still a big challenge, and it might be the root cause of the establishment of many industries and businesses that are not safe or compliant.

She insists that “blaming” business is not the solution, and points out that sometimes the small entrepreneurs lack the information or training to understand compliance requirements. Training new and small entrepreneurs in these matters are therefore fundamental, as well as motivating them and explaining to them how to do things differently. “People are good,” says Selima “it is us who make them bad”.

Selima has witnessed another big change in recent years. “We are seeing the second generation of entrepreneurs in Bangladesh that is connected with the outside world, educated and aware. They have inherited all the assets and experience from the first generation, and can now take gender and environmentally friendly actions in their business”.

Selima Ahmad received the Oslo Business for Peace Award in 2014 for her work empowering women and developing entrepreneurial talent. You can read more about her 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.

One-on-one with our Honourees: Dr Jennifer Riria

10 August 2022

Dr Jennifer Riria is CEO of Echo Network Africa (previously Kenya Women Holding) and has led Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) for over two decades. KWFT is Kenya’s largest micro-finance provider and grants loans to marginalised women and their families, working together with leading civil rights organisations.

Through her crucial work, Dr Riria brings economic empowerment to low-income women and is contributing to peacebuilding, even during times of conflict. In 2016 she was recognised with the Oslo Business for Peace Award.

Photo by Olav Heggø

To be businessworthy is to apply one’s business energy ethically and responsibly with the purpose of creating social as well as economic value. How does your work align with these values?

As the Head of Echo Network Africa, I ensure that the strategy that targets touching of lives, enhancing livelihoods, promoting peace, and protecting peace and violations of women’s rights takes a centrepiece. This cannot be achieved without involving the target group which is low-income women, national and county government, and development partners.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your work?

Like any other place on the globe, Echo Network Africa was separated from its target group due to the Ministry of Health protocols against COVID-19. Mobilisation of financial resources that support initiatives that benefit low-income women and their families has drastically reduced, forcing inadequate delivery. Psychologically, it has been torturous to receive news on a daily basis of women and their dying because of covid infections and in particular poor women and their families who cannot afford medical services.

What would you say to other business leaders about how to act as a role model and what to prioritise during these unprecedented times?

First of all, we must never give up. We must continue with our work as much as possible using every possible delivery mechanism. For example, using social media and working with local partners, providing information publicly on how people should socially manage themselves to minimise infections. There is a need to keep in contact with our target groups. Human resources, whether permanent or temporary, who work with us must be supported, advised, and given technical knowledge on how to manage themselves and their families. This may include, and is not limited to, connecting them with health services and access to daily survival needs.

Dr. Jennifer Riria during the 2015 Summit. Photo by Olav Heggø

I have personally experienced and watched women like me and girls suffer social, economic, and political exclusion. My passion has been to engage at levels and initiatives that transform how these systems work.” — Dr Jennifer Riria

What are the top issues you would like to see highlighted in the aftermath of COVID-19?

  1. Families that have broken up due to stress under lockdown.
  2. We must deal with a whole population of teenage girls who on a daily basis have been abused, gotten pregnant, and are out of school.
  3. We need to encourage the government to initiate interventions that will uphold not only businesses that have collapsed, but also initiatives that support the recreation of harmony among family members.
  4. Legal systems in place must change and be sensitive to issues that have destroyed the social fabric.

Is there another Business for Peace Honouree that you look towards for inspiration? Who and why?

All honourees are admirable because of what they stand for as businesspeople and human beings. However, I like to identify myself with Marc Benioff (2020 Honouree). First of all, he lives in the present and uses ICT to deliver and manage his quest. Secondly, he focuses on areas of philanthropy, caring leadership, and strives for quality. Those are tenets for achieving peaceful coexistence in any society.

How do you stay motivated?

All my life, when I know through any action that I take has enabled an individual to benefit their lives and achieve their self-set goals, I sing for joy.

This interview was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

"The Defiant Optimist" - A new book by Business for Peace Honouree Durreen Shahnaz

14th July 2020

“The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women” is Durreen Shahnaz’s latest book.

In this powerful story, Durreen explores what it means to be a “defiant optimist”: the stubborn belief that systems that enrich the few can be transformed for the good of the many.

Through her book, Durreen walks us through her own personal story becoming a global leader in impact investing, but also takes us on a journey meeting incredible women all over the world. Most importantly perhaps, her book offers strategies to change how systems work, and place women, the underserved and the planet at their heart.

Durreen Shahnaz’s vision and philosophy for a more inclusive and conscious form of capitalism stands strong. In 2017 Durreen received the Oslo Business for Peace Award for her work in spearheading the transformation of the way financial and capital markets work, focusing on purpose and maximising impact. Her work in Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), the world’s first stock exchange dedicated to social enterprises – which she founded in 2009, has positively impacted 10 million lives to dat.

“The Defiant Optimist” will be out on June 27, 2023. You can pre-order a copy of “The Defiant Optimist” here:

Amazon: https://lnkd.in/gFBBkMjt
Barnes and Noble: https://lnkd.in/gBdcZN58

From Beyoncé to Beirut: interview with CEO Sarah Beydoun

30 April 2022

Businesses have to find ways to protect their workers, especially in crisis. This means we have to focus on saving jobs as much as possible.

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

How our business contributes to Peace, by CEO of Coffee for Peace, “Joji” Felicitas Bautista Pantoja

4 February 2022

When we started developing the concept of Coffee for Peace as a business in 2008, we had been working on the ground and listening to the voices of the rural poor, specifically the challenges and the systemic impoverishment experienced by most farmers in the land-based, armed-conflicted areas of Mindanao.

Knowing our resource and time limitations in the field, we focused our attention on the coffee farmers.

We were aware of the many programmes encouraging farmers to produce and plant more coffee, but one thing was missing. The programmes were conceptualised in the offices of the funding organisations, lacking real consultation and deep listening on what the farmers actually need. In the end, the programmes were not the farmers’ project; they were the funders’ project. Despite the accomplishment reports of the officials, the people on the ground did not really embrace them as their own.

Coffee for Peace starts with listening. For us, listening is the first act of love. If we truly love the people, we ought to listen to them — with our ears, with our minds, with our hearts, and with our will.

We also listen to ourselves — what are lenses through which we listen, and what are resources we can access to respond to what we have heard.

We got involved by amplifying the voices of the farmers to the government. We accompanied the farmers’ spokespersons to many assemblies conducted or facilitated by various government and non-government organisations. We actively attended meetings, until they heard the farmers we were accompanying. We wrote proposals to work with the government and with other organisations by being their partner on the ground. In most cases, we served as project managers or consultants. We helped organise the farmers. We initiated trainings to bring them from the position of mere raw material suppliers to the position of being farmer entrepreneurs or ‘farmerpreneurs.’ We vouched for the farmers’ organisations as they received grants from the government. The government saw evidences of transparent, sustainable, and reproductive use of public funds entrusted to the farmers.

The training we provide are all framed in peace and reconciliation (PAR) principles and practices. The PAR training programme includes:

  • the fundamentals of peacebuilding
  • conflict transformation processes
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • inter-faith dialogue
  • inclusive development

These trainings were conducted in such a way that the farmers would understand the complex concepts using development communications approaches.

Change did not happen overnight. In our experience working with the communities who partnered with us, it would take three years to introduce a new system of thinking and working — from harvesting, processing, to having a mindset of an entrepreneur, to becoming a peacebuilding community. A family or two would apply the way Coffee for Peace, then we see their neighbors embracing the principles and practices, then we see most of the community adopting the transformative process.

Our partnership with the government and other non-government organisations helped us accomplish beyond our own organisational capacities. To increase the livelihood sustainability of the community, we helped train them to receive larger grants from the government or investments from other businesses or institutions. Right now, we see this stage of their development as a stable foundation towards further inclusive development for the next generation.

Coffee for Peace is focusing now on each individual farmer to help enhance their natural gifts and acquired skills as ‘farmerpreneurs.’ Some of them are technically inclined. Some of them are good teachers. Some of them are good with numbers. We see many more talents and skills among many of them. We are seeing the best side of each farmer and we’re facilitating how important it is for each one to work with one another harmoniously. With this inclusive and holistic view of community development, we are more confident that they can move further towards achieving greater dreams.

One big corporation operating in a conflict-affected area said that since they worked with Coffee for Peace and with our twin organisation, PeaceBuilders Community, their budget for extra bodyguards and security system significantly decreased in over a year. They saved money integrating the culture of peace in their corporate conflict management system. They were also able to develop a good working relationship with the community with whom they used to have conflicts. The high-ranking government official who was sent by our national government to observe the conflict transformation processes in this case was so happy and gave a very positive report. He saw how the mix of business and peacebuilding became a model for inclusive development especially among communities in conflicted areas.

CFP, along with our twin organisation PBCI, are grateful and glad to see a peace-framed social business contribute to an increased harmony in the community in terms of family income, sustainable livelihood, relational harmony, and the pleasure of producing and drinking freshly brewed coffee.

For justice. For peace.

Joji Pantoja
President & CEO
Coffee for Peace, Inc.Davao City, Philippines

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

World Food Day 2021: Recognising the Importance of Food Sustainability

15 October 2022

Written by Eva Thorshaug, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

16th October is the World Food Day, an event marked worldwide to commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945 and to shine a light on the ways in which food systems affect our wellbeing and society. In 2021, the topic of food systems, agriculture and human rights remains as relevant as ever. The theme this year is therefore “Our actions are our future — Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”.

One of the major challenges for humanity in the 21st century is to find ways to feed the world’s ever growing population in a sustainable manner and in consideration of human rights across the world. The main issue is to establish food systems that ensure that food value chains — from early production and all the way to consumption — are in line with the environmental limitations of our planet while at the same time guaranteeing adequate food for everyone.

What is the connection between food systems, human rights and business?

The relationship between food systems, business and human rights is complex and involves a host of different stakeholders. At its core, the interaction between these three elements covers a range of issues from food production and trade, to environmental impact, social justice and human wellbeing. As such, the necessary change can only come from a targeted effort covering all three elements.

Hunger and conflict are connected in what can only be deemed a vicious circle. Fighting and conflict drives large numbers of people from their homes, their land and their jobs, increasing the likelihood of them going hungry. But the opposite is also true.

Food deprivation can light the fuse of social tension, which may ultimately incite or exacerbate conflicts. In other words, food security, peace and stability go together.

Without peace, ending world hunger becomes impossible and while there is hunger, there cannot be a peaceful world. In light of this, the World Food Programme (WFP) was Awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” WFP’s mandate to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition is an essential element in breaking the cycle of poverty, showcasing how food security is essential for both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The necessary rethinking of food systems to meet future challenges cannot happen without the full commitment of the business community. A growing consensus has emerged that the only way to feed current and future populations and at the same time not use up all resources is by reorienting food production, distribution and policies. In response to these challenges, the notion of food sustainability has emerged. In short, it proposes a holistic vision of food systems and assesses their impacts at social, economic, cultural and environmental levels. 

It is also grounded in general principles that undergird sustainable development, notably democratic governance of natural resources and consideration of human rights standards. In the myriad of stakeholders that make up the supply chain in food systems, human rights considerations risk being discarded. And while governments hold the power to regulate business activity, the business community itself also has a responsibility to establish strong internal human rights policies, conduct the necessary due diligence and prevent human rights abuse at all levels of their supply chains. Without the full effort of the business community, the necessary changes of food systems will remain difficult.

Sustainable agriculture as a driver for peace

Hunger, unsustainable agriculture and malnutrition all pose major challenges to the full realisation of the right to food and by extension the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda underscores the need to approach food systems from a rights-based perspective. Specifically, SDG 2 commits states to: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. SDG 2 is outlined as such that it recognises the interconnectedness of sustainable agriculture, rural poverty, promotion of gender equality, tackling climate change and more. Tackling the issue of food sustainability is thus a multifaceted effort.

As the world population shows no signs of stopping its growth, an increased effort and innovation will be imperative in order to sustainably increase agricultural production to meet the needs of a growing population. The global supply chain also needs to be improved to take human rights into greater consideration at every step. Finally, a sustained effort needs to be made towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. Extreme poverty and hunger are predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families making up a very significant proportion of the poor and hungry. Thus, eradicating poverty and hunger are integrally linked to boosting food production, agricultural productivity and rural incomes.

Especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to pursue food systems and agricultural production from a holistic and integrated perspective has become clear. Not only does the scarcity of resources such as land, water and healthy soils make it imperative to use and manage them sustainably. Food security also needs to be viewed through the wider lens of stability in our societies.

An example of such an approach is Coffee for Peace (CFP) led by “Joji” Felicitas Bautista Pantoja, Business for Peace Honouree in 2020. Based in the Philippines, Coffee for Peace uses coffee production as a tool to address the economic, environmental and peace issues prevalent in conflict-affected communities. Through its work, CFP provides sustainable livelihoods for indigenous and migrant groups in rural areas, enabling over 880 farmers to escape poverty and build their coffee production capacity. By focusing on sustainable agriculture, peace and reconciliation between religious groups, environmental protection, and social entrepreneurship, CFP demonstrates how a holistic view of food production can be a vehicle for peace and sustainability.

What the future holds

Building resilient food systems worldwide will be a key focus to avoid future large-scale food shortages and ensuring food security for all, as well as the effects it will have on peace and sustainability efforts. The World Food Day on October 16th this year focuses especially on such efforts, highlighting how today’s production impacts future food security and its effects.

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

Net Positive: How corageous companies thrive by giving more than they take

5 October 2022

Net Positive, a new book by former Unilever CEO and Business for Peace Honouree Paul Polman, and sustainable business expert Andrew Winston, is out today.

Drawing on lessons from Paul’s time running Unilever and from other pioneering companies around the world, Net Positive explains how to build a company which profits by fixing the world’s problems, not creating them. It’s a practical guide for business leaders and also for the policy-makers, activists, employees and others seeking to work with them on our shared planetary and societal challenges. It’s a call for courageous leadership from business and bold new partnerships across the private sector, government and civil society. Above all, it’s a systems transformation story rooted in a human transformation story. 

To thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become “net positive”—giving more to the world than they take. Join the movement at: