• Roberta Annan

How entrepreneurship can be the key to peace

Depending on how you define a war as opposed to a police action or terrorist insurgency, there are more than twenty such armed conflicts going on in the world today. Ukraine may receive more of the global headlines at this moment, but from Yemen to Afghanistan and from Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo, lives are being torn apart by the gun. One of the most obvious casualties of the fighting is the ability of people to work and to prosper. Entrepreneurs cannot flourish under shot and shell, and without that essential freedom for people to follow their dreams, peace can never really take hold.

War is perhaps the most obvious reason for people to leave their country of origin as refugees, although climate change and fear of religious or ethnic persecution play their part. A question less frequently asked is, what can be done to persuade people to stay? The simple one word answer is hope, that elusive quality which is so easily crushed by the factors listed above. Without hope for a better future, people with energy and imagination are inclined to search for pastures new where they can make something of themselves. This is why entrepreneurship must be nurtured and encouraged. If individuals see opportunity on their doorstep they are far less likely to flee from home and community. Just as entrepreneurs need peace to thrive, peace needs entrepreneurs to safeguard it.

Entrepreneurs are people with something to lose, and have a powerful drive to protect those conditions which allow their ideas to succeed. A women or man with a profitable business has the strongest reasons to stay where they are, and to support peace and stability at home. This is not a phenomenon unique to the emerging world. Russia is seeing tens of thousands of its educated middle-class, its entrepreneurial class, leaving their homeland thanks to the war in Ukraine. They see little prospect of a future at home so are going elsewhere. Again, take away hope and you remove the reason to stay.

Everywhere we see the results of radicalisation, itself an enemy of peace and prosperity. We see on our television screens, refugee camps full of people without hope, dumped in an unwelcoming and unfamiliar place with nothing but time. Time to reflect on a world that has treated them badly and on their powerlessness to change that situation. Radicalisation feeds on such frustration and anger. A person with a business to build and to grow is far less likely to have the time and still less the inclination to become drawn into alluring philosophies of blame and revenge. So, many developing countries provide the perfect environment for radicalism. When poverty is everywhere and hope is nowhere, where else can we expect people to turn? Governments hoping to create stability in their lands would therefore do well to encourage and support the dreams of entrepreneurs. They can become anchor points, holding society together by creating wealth and employment, and by being seen by others as beacons of that eternally valuable hope.

For example, in 1953 the United State government set up the Small Business Administration (SBA) which provides to this day a wealth of services in every state of the union. Yes, it has funding to offer in terms of grants, and money to seed the entrepreneurial urge cannot be overestimated in its importance. But it also provides education in how to start and run businesses, it provides advocacy, arguing in favour of the needs of small businesses when new legislation is being considered, and vitally, it contributes to the oversight of the allocation of contracts, with 23% of the dollars spent by the US government going to small companies. These kinds of support can be game changing for the entrepreneurial landscape of any nation. While there are many governments without the necessary financial power to lend the kind of monetary support of the US, this is the kind of model which almost any administration can put in place at relatively low cost to support new business energy.

The private sector has its part to play too, and nowhere is this more the case than in Africa. Ours is a wealthy continent. Private capital exists in enormous quantities. Very often, those people who possess it are the ones who are most anxious about the potential for political instability, but they do not see that the solution is in their own hands. Invest in entrepreneurs, help businesses grow, give more people a stake in the future and the future will be less at stake. Peace and stability are the preserve of economies where everyone feels they have a share in opportunity. Trust the young and energetic and imaginative and creative people who are our greatest natural resource, and peace and prosperity and stability will be all of ours.