Much ink has been spilt on arguing that economic issues trigger conflict, but what is certain is that the economy can also contribute to peace. This is the rationale behind International Alert’s ‘Business advocacy for peace’ project, which operates in the South Caucasus and Turkey.
The project’s goal is two-fold: to energise policy debate on economic dimensions of peacebuilding within the region; and to strengthen the Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN), a group promoting regional economic cooperation between small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorny Karabakh, spanning across four conflict divides.
CBDN, which Alert helped to establish 11 years ago, facilitates contacts between entrepreneurs by supporting regional events such as exhibitions and festivals, and by piloting different models of collaboration. For example, the ‘Caucasus Brands’ initiative brought together cheese, tea, honey and wine producers from across the Caucasus to create a common brand, symbolising the potential of regional economic cooperation. A more recent CBDN initiative is Recipes for Peace, which explores the conciliatory power of food and culinary heritage to bring together divided communities on the Turkey-Armenia border.
A recent evaluation assessed the project’s effectiveness and sustainability in three areas where it works: regional dialogue for key business sectors and outreach; regional cost-benefit analysis of the restoration of transport links across the Caucasus; and cross-conflict research into unregulated trade.
The evaluation highlighted once again the importance of the regional format and having the flexibility to adapt activities to a changing context, thus mitigating the political sensitivities of working across the conflict-divides. It also showed that the research process on cross-divide trade opened up new channels of dialogue, stimulated debate and broadened the circle of those engaged in dialogue.
As for CBDN, the network was strengthened by the skills and energy of new participants, through new relationships and lines of communication that were created between business representatives from divided communities. In the long-term, the establishment of these business networks has the potential to renew relations between societies and territories.
The evaluation also issued a number of recommendations to further improve the project’s capacity to strengthen economic development for peace across the region. For instance, acknowledging that political and legal barriers in the region prevent cross-divide for-profit partnerships, CBDN could explore cooperation on other causes that have a regional economic dimension, such as environmental protection. It also suggested carrying out a gender analysis of CBDN target groups across the region, in order to further engage economic groups from different sectors in a more gender-sensitive manner.
Overall the evaluation endorses the approach of engaging economic groups and promoting economic cooperation as both a topic for dialogue across the conflict divides and as a way to connect communities with tangible benefits.