Can and should enlightened global businesses solve real global problems like war and poverty?

By Philomena Blees, President, Peace Through Commerce, Inc

Can and should enlightened global businesses solve real global problems like war and poverty?

World headlines show the global community is faced with serious problems of conflict and instability: 10,000 or more deaths per year from the Mexican Drug War, Syrian Civil War, Iraqi Insurgency, and ethnic violence in South Sudan. 1,000-9,999 deaths per year in Gaza and from civil wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Northwest Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya; and the War in Ukraine. Gangs in Central America; terrorist activities by instigators like ISIS and Al-Qaida; and clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong.

The global economic cost of violence in 2015 was $13.6 trillion, which represents 13.3 percent of Gross World Product, according to the latest report from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). These non-productive expenditures inhibit economic growth, adding to the many reasons to strive for more peaceful societies.

I offer that business must be part of the solution to war and poverty as it is the greatest force for good the world has ever known. And, it can’t do it alone.[i] These problems require effective partnerships between business, civil society and government. The challenge is how and when will this happen given these three sectors of society most often work in silos and cross-purposes to each other? It will happen when business, government, and civil society co-operate (not merely operate) thereby co-generating justice, prosperity, and sustainability. When these three conditions are present, they together will co-generate a self-balancing, self-correcting ecosystem of sustainable peace and prosperity. How and when will business, civil society and government co-operate? It will happen when they operate at a higher order level of consciousness represented by peace-optimizing shared values across all three sectors of society and adopt peace-optimizing best practices.

Also business quite simply has incredibly effective and well-honed skills for tackling global problems. It thinks more readily in terms of sustainability, tolerance, well-functioning business environments, and “peace through commerce”. Single businesses can mimic whole countries. If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3d largest after China’s 1.34 billion people and India’s 1.2 billion. Business expertise in creating successful and peaceful agreements is foundational; conflict resolution practically a job requirement. It is positioned to provide important cross-border diplomacy and leadership and is often better equipped to use a common language and find shared goals in times of crisis. And business leaders are adopting conscious capitalist leadership practices. For example, a high-profile effort was waged by Virgin founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson, who helped to bring a group of Ukrainian and Russian corporate leaders together to push for a resolution to the conflict to get back to doing business together. A company’s hiring practices and workforce development provide opportunities to contribute to peace. In a post-conflict environment, large corporations have opportunities to transfer employees within regions to promote understanding and integration.

How does one become a conscious capitalist? How do businesses join the enlightened global business community? How do businesses, government and civil society understand the inter-workings of their individual silos?

Aspiring conscious capitalists can look at the teachings of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., a nonprofit co-founded by Whole Foods Market co-CEO and co-Founder John Mackey. It is dedicated to teaching the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism®: higher purpose, multi-stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership[ii], and conscious culture. This is not about corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) or ‘add-on’ programs to a business’s core activities. It is about the how a business executes its core activities. [iii] It’s about the transformative nature of the way a business can do its day-job—consciously, purposefully, in union with best sustainability and conscious capitalist practices. Businesses manifesting these enlightened practices include Whole Foods Market, the Container Store, Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, Panera Bread Company, Nordstrom, UPS, Ben and Jerry’s, Barry-Wehmiller, and Campbell Soup Company.

Businesses wanting to join the enlightened business community focused on addressing human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption in partnership with civil society and government can join the United Nations Global Compact. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “the Global Compact asks companies to embrace universal principles and to partner with the United Nations. It has grown to become a critical platform for the UN to engage effectively with enlightened global business.”

Businesses can learn to foster sustainable peace and prosperity by studying the Matrix of Peace™. The Matrix of Peace is a systems model developed by Peace Through Commerce, Inc. for understanding and designing peaceful and prosperous communities. It identifies the key systems in a community necessary to create sustainable peace and prosperity–the public, private, and civil society sectors—and the level of consciousness of the citizens designing those systems.[iv]

There are many international frameworks to promote and support businesses in their role as responsible corporate citizens: ISO 26000, OECD Guidelines, UN Guiding Principles, Hague Approach Principles and the Global Compact. Partners Global has been using the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights as an “excuse to bring together activist organizations, extractive industries and local governments throughout Latin America to discuss their co-responsibility in achieving stability and local development. These dialogues help break down long-standing mistrust and build relationships to prevent future tensions.”[v]

Yes, enlightened global businesses can and should solve real global problems like war and poverty and contribute to the creation of self-balancing, self-correcting ecosystems of sustainable peace and prosperity.

President of Peace Through Commerce, Inc. is a global, nonprofit, strategic organization committed to creating a world in which all people enjoy peace and prosperity. PTC fosters peace and prosperity through teaching about the Matrix of Peace,™ and gives special attention to women in its Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs (“AWE”) Division. Philomena is a Trustee Emeritus for Conscious Capitalism, Inc., having served as founding general counsel and Vice President of its parent corporation, Freedom Lights Our World (FLOW), Inc.


[i] See an excellent review of the epic achievements of capitalism in not only solving the problems of war and poverty, but also in providing effective means to sustainability and fostering soul-fulfilling employment for all in Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation 2003). See also, Be The Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the world’s Problems (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons 2009)

[ii] See the recent book Shakti Leadership: Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business, by Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia, (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. Oakland, CA 2016)

[iii] See an excellent book on the “how” of doing business in “how: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything, by Dov Seidman (Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007, 2011)

[iv] See also new initiatives of the UN Global Compact in a paper submitted to their first conference Business For Peace conference last month entitled “Business For Peace”.

[v] Thanks to Julia Roig, President of Partners for Peace, who compiled this list in her excellent blog Business for Peace: We Know Why, But How? at October 9, 2014.

Editor’s Note:

This article is published as part of the Business and Peace Challenge, led by Indiana University and Business Fights Poverty. To find out more about the Business and Peace Challenge, and to join, click here.

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