What are some practical examples and lessons from business contributions to peace?

This written discussion is part a new month-long Challenge with Indiana University around the question: “What role can business play in pursuit of peace?”  The Challenge consists an online programme of written articles and online discussions, available on the Challenge homepage.


Despite the fact that broad macroeconomic connections between business and peace have long been acknowledged more needs to be done.  This Challenge aims to deepen understanding around the role that business can play in peacekeeping, peace making, and peace building.

This discussion focuses on practical examples and lessons from business contributions to peace.  A one-hour live panel will take place Wednesday 19 October from 10am ET / 3pm UK.

The discussion will focus on three questions:


  1. Can you share practical examples of companies that have explicitly or implicitly impacted on peace?  What lessons might we draw from their work?
  2. Thinking about some of the current trends, what are some of the other ways in which businesses can most effectively contribute to peace?
  3. How can different stakeholders, from business, government and civil society best work together in pursuit of peace?

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I like that you brought up social media as a way of promoting peace and sharing peaceful advertisements. The first example that came to my mind was when people raised money and awareness for the ALS Association by participating in the ‘#icebucketchallenge’. This challenge entailed filming yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head while encouraging your viewers to donate; at the end of the video you also selected a couple friends to complete the challenge as well. According to Business Insider, this 2014 campaign raised $220 million. Although this wasn’t a traditional advertisement on Facebook, I think it’s still important to note people on Facebook like hearing about such campaigns and will participate.

Paula Gutierrez Perez said:

Thinking on the trends that are right now, I think business can contribute to peace in a lot of different ways. I think using marketing and social media to promote peace to people and share different positive and peaceful advertising campaigns will be a really good idea. Then, companies should start giving incentives and rewards to intercultural practices and activities, BMW is doing this right now. Lastly, I would say that increasing the diversity in the company will be a good idea to start promoting peace.  

Daniel, I think you present a great point about how social media can help promote peace. We live in a world where communication knows no bounds and if we take advantage of that I believe we can extend peace in ways we have not even thought of. New, small businesses have the chance to make global connections faster than ever before. By creating these global relationships and ultimately global companies, entrepreneurs and other small business owners are promoting peace. Simply by showing what kind of relationships can be formed through businesses both big and small throughout the world, these businesses are impacting peace.

Daniel Zaretsky said:

I have also been struck by the role of the entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs (not necessarily big business, but business nonetheless can play in breaking down barriers that traditionally hinder interaction between countries or societies that have warred against each other and/or are traditionally antagonistic. I have found that the startup community around the world, which comes from a younger demographic and is connected very heavily via social networks in this globalized world, generally does not care what religion, color, country, culture, gender, etc. a person is. 

This community is more willing to collaborate and work with partners from so-called antagonistic countries (Greece, Turkey, Armenia), (Israel and the Arab world), than practically any other segment of society. I think that these are efforts can push for peace from the bottom up. 

This is the first generation that has grown up with social media and can access others from so-called enemy countries very easily without government interference. I would like to see in a number of years what effect this generation has.

Meagan, I love that you mentioned the disaster relief efforts of Anheuser-Busch. I interned for them this past summer and was shown first-hand how seriously AB takes its corporate social responsibility. Beyond just canning and distributing water, AB has invested nearly one billion dollars to help prevent underage drinking and drunk driving. As one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, I think AB sets a great example of how to promote peace on both a global level through their disaster relief and a more personalized level by helping individuals make responsible, safe decisions.

Meagan Rathjen said:

Echoing a lot of what people have already said, business does have the ability to make an impact in a lot of big ways. Recently, Budweiser has spent a week canning water instead of beer to help the victims of the hurricane. This is a small way that businesses can help in crisis situations and help benefit the community. If all businesses did this, imagine the impact they could have on the world.

Budweiser gave up a week of their time. There are so many corporations that can do this and can actually make a difference in benefiting poverty and peace throughout the world.

Despite all the negativity we hear regarding corporations, Wall Street, and greed in America, ther are still examples of companies doing good in the realm of peace. With a strong move toward social justice and philanthropy we are starting to see more and more of the ultra wealthy give back in order to cultivate peace. Like Joana said, one of these companies is Microsoft. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is a great example. With their constant efforts to improve inequality, poverty, and empower the poorest, they are striving towards these goals. Lessons we can draw from this are that when companies have more than they need to survive, have a great life and then some, giving back to the communities in need can be an exceptional outlet. And a great PR tool. As a double benefit, doing the right thing, especially like this foundation, is a great practical example on how we can contribute to peace.

I believe action is the best way for any form of stakeholder to make a change in pursuit of peace. A lot of times in the classroom and even forums like this, there is a lot of great discussion on what can be done. This is a useful tool because it shapes the minds of students about to go into the workforce and professionals who are already there. It gets future stakeholders in the mindset of how ethical behavior can lead to peace. However, I don’t believe it is even close to enough. Discussions about action need to be made. Writing forum posts is great, but if this is not leading to any concrete steps of change it is useless. For stakeholders to start achieving peace in the endeavors they are a part of, there needs to be actual implementation. By working together this can be cultivated and discussion can actually be turned into positive movement forward.

The first example of business contributions to peace that comes to my mind is Coca Cola. Coca Cola has been contributing to national stability in developing markets through a strategic approach to social and economic contribution. Here is the story. One morning in April of 2013, Coca Cola organized a campaign and set up two vending machines which have 3D and touch-screen technology outside two shopping malls in Lahore, Pakistan and Delhi, India. People from two countries can see each other through the cameras and Skype technology inside the vending machine. If two people from two countries can cooperate with each other to complete the pattern on the screen like a smiling face, a loving heart, or even a dance, each one could get a free tin of Cola. At that time, people from two countries forgot about their conflicts and hatred and enjoyed that moment of happiness. Although this campaign cannot eliminate political and religionary divergences between two countries, we cannot ignore the positive impact of this campaign. Besides commercial facet, Coca Cola is acting as a social-responsible global company to pass out happiness to all over the world, and this kind of responsibility is extremely valuable today.

What role can business play in pursuit of peace? That’s a really good question that can be asked to everyone. For the business professionals, obviously, they need to reflect on their own behaviors and make some movement to play some role in pursuit peace. For the normal citizens, we should also consider this questions, because our reactions towards business behaviors are really important. Think of the accidents of oil spill or the news about street children sniff glue, if people had a huge reaction on all these incidents, the result would be better. The cleaning up would be faster and the brand of the glue will not be sold at Kathmandu again. When I mentioned huge reaction, I mean driving a little further to not refuel at the brand of the gas station that spill oil on the sea. Or paying close attention to the glue brand so that it would not tell the public they quit the market at Kathmandu but still selling glue to the Kathmandu market. With that being said, I believe if citizens can concern about what business do for peace, the importance of business played in peace would be increased a lot. In this case, business is playing a really important role in peace.

First point that came to my mind about how business can most effectively contribute to peace is by creating awareness because I believe that peace is a global concept, and somehow abstract for businesses to make contribution. However, if a business can increase people’s awareness about peace, it will be a great contribution. To specify, almost every company has its own culture, and to blend peace in a company’s culture is a good method to me to create awareness about peace. For example, to cooperate with fashion design companies and customize a uniform that has a peace logo on it in order to create a culture that against violation.

Most of the examples brought up so far have been, essentially, social justice as peace or so-called "positive peace" examples in relatively stable environments. These are business activities that address some kind of social inequity or what Johannes Galtung famously called "structural violence" in places that are relatively violence-free. So any company policy or activity that addresses a social justice issue would be an example of business promoting peace. 

A more complex set of questions relate to how business can prevent or address personal and structural violence in violent conflict zones. How do you protect your employees from acts of violence committed by the government (or by each other)? How do you get communities to stop killing each other? How do you prevent personal violence from breaking out in a more direct way (as opposed to just addressing social justice issues that might be at the root of the violence)? In the paper with Professor Fort, I interviewed the Business for Peace Honorees. Three of them tackle the social justice side (Paul Polman, Poman Lo, Juan-Andres Cano) but two were addressing both the social justice and personal violence sides (Merrill Fernando and Zahi Khoury). This was largely because of location - Fernando and Khoury operated for much of the past 20 years in active conflict zones (Sri Lanka and Gaza/West Bank). The approaches are different mostly because of visibility. It is (relatively) easy to engage in social justice focused campaigns in places without violent conflict. It is (relatively) much more difficult to do so in an active area of violence, but, I would say, has far more impact.

To take the Coca-Cola example that many of you have brought up - they set up vending machines in Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan. They didn't set them up in Kashmir or its border provinces or Balochistan or Waziristan or Khalistan all of which have had regular and sustained violence over the last two years.There are greater reputational, financial, and physical risks to placement in these areas yet they likely would have a bigger impact on personal violence, i.e. the type that gets people killed. It is also substantially harder to do this, so companies like Coca-Cola do "easy" peacebuilding that is low-risk, low-reward from a violence-prevention standpoint, but low-risk high-reward from a marketing standpoint.     

Not surprisingly, I agree with my co-author, Professor Katsos. There are some concrete examples now that can be looked to in order to see steps business can take

Every business need to self audit every aspect of its process and produce, a simple but honest report that no aspect of its conduct directly or indirectly causes or contribute to conflict 

When I was posting this comment I was also thinking about Coca cola and its "Share a Coke" campaign. I think more companies should start doing this type of advertising since I do not think the cost of the company is going to increase and at the same time they could help people and promote peace. Social media is being really important and we can see this when criminal attacks occur. Every company post some type of comment in their social media in order to promote some type of peaceful and nice message. 

Varun Alse said:

I agree with Paula that marketing can be an effective measure to promote peace. Beverage industry giant Coca Cola operates in over 200 countries and has done a great job of portraying this message through its advertisements. One recent example being its "Share a Coke" campaign, where the company encourages sharing Coke products and peace with other parties. Although this campaign is a more abstract signal of peace, Coca Cola has made it clear that they believe in peace on a global level. They have had many TV advertisements and billboards that show different cultures coming together around its product. Specifically, there are billboards displayed with the hands of people of different races holding a Coke bottle cap together. Yes, this could be seen as a ploy to exploit consumer behavior since consumers value companies that benefit the community. But my understanding is that whether we like it or not, advertisements like these do subliminally affect that way we think, and in this case, make us more exposed to the ideology of global peace.

Paula Gutierrez Perez said:

Thinking on the trends that are right now, I think business can contribute to peace in a lot of different ways. I think using marketing and social media to promote peace to people and share different positive and peaceful advertising campaigns will be a really good idea. Then, companies should start giving incentives and rewards to intercultural practices and activities, BMW is doing this right now. Lastly, I would say that increasing the diversity in the company will be a good idea to start promoting peace.  

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