Selima Ahmad: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh

1st of December 2022

Selima Ahmad MP, is the Founder and President of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and serves as an elected member of the Parliament of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In 2014 she received the Oslo Business for Peace Award for her work empowering women and developing entrepreneurial talent. In this interview, we discuss her recent projects and expectations for the business sector after COVID-19.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Selima’s work in the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry has focused on women entrepreneurs, especially at the micro and grassroots levels. They have identified one key challenge that most of these women face: women make the initial investment of time and resources, but men in their families take the benefits. Once the business starts flourishing, men take ownership of the business and remove women from it. 

To solve this problem, the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce is running a project to educate and empower female founders by teaching them how to register and legalise their business, obtain a trade license, scale their enterprises into SMEs and follow the tax order. This project will allow women to retain ownership of their businesses and provide them with independence and financial freedom.

COVID-19 has changed the business landscape in the country, which is seeing a boom in e-commerce enterprises. Traditionally, female entrepreneurs have been shy about using online business platforms, but during the pandemic, something changed. Online commerce became the only available platform to conduct business, and women realised they could have more competitive prices when they eliminated the costs of a physical store.

The Chamber of Commerce is currently running a digital capacity-building project for over 5,100 women focused on three main industries: fashion and design; catering and baking; and mobile repair and digital services. Regarding this last point; they are implementing a program with Meta to train female entrepreneurs to learn how to conduct business using their platforms.

Gender-based Violence and Equal Representation in the Workplace

In collaboration with the Centre for Private Enterprise in Washington, they have launched a new initiative to address harassment and violence that many women suffer in the workplace. There are policies already in place that deal with gender-based violence in the home, but they are lobbying to bring more policies and practical solutions that create a harassment-free environment for women in their workplace.

One of the main objectives of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh Prime Minister, is to achieve 50% representation of women in all spheres by 2030. Selima notes that there is still a long way to go in the entrepreneurial sector. One way they are trying to bridge this gap is through a new training institute that will bring female entrepreneurs from rural areas to the city, where they will have the opportunity to learn from women role models and learn from their experiences. The training institute includes a residential area where these women can live together during the training days.

Selima believes in the power of women sharing their stories and experiences. As she highlights, every woman, herself included, has faced some of the same problems, including harassment. For this reason, it is important to create a space where women can talk and learn from each other, and especially have access to women that are role models. “The journey is tough, but we can do it!” says Selima.

Addressing Structural Challenges for Women

Selima’s work as a Parliamentarian is trying to address two structural challenges that hinder women’s participation in the economy. 

The first one is early marriages. Bangladesh is one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest levels of child marriage, with 38 million child brides according to UNICEF. Although this trend is in decline and child marriage is prohibited by law, this is still an extended practice, especially in rural areas and low-income households. Selima’s work in Parliament is trying to raise awareness and develop initiatives that can educate women and their communities about the dangers of child marriages and give them other options through entrepreneurship that can allow them to be economically independent.

One example is Selima’s initiative back in her natal village, where she has made available a water pond, free of charge to a project led by 20 women. The government provided them with fishing equipment and other resources to start production. These women invested between 13 and 20 USD in this business, and this year’s returns have reached over 200 USD. In addition, they can also use the resources the pond offers to bring fresh food to their homes, and have created a space for the community children to be and play safely. 

The second structural challenge is infrastructure, in particular the roads in her district. Poor connectivity through land affects mostly women, children, and the elderly population. She is encouraging citizens to report bad road conditions using social media and raising their voices to make these issues known. However, corruption remains one of the main challenges within the infrastructure sector.


The Role and Future of Business in Bangladesh

When asked about the role business can play in the post-COVID recovery, Selima is clear: they must raise awareness and double their capacity-building efforts. Many things have changed in the last few years and consumers are more conscious and informed than before. This means that businesses can be more profitable when they are compliant with the law. However, corruption in the regulatory and license bodies is still a big challenge, and it might be the root cause of the establishment of many industries and businesses that are not safe or compliant.

She insists that “blaming” business is not the solution, and points out that sometimes the small entrepreneurs lack the information or training to understand compliance requirements. Training new and small entrepreneurs in these matters are therefore fundamental, as well as motivating them and explaining to them how to do things differently. “People are good,” says Selima “it is us who make them bad”.

Selima has witnessed another big change in recent years. “We are seeing the second generation of entrepreneurs in Bangladesh that is connected with the outside world, educated and aware. They have inherited all the assets and experience from the first generation, and can now take gender and environmentally friendly actions in their business”.

Selima Ahmad received the Oslo Business for Peace Award in 2014 for her work empowering women and developing entrepreneurial talent. You can read more about her here.

Business for Peace launches new website and visual identity

28 September 2022

In 2022, Business for Peace is celebrating its 15th year anniversary. During this time, more than 50 extraordinary business leaders have received the Oslo Business for Peace Award, and become examples of what it means to be businessworthy.

Our new visual identity keeps the Award and this message at its centre, anchoring our commitment to continue recognising, inspiring, and accelerating businessworthy leadership. With this new image, we also want to show our engagement with the 2030 Agenda and celebrate a new and exciting period for the Foundation. 

In the upcoming months, we will be sharing through this space and our social media channels, some exciting news about the future of Business for Peace. Stay tuned!

One-on-one with our Honourees: Dr Jennifer Riria

10 August 2022

Dr Jennifer Riria is CEO of Echo Network Africa (previously Kenya Women Holding) and has led Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) for over two decades. KWFT is Kenya’s largest micro-finance provider and grants loans to marginalised women and their families, working together with leading civil rights organisations.

Through her crucial work, Dr Riria brings economic empowerment to low-income women and is contributing to peacebuilding, even during times of conflict. In 2016 she was recognised with the Oslo Business for Peace Award.

Photo by Olav Heggø

To be businessworthy is to apply one’s business energy ethically and responsibly with the purpose of creating social as well as economic value. How does your work align with these values?

As the Head of Echo Network Africa, I ensure that the strategy that targets touching of lives, enhancing livelihoods, promoting peace, and protecting peace and violations of women’s rights takes a centrepiece. This cannot be achieved without involving the target group which is low-income women, national and county government, and development partners.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your work?

Like any other place on the globe, Echo Network Africa was separated from its target group due to the Ministry of Health protocols against COVID-19. Mobilisation of financial resources that support initiatives that benefit low-income women and their families has drastically reduced, forcing inadequate delivery. Psychologically, it has been torturous to receive news on a daily basis of women and their dying because of covid infections and in particular poor women and their families who cannot afford medical services.

What would you say to other business leaders about how to act as a role model and what to prioritise during these unprecedented times?

First of all, we must never give up. We must continue with our work as much as possible using every possible delivery mechanism. For example, using social media and working with local partners, providing information publicly on how people should socially manage themselves to minimise infections. There is a need to keep in contact with our target groups. Human resources, whether permanent or temporary, who work with us must be supported, advised, and given technical knowledge on how to manage themselves and their families. This may include, and is not limited to, connecting them with health services and access to daily survival needs.

Dr. Jennifer Riria during the 2015 Summit. Photo by Olav Heggø

I have personally experienced and watched women like me and girls suffer social, economic, and political exclusion. My passion has been to engage at levels and initiatives that transform how these systems work.” — Dr Jennifer Riria

What are the top issues you would like to see highlighted in the aftermath of COVID-19?

  1. Families that have broken up due to stress under lockdown.
  2. We must deal with a whole population of teenage girls who on a daily basis have been abused, gotten pregnant, and are out of school.
  3. We need to encourage the government to initiate interventions that will uphold not only businesses that have collapsed, but also initiatives that support the recreation of harmony among family members.
  4. Legal systems in place must change and be sensitive to issues that have destroyed the social fabric.

Is there another Business for Peace Honouree that you look towards for inspiration? Who and why?

All honourees are admirable because of what they stand for as businesspeople and human beings. However, I like to identify myself with Marc Benioff (2020 Honouree). First of all, he lives in the present and uses ICT to deliver and manage his quest. Secondly, he focuses on areas of philanthropy, caring leadership, and strives for quality. Those are tenets for achieving peaceful coexistence in any society.

How do you stay motivated?

All my life, when I know through any action that I take has enabled an individual to benefit their lives and achieve their self-set goals, I sing for joy.

This interview was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

"The Defiant Optimist" - A new book by Business for Peace Honouree Durreen Shahnaz

14th July 2020

“The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women” is Durreen Shahnaz’s latest book.

In this powerful story, Durreen explores what it means to be a “defiant optimist”: the stubborn belief that systems that enrich the few can be transformed for the good of the many.

Through her book, Durreen walks us through her own personal story becoming a global leader in impact investing, but also takes us on a journey meeting incredible women all over the world. Most importantly perhaps, her book offers strategies to change how systems work, and place women, the underserved and the planet at their heart.

Durreen Shahnaz’s vision and philosophy for a more inclusive and conscious form of capitalism stands strong. In 2017 Durreen received the Oslo Business for Peace Award for her work in spearheading the transformation of the way financial and capital markets work, focusing on purpose and maximising impact. Her work in Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), the world’s first stock exchange dedicated to social enterprises – which she founded in 2009, has positively impacted 10 million lives to dat.

“The Defiant Optimist” will be out on June 27, 2023. You can pre-order a copy of “The Defiant Optimist” here:

Amazon: https://lnkd.in/gFBBkMjt
Barnes and Noble: https://lnkd.in/gBdcZN58

Beyond a Rainbow Logo: How businesses can better support the LGBTQ community

10 June 2022

Written by Brady Flynn, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

The calendar shifts to June and social media is instantly flooded with colours of the rainbow as many companies begin to show their support for LGBTQ+ Pride month. Companies across all sectors do a vibrant new aesthetic for 30 days, often paired with a public statement in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion.

These public statements are to be applauded, as such widespread corporate support of LGBTQ+ issues is something that has only emerged in the last decade. But consumers and corporations alike must look beyond a rainbow logo to see how the private sector can better leverage their influence to create an empowering, safer, more accepting world for LGBTQ+ people.

Companies should focus on both internal inclusion efforts and public support if they are to be deemed as true allies of the LGBTQ+ community.

Build a company culture

Even in countries with strong legal protections, many LGBTQ+ employees choose to remain closeted at their workplaces. In the US, nearly half of LGBTQ+ employees choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity at work (Human Rights Report).

Businesses must ask themselves: Do employees see their workplace as a safe environment to openly be themselves?

There are many practical steps that can foster a more inclusive work environment. This extends to workplace protections being spelled out specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals, seeing that any benefits (such as healthcare and parental leave) are implemented in a way that includes same-sex couples and transgender individuals, as well as stressing the use and respect of gender-inclusive language within the company.

Be an advocate

Believing that businesses have a role in bettering their communities and the world at large, businesses that are truly committed to LGBTQ+ rights should also be involved in the greater fight for increased equality and visibility. There is no lack of incredible LGBTQ+ organisations that the private sector can promote and support such as local LGBTQ+ shelters like Uganda’s Children of the Sun Foundation, suicide prevention call centers like the Trevor Project, transgender support services like India’s Sahodari Foundation, to large international campaigns such as the UN Free and Equal Campaign.

Beyond financially supporting LGBTQ+ organisations, businesses can support this important work by allowing for paid volunteer time off, through leveraging their brand recognition and marketing resources to promote these organisations, and working alongside such organisations in calling upon legislators to protect LGBTQ+ rights.

An example of a successful partnership between business and LGBTQ+ organisations is with the outdoor apparel brand, The North Face. Through their “Exploration for All” 2021 Pride campaign The North Face is supporting Brave Trails, a non-profit outdoors summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth. Over the last six years, Brave Trails has hosted thousands of LGBTQ+ youth at their camps dedicated to raising up young LGBTQ+ leaders with a focus on imparting life skills, building community, and bridging the gap between the outdoors and the LGBTQ+ community. An 11-year-old camper named Lou, who identifies as non-binary, “struggled to find places where they could meet friends and safely be who they are.” At camp, Lou began to thrive, and their transformation was described as “astonishing.” Lou took the lessons they learned at camp back home and started a LGBTQ+ school group at their middle school, which is still going today.

In similar fashion to how The North Face partnered with Brave Trails, businesses can seek to find LGBTQ+ organisations to support that line up with their overall brand vision, mission, and culture.

(Photo: Matt Detrich, IndyStar)

Live your values: Salesforce

A prime example of facilitating a LGBTQ-friendly workplace is in the software company Saleforce; Founder and CEO, Marc Benioff, is a 2020 Business for Peace Honouree. Based in San Francisco, Salesforce has emphasized LGBTQ+ employee involvement at all levels, including in the establishment of its LGBTQ+ employee group “Outforce”. Salesforce continues to be a champion of equality and inclusion through a core belief that “diversity and inclusion create business success”.

Salesforce also has actively leveraged its resources and influence to support some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, notably transgender women of colour. Such practices have landed Salesforce a spot among the 2021 Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality (Human Rights Campaign).

Businesses can follow the lead of Salesforce in fostering a truly inclusive work culture by reviewing company policies, benefit packages, and promotion structures to be sure they are comprehensive and inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees. Larger companies can also follow Salesforce’s example in creating intentional spaces for LGBTQ+ employees to gather and express issues directly to leadership.

When Salesforce is seen marching in Pride parades across the world, it is clear that they are truly a business ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Be a businessworthy ally

Failure for consumers and businesses to critically examine how business is actually being used to support the LGBTQ+ community can lead to an unfortunate “rainbow washing” and overt capitalization of Pride month.

Business for Peace is built around the idea of recognizing businessworthy leaders. Being businessworthy includes using the power of business to truly support the LGBTQ+ community through fostering a safe internal working environment as well as using the influence of business to advocate for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion societally.

Join us in going beyond sporting a rainbow logo and recognising the important role of businesses in being businessworthy LGBTQ+ allies.

Businesses can do so by critically examining their internal policies and procedures to gauge if they are truly inclusive in practice. Businesses should also actively seek to partner with any of the thousands of LGBTQ+ organisations doing important work in communities around the world. And when June comes to a close, it is crucial that this work continues throughout the other eleven months of the year.

From Business for Peace, we wish everyone a happy Pride month!

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

From Beyoncé to Beirut: interview with CEO Sarah Beydoun

30 April 2022

Businesses have to find ways to protect their workers, especially in crisis. This means we have to focus on saving jobs as much as possible.

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

How our business contributes to Peace, by CEO of Coffee for Peace, “Joji” Felicitas Bautista Pantoja

4 February 2022

When we started developing the concept of Coffee for Peace as a business in 2008, we had been working on the ground and listening to the voices of the rural poor, specifically the challenges and the systemic impoverishment experienced by most farmers in the land-based, armed-conflicted areas of Mindanao.

Knowing our resource and time limitations in the field, we focused our attention on the coffee farmers.

We were aware of the many programmes encouraging farmers to produce and plant more coffee, but one thing was missing. The programmes were conceptualised in the offices of the funding organisations, lacking real consultation and deep listening on what the farmers actually need. In the end, the programmes were not the farmers’ project; they were the funders’ project. Despite the accomplishment reports of the officials, the people on the ground did not really embrace them as their own.

Coffee for Peace starts with listening. For us, listening is the first act of love. If we truly love the people, we ought to listen to them — with our ears, with our minds, with our hearts, and with our will.

We also listen to ourselves — what are lenses through which we listen, and what are resources we can access to respond to what we have heard.

We got involved by amplifying the voices of the farmers to the government. We accompanied the farmers’ spokespersons to many assemblies conducted or facilitated by various government and non-government organisations. We actively attended meetings, until they heard the farmers we were accompanying. We wrote proposals to work with the government and with other organisations by being their partner on the ground. In most cases, we served as project managers or consultants. We helped organise the farmers. We initiated trainings to bring them from the position of mere raw material suppliers to the position of being farmer entrepreneurs or ‘farmerpreneurs.’ We vouched for the farmers’ organisations as they received grants from the government. The government saw evidences of transparent, sustainable, and reproductive use of public funds entrusted to the farmers.

The training we provide are all framed in peace and reconciliation (PAR) principles and practices. The PAR training programme includes:

  • the fundamentals of peacebuilding
  • conflict transformation processes
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • inter-faith dialogue
  • inclusive development

These trainings were conducted in such a way that the farmers would understand the complex concepts using development communications approaches.

Change did not happen overnight. In our experience working with the communities who partnered with us, it would take three years to introduce a new system of thinking and working — from harvesting, processing, to having a mindset of an entrepreneur, to becoming a peacebuilding community. A family or two would apply the way Coffee for Peace, then we see their neighbors embracing the principles and practices, then we see most of the community adopting the transformative process.

Our partnership with the government and other non-government organisations helped us accomplish beyond our own organisational capacities. To increase the livelihood sustainability of the community, we helped train them to receive larger grants from the government or investments from other businesses or institutions. Right now, we see this stage of their development as a stable foundation towards further inclusive development for the next generation.

Coffee for Peace is focusing now on each individual farmer to help enhance their natural gifts and acquired skills as ‘farmerpreneurs.’ Some of them are technically inclined. Some of them are good teachers. Some of them are good with numbers. We see many more talents and skills among many of them. We are seeing the best side of each farmer and we’re facilitating how important it is for each one to work with one another harmoniously. With this inclusive and holistic view of community development, we are more confident that they can move further towards achieving greater dreams.

One big corporation operating in a conflict-affected area said that since they worked with Coffee for Peace and with our twin organisation, PeaceBuilders Community, their budget for extra bodyguards and security system significantly decreased in over a year. They saved money integrating the culture of peace in their corporate conflict management system. They were also able to develop a good working relationship with the community with whom they used to have conflicts. The high-ranking government official who was sent by our national government to observe the conflict transformation processes in this case was so happy and gave a very positive report. He saw how the mix of business and peacebuilding became a model for inclusive development especially among communities in conflicted areas.

CFP, along with our twin organisation PBCI, are grateful and glad to see a peace-framed social business contribute to an increased harmony in the community in terms of family income, sustainable livelihood, relational harmony, and the pleasure of producing and drinking freshly brewed coffee.

For justice. For peace.

Joji Pantoja
President & CEO
Coffee for Peace, Inc.Davao City, Philippines

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

Human Rights Day 2021: Highlighting the work of human rights defenders

10th December 2021

Written by Eva Thorshaug, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

Human Rights Day is celebrated by the international community every year on December 10th. The anniversary commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The 10th of December also marks the annual ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize. This years’ Laureates and human rights defenders Maria Ressa and Dmitrij Muratov are awarded the prize for their “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov (Photo: The Nobel Peace Prize)

Businesses have a role to play in the advancement of the human rights agenda and the protection of human rights defenders. Meaningful progress has been made in the decade since the publication of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) whereby committed companies are monitoring their own activities more carefully. Human rights due diligence (HRDD), a practice by which companies have to identify and act upon potential human rights abuses connected to their activities, has also gained traction in the last few years.

Unfortunately, this has not been enough. Great challenges such as breaking the cycle of poverty, pervasive inequality and structural discrimination all require a human rights approach in order to be solved effectively — and businesses have a role to play.

Protecting the Civic Space: The Business and Human Rights Dimension

While progress has been made in advancing human rights in the corporate world, the role of business has also been called into question specifically on the issue of protecting human rights defenders. Human rights defenders as well as civic society at large are essential in protecting and expanding civic freedoms, also in the spaces in which business operates. They play a key role in alerting businesses of potential human rights-related risks, and concerns of affected communities. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders stressed that the 2030 Agenda is “doomed to failure if the individuals and groups on the frontline of defending sustainable development are not protected at the national, regional and international levels”.

Yet, there are grave concerns that many businesses potentially play a role in contributing to attacks against human rights defenders by failing to take action when abuse is revealed. The unfortunate fact is that human rights defenders — especially those who work against business-related abuses — face a rising number of grim and sometimes fatal threats. The organisation Front Line Defenders reported that last year alone 331 human rights defenders were killed around the world, a majority of which were working on land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights. Excluding killings, the most reported violations against human rights defenders were detention and arrest (29%), legal action (19%) and physical attacks (13%). In other words, human rights defenders are operating in an increasingly constrained civic space. Such developments ought to prompt serious reflection on the part of businesses as major actors in these spaces — and the role they want to take.

Leveraging the Power of Business to Promote Human Rights

Civil society and businesses alike benefit from a civic space built on accountability, transparency and predictability. These are also key elements of an environment where growth and innovation can flourish. It is thus in the interest of businesses themselves to protect human rights and empower its defenders. To do so, businesses first need to understand their leverage and how to utilise it in the best possible form.

In the context of human rights, “leverage” refers to the ability of a business to effect change in the wrongful human rights practices of others, either by private or public means. Businesses can for example have leverage over suppliers or contractors, or they can use their influence to promote and protect the work of human rights defenders vis-à-vis aggressive governments. Leverage is an ambiguous concept because businesses oftentimes have more leverage than they realise or even want to acknowledge. Many businesses also do not utilise their leverage beyond narrow commercial priorities as acting on human rights violations is perceived as too high risk. In other words, respecting the rights of human rights defenders is simply not seen as a priority.

This, however, is a rather short-sighted view of business that is not beneficial in the longer term. At Business for Peace, we believe that business can both do good and do well at the same time. While advocacy and using leverage might not come naturally to many companies, inaction is to the detriment of both business and civic society. By engaging with human rights defenders and respecting their rights, businesses are more successful in building trust with the communities they operate in and in turn improve the durability of their operations. Human rights defenders are also uniquely positioned to identify risks and offer solutions on how to mitigate them, creating positive outcomes for all parties.

A year-long effort

It is important that businesses sustain their efforts and commitment to human rights and human rights defenders beyond the 10th of December every year. Respecting human rights is a year-long effort and businesses have a fundamental role to play. On this Human Rights Day, let’s celebrate human rights defenders and advocate for better business practices that put human rights at their core.

World Food Day 2021: Recognising the Importance of Food Sustainability

15 October 2022

Written by Eva Thorshaug, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

16th October is the World Food Day, an event marked worldwide to commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945 and to shine a light on the ways in which food systems affect our wellbeing and society. In 2021, the topic of food systems, agriculture and human rights remains as relevant as ever. The theme this year is therefore “Our actions are our future — Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”.

One of the major challenges for humanity in the 21st century is to find ways to feed the world’s ever growing population in a sustainable manner and in consideration of human rights across the world. The main issue is to establish food systems that ensure that food value chains — from early production and all the way to consumption — are in line with the environmental limitations of our planet while at the same time guaranteeing adequate food for everyone.

What is the connection between food systems, human rights and business?

The relationship between food systems, business and human rights is complex and involves a host of different stakeholders. At its core, the interaction between these three elements covers a range of issues from food production and trade, to environmental impact, social justice and human wellbeing. As such, the necessary change can only come from a targeted effort covering all three elements.

Hunger and conflict are connected in what can only be deemed a vicious circle. Fighting and conflict drives large numbers of people from their homes, their land and their jobs, increasing the likelihood of them going hungry. But the opposite is also true.

Food deprivation can light the fuse of social tension, which may ultimately incite or exacerbate conflicts. In other words, food security, peace and stability go together.

Without peace, ending world hunger becomes impossible and while there is hunger, there cannot be a peaceful world. In light of this, the World Food Programme (WFP) was Awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” WFP’s mandate to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition is an essential element in breaking the cycle of poverty, showcasing how food security is essential for both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The necessary rethinking of food systems to meet future challenges cannot happen without the full commitment of the business community. A growing consensus has emerged that the only way to feed current and future populations and at the same time not use up all resources is by reorienting food production, distribution and policies. In response to these challenges, the notion of food sustainability has emerged. In short, it proposes a holistic vision of food systems and assesses their impacts at social, economic, cultural and environmental levels. 

It is also grounded in general principles that undergird sustainable development, notably democratic governance of natural resources and consideration of human rights standards. In the myriad of stakeholders that make up the supply chain in food systems, human rights considerations risk being discarded. And while governments hold the power to regulate business activity, the business community itself also has a responsibility to establish strong internal human rights policies, conduct the necessary due diligence and prevent human rights abuse at all levels of their supply chains. Without the full effort of the business community, the necessary changes of food systems will remain difficult.

Sustainable agriculture as a driver for peace

Hunger, unsustainable agriculture and malnutrition all pose major challenges to the full realisation of the right to food and by extension the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda underscores the need to approach food systems from a rights-based perspective. Specifically, SDG 2 commits states to: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. SDG 2 is outlined as such that it recognises the interconnectedness of sustainable agriculture, rural poverty, promotion of gender equality, tackling climate change and more. Tackling the issue of food sustainability is thus a multifaceted effort.

As the world population shows no signs of stopping its growth, an increased effort and innovation will be imperative in order to sustainably increase agricultural production to meet the needs of a growing population. The global supply chain also needs to be improved to take human rights into greater consideration at every step. Finally, a sustained effort needs to be made towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. Extreme poverty and hunger are predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families making up a very significant proportion of the poor and hungry. Thus, eradicating poverty and hunger are integrally linked to boosting food production, agricultural productivity and rural incomes.

Especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to pursue food systems and agricultural production from a holistic and integrated perspective has become clear. Not only does the scarcity of resources such as land, water and healthy soils make it imperative to use and manage them sustainably. Food security also needs to be viewed through the wider lens of stability in our societies.

An example of such an approach is Coffee for Peace (CFP) led by “Joji” Felicitas Bautista Pantoja, Business for Peace Honouree in 2020. Based in the Philippines, Coffee for Peace uses coffee production as a tool to address the economic, environmental and peace issues prevalent in conflict-affected communities. Through its work, CFP provides sustainable livelihoods for indigenous and migrant groups in rural areas, enabling over 880 farmers to escape poverty and build their coffee production capacity. By focusing on sustainable agriculture, peace and reconciliation between religious groups, environmental protection, and social entrepreneurship, CFP demonstrates how a holistic view of food production can be a vehicle for peace and sustainability.

What the future holds

Building resilient food systems worldwide will be a key focus to avoid future large-scale food shortages and ensuring food security for all, as well as the effects it will have on peace and sustainability efforts. The World Food Day on October 16th this year focuses especially on such efforts, highlighting how today’s production impacts future food security and its effects.

This article was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.

Net Positive: How corageous companies thrive by giving more than they take

5 October 2022

Net Positive, a new book by former Unilever CEO and Business for Peace Honouree Paul Polman, and sustainable business expert Andrew Winston, is out today.

Drawing on lessons from Paul’s time running Unilever and from other pioneering companies around the world, Net Positive explains how to build a company which profits by fixing the world’s problems, not creating them. It’s a practical guide for business leaders and also for the policy-makers, activists, employees and others seeking to work with them on our shared planetary and societal challenges. It’s a call for courageous leadership from business and bold new partnerships across the private sector, government and civil society. Above all, it’s a systems transformation story rooted in a human transformation story. 

To thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become “net positive”—giving more to the world than they take. Join the movement at: