Theorizing Business and Local Peacebuilding

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jason Miklian of the University of Oslo, and Juan Pablo Medina Bickel of the Universidad de los Andes. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Theorizing Business and Local Peacebuilding Through the “Footprints of Peace” Coffee Project in Rural Colombia,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Miklian reflects on the impact and innovations of this research:

BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpoint

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field

We see this article having three major impacts. First, the role of business in peacebuilding is an exciting but still emerging field, carrying many more questions than answers for scholars at present. These questions cut to the core of business roles in society, asking if, how and why firms can make a positive impact in some of the most fragile and conflict-affected parts of the world. Colombia is in many ways the ideal country to study such interactions, as it is perhaps the world’s most significant policy ‘laboratory’ for national and multinational private sector involvement in peace. Business scholars could use this case as a springboard to explore other such cases in Colombia, or similar cases in other countries, to help us collectively better refine the conditions for successful business engagement in peaceful development.

Second, we (the authors) tend to lean critical in our understandings of where and how the private sector can and should play a peacebuilding role, backed by a substantial amount of research by ourselves and others on how well-intended ventures can fail in practice. Despite our skepticism, we found that the Footprints of Peace (FOP) project made a measurable, positive, and significant positive impact on thousands of people in Colombia. Thus, a case like FOP can help show peacebuilding scholars (who also tend to lean critical) that businesses can indeed play positive peace roles in peacebuilding. The next wave of research on this topic will hopefully further refine the conditions for such to improve the likelihood for more business-peace success stories.

Third, this article uses a rigorous qualitative model as its foundation with quantitative analysis in a supporting fashion. We hope that this structure can help show the added value that qualitative and mixed-methods research can have in research on business and society, delivering deeper and richer findings than a quantitative model alone can express.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

(JM) I’m of course biased, but I truly feel that the role of business in peace and development is one of the most important and yet least researched fields of study today. Part of the reason for this, frankly, it’s that it’s hard work. As practitioner Mary Anderson is fond of saying, “Peace is not for amateurs.” Peacebuilding is a complex, messy, non-linear task filled with conceptual and practical potholes, and the same goes for research on peacebuilding. Adding in the private sector complicates matters even more, as it carries its own set of interests, aims and needs. Further, research in conflict environments carries its own set of ethical considerations and issues both for the subjects of study as well as for the researchers themselves – before, during and after such research is done.

Nevertheless, these interactions are a cornerstone of business involvement in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Institutions) in particular, representing some $2 trillion in business investment globally. Those wishing to look at these issues will be rewarded by being on the forefront of business and society topics today, and I deeply and warmly encourage business scholars in particular to do so. One way to help bridge the knowledge gap is through co-authorship. This article was much stronger as a joint effort than anything that either Juan Pablo or myself could have written alone. Beyond the natural advantages that co-authorship can provide in expanding ideas, rationales, and providing checks and balances, we brought complementary knowledge and expertise to the project, not only across disciplines but also across cultures. I see a great opportunity for deeper engagement between peace and business scholars in just these sorts of studies, helping bridge conceptual divides and not least help unite these two communities on a topic that both are increasingly drawn towards.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

(JPMB) All the beautiful people that I got to meet. Their smiles, their interest to be heard and their willingness to share some of their deepest and most painful personal experiences. The charm with which I was embraced with at some farms, and of course the dozens of cups of coffee that people offered to me, including many made from home-cultivated coffee, picked, toasted and finally prepared with the same hands that I shook. In academia, large conflict databases can blur the meaning and stories behind the numbers, so fieldwork is an extremely important way to build knowledge and scholarship in a more personal and human way. Getting to know the meaning behind a single data point, and the person that is represented behind it and their life stories, can lead to research that better respects and honors those that we study. Moreover, I am a Colombian citizen who has lived most of his life in a violent country. Due to this, I’m aware of many social, political and economic struggles throughout my daily life, and my country requires a new generation of people aiming to change the current political climate.

Stay up-to-date with the latest research from Business & Society and sign up for email alerts today through the homepage!