What Do We Know About Entrepreneurship and Peace? And What Do We Need to Find Out?

The relationship between business and peace has long been a topic of interest to a variety of scholars, both within management studies and in other fields such as political science and peace studies. The business for peace (B4P) literature has gained a lot of traction, with a number of important articles highlighting how business might have positive effects on peace. However, these articles have largely focused on multi-national corporations. Missing from this literature is a fulsome explanation of entrepreneurs and peace, which is all the more important as conflicts become both more pervasive and more localized within rather than between states.

All three of us have interests in business and society relationships in conflict zones, and we found the lack of attention to entrepreneurship and peace in these contexts to be puzzling. Small businesses, after all, comprise the vast majority of enterprises in conflict zones. Our paper, entitled “Entrepreneurship and Peacebuilding: A Review and Synthesis” in Business & Society, seeks to fill this gap in the B4P literature.

Our analysis is based on an integrative literature review of research on entrepreneurship and peace from 1946-2020 published in both management and non-management journals. Seventy-eight articles were included in the review, 64 of which were published from 2010-2020.  We found three distinct groups of articles taking different perspectives on entrepreneurship and peace:

  • The destructive view (n = 21), which predominantly detailed the destructive role that entrepreneurs can play in conflict settings through fostering inequality, human rights violations, illegal activity, division, supporting armed groups, undermining institutions, and other destructive actions,
  • The economic view (n = 18) which focused on the positive trickle-down effects that economic activity can have on alleviating conflict and the drivers thereof, and
  • The social cohesion view (n = 39), which demonstrated how entrepreneurs can go beyond economic and social value creation to promote cohesion among social groups that are, or were, previously in conflict.

We build on the existing five pillars of B4P research focused on multinational companies— economic development, track-two diplomacy, promoting the rule of law, contributing to a sense of community, and engaging in conflict-sensitive practices—to uncover the particular roles that entrepreneurs play in conflict zones to promote peace:

  • individuals who were previously engaged in violent conflict, undergoing personal transformation through their engagement in entrepreneurship,
  • the social contributions made by entrepreneurs within conflict zones,
  • promoting a sense of community through inclusive business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) interactions,
  • removing conflict triggers from within their businesses through a series of internal, often informal, management practices,
  • intergroup policy persuasion: influencing policy that maintains trade and contact among previously warring groups, and
  • legal champions who follow the rule of law despite their widely corrupted operating environments and influence others to do the same.

With modern-day conflicts now more complex and longer-lasting, academic research on the interaction between entrepreneurship and peace will continue to increase as scholars explore durable solutions for sustainable peace. We hope that this article, by accounting for the unique contextual dynamics that entrepreneurs face, opens the door for further contributions to the interplay of business and peace.

Finally, we also hope that this article contributes to practice. In conflict zones, the humanitarian sector uses business-based entrepreneurial programs to support stability, as entrepreneurship is widely claimed to reduce the impact of war, support post-conflict reconstruction, and promote development. However, the evidence that these programs are effective at promoting peace is often lacking. Our article highlights the pro-peace elements of businesses, which can be translated to (a) advanced beneficiary selection criteria (e.g., the sector can scan businesses for pro-peace elements before providing them support) and (b) tailored programming to support pro-peace dynamics (e.g., encouraging intergroup collaborations).

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Jay Joseph, John Katsos, and Harry Van Buren III

Jay Joseph is an Assistant Professor of Business & Society, focused on Business and Peacebuilding at the American University of Beirut. John Katsos is an Associate Professor of Management at the American University of Sharjah. Harry Van Buren III is the Koch Chair of Ethics and Business Law of the OPUS College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.

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