I haven’t written much lately, as I have been nursing a nasty summer bug. Any how before all that happened I had the chance to attend a networking event organised by the good folk at Business Fights Poverty . This was one of a number of events that they have put on since January 2009  and the idea was to bring together practitioners, academics and other interested people from the business world to discuss how business can contribute to poverty alleviation in developing world.

The event on 14 July considered the subject of doing business in areas of conflict,  and the topic  we were invited to consider was

Peace and economic growth are closely related. How can policy makers maximize the impact of private sector for both peace and development?

At this stage  if you are like me you may wonder and in fact ask whether

  1. Business has any role to play in bringing about peace in areas of conflict
  2. What business opportunities could possibly exist in war torn areas
  3. What about safety implications?

It would appear that to a certain extent your fears/ concerns would not be unfounded as we soon found out from the guest speakers on the night Diana Klein from Peace, Building issues programme, International Alert, Andrew Bone Head,  International  Relations De Beers  and Lisa Curtis, Adviser, ManoCap. What is important to note  is that they also  provided solutions to some of these concerns,  and if all else fails there is INSURANCE

I found Diane’s presentation especially interesting. According to Diane business can thrive in conflict areas so long as they comply and are not seen to be contributing to the unrest. One of the ways in which businesses maybe unknowingly contribute to the unrest would be to employ foreign workers Diana went on to say!

I found this interesting as not so long ago our Prime Minsiter here in the UK was quoted to have said  something along the lines “British jobs for British workers” in response to strikes in the oil industry here in UK.  That being the case is there any wonder that folk in the developing countries would take to the streets in similar circumstances?

On the issue of compliance, I recalled a situation in Uganda where Mehta  an Asian owned business group was allocated some land in Mabira Forest an ancient forest in Uganda and the locals didn’t agree, here is what happened next .

What is interesting about this forest is that many years ago it was a 7 mile forest with numerous species of tress and you could not see beyond a few yards, today the locals have moved in and started subsistence farms, and there are holiday chalets for hire, but the locals were up in arms over the thought of their forest being given away to a foreign business company. If you are a company  what do you do in a situation such as this?

I understand that, that wasn’t the end of the story and here is the latest discussion on the matter

At the event there was a man whose job involves getting Palestine and Israel to do business together!  He had an interesting tale about getting all sides to work together as well as the results that ahve beena cheived thus far.  Earlier this year I wrote about the experiences of an olive farmer on my other blog

So do you think there are business opportunities in areas of conflict?

This week the Department for International Development here in the UK has issued a new report ELIMINATING POVERTY : Building Common future,  which spells out a new direction  and  desire to address issue of poverty in the developing world and amongst other things the report looks at the impact of the economic downturn on those in the developing countries.

And at the UN summit of September 2000 the richest nations in the world made pledges to the development world that are summed up in what has become to be known as the

Millennium Development Goals or MDGs

  • Goal 1:  Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Goal 4:  Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5:  Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6:  Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7:  Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8:  Develop a Global Partnership for Development

This was an ambitious undertaking on the one hand but one that gave hope  to folk in the developing world that we in the developed world are committed to making things better for them.

The question I ask today is whether these goals will be realised?  There has been an increase in AID but will increased AID have  made a difference in 2015? Can we in the west wait that long? what about the  folk in the developing can they wait until 2015 for the goals to be realised?

There is concern in some quarters that the MDGS will not be realised in some African countries and this appears to stem from the fact that

  • not everyone signed up to the MDGS ( it was reported earlier this year that France and Italy are two of the countries that ahve failed to honour the pledges made towards Africa)
  • increased insecurity in some  of the African countries
  • impact of diseases such as malaria and HIV
  • family breakdown
  • food availability
  • Climate change
  • and AID distribution to name but a few

Most including myself argue that the surest way to lift people out of poverty in a sustainable way is through trade.  That being the case how are we doing on that front? Are trade agreements more equitable now than they were in 2000? Are folk in the developing countries treated as equal or even potential trading partners?

Well one thing that is certain, is that Africa in particular has seen an increase in cheap imports from china, second  hand clothing and FOOD AID. Only last week I was speaking to a man I met at the Africa Matters get together. He lived in Zambia for many years as a farmer and produced vegetable oil.

He was put out of business in 6 months when cooking Oil given to Mozambique by USAID as part of teh FOOD AID package ended up for sale on the streets of Lusaka. I understand that cotton farmers in Zambia and Malawi suffered a similar fate with the increased cheap imports from China as well as second hand clothing.

Some African governments are fighting back by imposing huge DUTY on these cheap imports but what do you about FOOD AID?

So I ask the question are Millennium goals helping me?