4 companies helping rebuild conflict-ridden countries

Technology Eye | May. 06, 2016

When you hear of “doing business” in war zones, you might think of unscrupulous companies out to take advantage of other people’s misery. While that dark side undoubtedly does exist, the business world has also shown it can make a positive difference in some of the most challenging situations.

“Numerous companies are implementing strategies for positive impact into their core operations, taking their involvement beyond traditional CSR or philanthropy,” writes ICRC President Peter Maurer in a new report from the Global Agenda Council on Fragility, Violence & Conflict . And much can be learned from their pioneering approaches.

Connecting Afghanistan

Many parts of Afghanistan have never had much in the way of modern infrastructure, but years of conflict have devastated what little there was. “Decades of war, a harsh climate and neglect left much of what had been built in rubble,” USAID notes .

It was against this backdrop that the Afghan company Roshan set out to build a telecommunications network from scratch. While some were being criticized for bringing in foreign contractors to help rebuild the war-torn country, Roshan instead turned to the local population, investing on average $2,000 per employee in training and mentorship.

Today, Roshan is Afghanistan’s largest private investor and taxpayer, having contributed around $500 million in taxes to the Afghan government since 2003. Almost all – 97% of its staff – are Afghans, and 20% of them are women. For a country with one of the world’s lowest rates of female workforce participation , that’s revolutionary.

Cutting off funding to armed groups

The Democratic Republic of Congo might be a country rich in natural resources, but violence and endemic corruption have prevented it from reaching its potential. Its ongoing conflict – which some experts refer to as “Africa’s world war” – has left millions dead and almost 3 million people have been internally displaced .

These same natural resources that offer the country hope for a brighter future have been, in a cruel twist of fate, partly to blame for the instability. In 2013, the BBC described the country as “cursed by its natural wealth”, as the profits from the sale of minerals and metals were often providing funding to the dozens of armed groups that operated there.

In response, many companies stopped sourcing from the area, worried that they would be seen as contributing to the problem. Others took a different approach. In partnership with the Government of the Netherlands, several multinational companies, including Royal Philips, helped establish the Conflict Free Tin Initiative. The project – which has been described as groundbreaking – used a “bagging and tagging” system that allowed the minerals to be tracked at every step.

The initiative, which concluded in 2014, helped revitalize mining villages that had been left devastated by the flight of international businesses, and provided a model on which to base other conflict-free sourcing programmes.

MasterCard in Nigeria

If you live in the developed world, there are certain things you take for granted – like being able to open a bank account. But in much of the developing world, that’s not a given. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 24% of adults have an account at a formal banking institution , compared to 89% of people in high-income countries

In Nigeria, access rates are slightly higher than the regional average, but still far from where they should be: 70% of adults do not have a formal bank account.

That’s largely down to the fact many people have nothing in the way of formal identification. Of 2,000 girls profiled by Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid agency, in Northern Nigeria half didn’t have a birth certificate and 30% had no formal ID. It was these young women that MasterCard wanted to reach with their initiative.

Partnering up with Mercy Corps, who had experience working with the target population, the MasterCard programme aimed to provide a biometric-based ID card which doubled up as a method of payment. It would be the first step for the recipients in gaining access to loans, setting up businesses – or all the other things that require access to financial services.

The two partners have described the task as “monumental” and so far they haven’t reached as many people as initially planned, but their efforts continue.

Nespresso in South Sudan

When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, after 50 years of civil war, it had little in the way of infrastructure or institutions. While 95% of its population depended on agriculture for their food and income needs, the sector was largely undeveloped.

It was in this context that Nespresso partnered with TechnoServe, an NGO, to revive the country’s coffee industry by providing training and resources to South Sudanese farmers. “Coffee production can lift the family, lift the nation, and can bring good things to us,” one farmer explained at the time.

Four years later and with 700 farmers trained, the first coffee produced in South Sudan hit the shelves in France. Now the plan is to scale up the programme, with the help of a $3.18 million investment from USAID . The goal? By 2019, to have tripled coffee incomes for local farmers, train 1,500 South Sudanese – 25% of whom will be women – and set up nine cooperative-owned coffee mills in the region.

Have you read?

6 lessons from companies operating in war-torn communities When companies invest in fragile communities, everyone stands to gain

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

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