Helping the Private Sector Build Peace: The Role of Technology

Our Head of Client Accounts, Julia Pardo, spoke in the BuildPeace conference in Belfast on October 29th. She talked about how the private sector has a role to play in making the world a more stable and peaceful place and how technology can help achieve that. This post is a condensed version of her speech.

Do we trust the private sector to do good? If we look at the past as an indicator of future impact, it might be hard to think so. The private sector has drowned in a quicksand of bad rap when it comes to its social and environmental impact, followed by scandals like Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, the BP oil spill or the war over water in Bolivia.

Whatever your thoughts on the private sector are, in the past few years there have been increasing conversations about the role they have to play in making the world a more stable place.

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Companies are in countries for the long run - they’re not there to implement a project or a specific plan, like a 12 month stabilization project or a 4-year government agenda might: they’re there to stay. And their operations benefit from a stable, peaceful country. So they have a lot at stake.

This is a highly complex topic but what I want to do is present the possibility of the good that the private sector can do to make the world a more stable, peaceful place and the possibilities of technology to enable that.

PRIVATE SECTOR POTENTIAL FOR GOOD

Because AKTEK believes in the potential of the private sector to do good things in their operating regions, since 2017 we have been actively looking to engage with them, particularly in Latin America and more recently in Eastern Europe and Africa.

One of these companies is in the extractive sector. They are a large Colombian company that has historically been present in highly complex areas. Why am I calling them complex? If you look at a map of Colombia you’ll see that the territories identified as key for the exploitation and extraction of natural resources are almost exactly the same as those with a high presence of insurgent armed groups.

This overlap means that large companies like our client have been operating in territories with very little state presence, and it is common for tensions to arise between the companies and the local communities.

THE SECTOR’S ROLE IN DEVELOPMENT

The topic of discussion is the role that the business sector should have in their development, and how the communities can engage in decisions about the extraction of natural resources in their territories. If left unchecked, these tensions can lead to the boycott of these companies by the communities.

And why should we care? For once, because the boycotters bomb pipelines, which can lead to terrible environmental disasters - and also because this company is half publicly-owned, so dividends go back to the State, and because, as the largest company in the country, they’re the biggest tax payer.

This means that if they go bankrupt due to poor stakeholder management, the country as a whole suffers. And because it’s a local company, all its employees are invested in the future and well-being of their country.

Local companies are in their countries for the long run - and they benefit from stable, prosperous and peaceful societies.

OUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BUSINESS

What we have done is work with them and with a local partner to help them gather, analyse, centralise and visualise all the information they have in a more holistic manner. We are offering them a tool that allows them to do field data collection, stakeholder mapping, GIS mapping and social media monitoring.

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They already had a lot of information, but siloed in different departments that wouldn't talk to each other. By centralising everything in one same tool, the information is more readily available and of higher quality, cross-validated by different departments.

This means that they can take better decisions, backed up by actual data, after assessing the risks and potential for impact. It also means that they are understanding the needs of the communities they engage with better - meaning they can fulfill them and get involved in meaningful conversations.

Remember that companies are in countries for the long run, and want to build good relationships. Yes, they care about profit - but they can also bring good to their communities.

PEACE AS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

Whatever your thoughts on the private sector are,the truth is that it has a role to play in building peace, reaching where public organisations and governments may not.

Peace cannot depend solely on the state or on donor organisations, because resources are limited and there’s always a new crisis to tend to. Prosperity must be supported by all stakeholders in society, and that effort must include the private sector, too.

Private companies have a lot at stake when they operate in complex environments. Particularly if they are local companies, they not only care about profit, but also about the long-term wellbeing of their country. Instead of demonising them, we should engage with private companies, appeal to their own interests and show them what a stable society can help them achieve. As they say in Spanish, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

As for technology, it can offer opportunities for these companies to understand the complexities of their contexts better and have a greater positive impact on their local communities.

Julia Pardo is AKTEK’s Client Accounts Head. She is a a biotechnology expert and public speaking trainer with multiple years of corporate risk and innovation consulting experience.