NEW YORK - Simply stated, the "peace dividend" theory holds that in times of peace, budgets and resources normally allocated for defence can be used to invest internally in housing, education, and other initiatives which improve a society and bolster an economy. In other words: in the long term, peace is more profitable than war.
But in the post-Cold War world, regional conflicts and international terrorism have proliferated, and peace has proven an elusive concept. Having thus far failed to make peace in our time, the economic gains of the "peace dividend" have largely remained in the realm of the theoretical.
Perhaps we need to utilize new tools and look at peace-making through new lenses in order to build the vibrant, viable, stable, and prosperous societies we envision for the future. Suppose for a moment that business cannot wait for peace; suppose that selling a product and turning a healthy profit could actually play a significant role in encouraging peace. In business, it is commonly acknowledged that two parties profiting from a joint venture develop a mutual, vested interest in developing and maintaining the relationship between them. What if the same could be said for "enemy" populations?
That is the theory behind the PeaceWorks LLC, a 13-year old company that has pioneered the field of the socially conscious, "not-only-for-profit" business model, and proven that peace and profit can work hand in hand. The company has a unique mission: to foster economic cooperation and peaceful business interactions in conflict regions through the manufacturing, packaging, and distributing of natural food products, all the while sustaining a growing, profitable company.
PeaceWorks was founded by Daniel Lubetzky in 1994, when, fresh from Stanford Law School, he travelled to Israel to research ways to encourage economic ventures between Israelis and Arabs. After tasting a sun dried tomato pesto made in Israel, he came up with an idea.
So what does pesto have to do with peace? PeaceWorks turned the process of manufacturing this local product into a process for conflict resolution. The line of products which includes sun dried tomato, basil, and olive pestos runs as a cooperative venture that ties Israelis and Arabs together - Meditalia, a name meant to evoke the diverse and culturally-rich region shared by both Arabs and Jews, uses olives from Palestinian farmers, tomatoes from Turkey, and glass jars manufactured in Egypt.
By providing people who are separated from one another by geography, the politics of antagonistic governments, past wars, and religio-ethnic rifts a project of mutual interest, the people involved in the production of these projects have come to see themselves as tied to one another. They benefit in a very tangible way -- profit -- from their interactions with one another, and so learn that it is in their best interest to cement these relationships. Once profitable and mutually-beneficial business relationships have been developed, the process of breaking down stereotypes and divisions becomes much easier. People begin to see themselves as interconnected.
With its distribution network now at 10,000 stores worldwide, PeaceWorks has grown significantly, and proven that business has a part to play in making the world a better place. The company now offers a number of different products made as joint ventures between "enemy" populations - in addition to the Meditalia products, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims in Indonesia collaborate on PeaceWorks' Bali Spice line.
Furthermore, PeaceWorks' other products, the Be Natural and KIND healthy snack bars, though not made in a conflict region, donate 5% of their profits to Lubetzky's non-profit foundation, The PeaceWorks Foundation, whose OneVoice Movement works toward a non-violent end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the ground up.
After the failure of Oslo and the rise of the second Intifada, Lubetzky applied the same entrepreneurial sense and hands-on approach that started PeaceWorks to launch OneVoice, a grassroots movement which empowers the moderate majority of Israelis and Palestinians to take a more assertive role in resolving the conflict.
The globalisation of products and markets has radically changed business in the last century. Likewise, the globalisation and internationalisation of regional conflicts has dynamically shifted the framework for conflict resolution. In many ways OneVoice represents the non-profit mirror for the PeaceWorks LLC: its efforts are focused on the tangible, day-to-day processes of getting people involved in changing the political situation for the better. With field offices in Tel-Aviv, Ramallah, and Gaza, OneVoice has worked to create an alternative paradigm of politics in the region, transcending the "left vs. right" and "Israeli vs. Palestinian" divides to reveal that the moderate majority can prevail over the absolutist vision of an extremist minority, which so often succeeds in derailing the peace process.
In just five years, OneVoice has signed up over 430,000 members on both sides of the Green Line, and actively engaged the Israeli, Palestinian, and international leadership in heeding the call of their people to sit down and negotiate a resolution. In January of 2007, the World Economic Forum hosted a special plenary session featuring OneVoice activists, giving them a platform to pledge their support for a two state solution in front of Tzipi Livni, Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas, and WEF Founder Klaus Schwab.
Progress towards peace, specifically in regions plagued by complex and internationalised conflicts, is slow at best, and the steps that must be taken do not point us down the path of least resistance. The PeaceWorks Group has gone a long way in working to prove that there is a necessary role for ordinary people -- for businesses, for citizens -- to play in the process of making peace work.
* Erin Pineda is the Communications Coordinator for the New York office of the OneVoice international headquarters, www.onevoicemovement.org. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.com
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