Sri Lanka and Nepal exchange business leaders in search for inclusive economy of peace

International Alert and partners recently organised a regional exchange programme in Kathmandu and in Dharan and Biratnagar, in the eastern Terai region of Nepal, between key Nepali and Sri Lankan business leaders.

Through a series of workshops, roundtable discussions, bilateral meetings and social events, the “Private Sector’s Roles in Inclusive Economic Development, Peace and Stability” exchange visit offered participants a unique opportunity to learn and share experiences on the role that business can play in supporting inclusive and equitable economic development and peacebuilding both in Sri Lanka and in Nepal.

During the event, the delegates from the Sri Lankan Business for Peace Alliance (BPA), the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and International Alert – Sri Lanka and their Nepali counterparts explored the possibility for future collaborations aimed at strengthening the private sector’s capacity to contribute to peace and development in both countries.

‘Everybody should do what they can from where they are and from what they have for peace, and we as the private sector are determined to take our peacebuilding role forward’, says Mr. Padma Jyoti, President of the Nepal’s National Business Initiative (NBI), one of the key organisers of the exchange. He further stressed that ‘there is no successful business in an unsuccessful society and there can be no successful society without successful business’.

During the workshops, business leaders discussed the various impacts that conflict can have on business, such as extortions, abductions, threats, as well as decline in investment opportunities and strained industrial relations. They emphasised that building good relationships and trust with employees and society at large through conflict-sensitive and socially responsible business practices is a long-term but nonetheless effective approach to addressing labour disputes as well as conflicts within the local community where the business is operating. The significance of adopting a voluntary code of ethics was discussed in this regard. Participants further highlighted that the private sector – as a politically more neutral force ­– can take the lead in facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships with government, civil society, academia and the media that advocate for the economic dimension of peacebuilding by addressing the root causes of conflict.

Sri Lanka’s Galle Chamber of Commerce and Jaffna Chamber of Commerce shared their strategies in dealing with conflicts through their locally initiated peacebuilding mechanisms. Due to the ongoing conflict, the Sri Lankan private sector has also had the opportunity to play a role of change agent in times of political instability and social strife. ‘The bigger the challenge, the greater the opportunity’, says Dr. Anura Ekanayake, Senior Vice Chairperson of the Sri Lankan Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

However, the Nepali and Sri Lankan private sectors also have a role to play in generating knowledge and better understanding of the root causes of conflict. The image and perception of business can be improved by demonstrating that the private sector actually cares for the workforce as well as society at large, as for example through strategic CSR interventions. ‘Investing in people means investing in peace’, said Ms. Manique Mendis, Secretary General of the Sri Lankan Business for Peace Alliance (BPA).

Different business networks need to work together at different levels and lobby for inclusive economic development and peace. Regular communication and collective action with regional business networks can render these lobbying efforts more effective by reflecting the concerns and needs at the regional level.

The business leaders further acknowledged the constructive roles that Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) play in building inclusive economic development and mitigating the impact of local conflict. ‘SMEs can help build lasting peace through trainings on inclusive development, entrepreneurial skills, and employment creation’, said Ms. Pramila Rijal, President of the Federation Women Entrepreneurs Association Nepal (FWEAN).

The participants also addressed the role of the private sector in youth integration and employment generation in societies affected by conflict. Participants stressed the importance of supporting youths from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as recognising that youths can be a positive force for necessary social and economic change. A need for a holistic policy on youth was seen as paramount for Sri Lanka as well as Nepal: ‘A conflict-sensitive policy framework is needed to foster decent work and social equity for youth as well as society at large’, said Mr. Deepthi Lamahewa, former CEO of the Sri Lanka Youth Employment Network (YEN).

The programme followed from the Declaration signed between the National Business Initiative Nepal and the Business for Peace Alliance Sri Lanka in June 2008, tilted “Business Building Peace in South Asia” with the objective of strengthening the private sector’s capacities to contribute to peace and development in both countries.

The event was organised by Nepal’s National Business Initiative (NBI), in partnership with the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI), the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (FWEAN), the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) and the Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC), with the support of International Alert and GTZ/INCLUDE Nepal. Partners from the eastern Terai region of Nepal, the Chamber of Industry Morang, the Chamber of Commerce Morang, the Sunsari Chamber of Commerce and Industries Dharan, the Itahari Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and the Inaruwa Chamber of Commerce and Industries also contributed to the organisation of this exchange.