Conference Report: Private Sector Development and Peacebuilding

Conference Report: Private Sector Development and Peacebuilding  BMZ, DiFD, GTZ and International Alert organized an international conference on ‘Private Sector Development and Peacebuilding – Exploring Local and International Perspectives’ in Berlin on the 14/15 September 2006. During these two days some 140 experts in the fields of private sector development (PSD) and peacebuilding, representing various foreign offices and donor agencies as well as NGOs, research institutions and the private sector discussed how to promote a private sector role in peacebuilding, PSD in conflict and post-conflict situations. Discussions also explored how to integrate the two disciplines of PSD and peacebuilding to develop conflict-sensitive and peacebuilding PSD interventions. This was the first international conference of its kind to consider these topics, therefore, the format of the event focused on exchange of experiences, reflecting the high demand for knowledge transfer, rather than technically oriented workshops. The event had the following main objectives:
– to highlight the domestic private sector’s potential to contribute to peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries;
– to highlight emerging international experience in private sector development (PSD) programming at a country-level; and
– to facilitate cross-learning between peacebuilding and PSD practitioners.
 

This conference reflected the emerging international debate on the best means of encouraging private sector development in high-risk economies and ensuring that it has a positive rather than a negative impact. Private sector development is critically important for the long-term economic recovery of economies affected by conflict. Domestic and international businesses have important roles to play in this effort. However, the private sector is not in itself a panacea. Companies and entrepreneurs will not take the considerable risks of investing without appropriate economic incentives. Moreover, poorly planned commercial development may widen existing social and political divisions, thus contributing to conflict rather than peace.  There is growing acknowledgement that although often bound up with conflict dynamics, local business actors can also have an interest in securing peace. To date however, the domestic private sector’s peacebuilding potential has not been well understood. A body of research commissioned by International Alert shows that different types of businesses – acting alone or through partnership and coalition – have taken creative steps towards promoting peace and stability locally. From the peace process onwards, the window of opportunity obtained after a peace settlement should provide a focus for collaboration on priority reforms in the enabling environment for investment, reconstruction and job creation. Getting the timing of reforms right and sequencing interventions is essential. For donors and development agencies there is much to be learned from sharing experiences on how to integrate a role for the private sector around peace-building and growth. 

Policy research and response into ‘war economies’ have largely focused on the links between natural resource commodity exploitation, the economic agendas of state and non-state armed groups, as well as the potentially negative impacts of foreign investment and company practices. The ’business and conflict’ debate has led to important international policy developments, for example the development of new standards of business conduct, curtailing trade in ‘conflict commodities’, countering the ‘resource curse’, and tighter controls on laundering the proceeds of corruption. Meanwhile there is growing acknowledgement that although often bound up with conflict dynamics, local as well as international business actors can also have an interest in securing peace. To date however, the domestic private sector’s potential to contribute to peace has not been well understood. One aim of the conference is therefore to highlight a local business perspective on peace and conflict by drawing on recent research in over 20 countries affected by or emerging from conflict.  

Furthermore, for donors and development agencies there is much to be learned from sharing experiences on how to integrate a role for the private sector around peacebuilding and growth immediately post-conflict. In these situations, there are real opportunities for changes in policies and institutions that affect the private sector and experience shows that there is a role for the domestic private sector in crisis prevention and growth. International support for this should start from the peace process onwards, and the window of opportunity obtained after a peace settlement should provide a focus for collaboration on priority reforms in the enabling environment for investment and reconstruction. Therefore a further aim of the conference is to highlight emerging donor experience in private sector development programming at a country level, drawing on specific cases where there is ongoing conflict, and in post-conflict countries. All conference documents, including summaries from the breakout sessions, are now uploaded on the Business Environment Website:

http://www.businessenvironment.org/dyn/be/besearch.details?p_phase_id=108&p_lang=en&p_phase_type_id=6   

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