In beginning of May SBC held yet another On the Couch. This time the topic was crises, war, peace, and business and what the role of future change makers is in this equation. The guest speaker was Pekka Haavisto, a Finnish politician of the Greens with an extensive career from peace building. He has worked, for example, for UNEP evaluating the environmental consequences of conflicts, and worked with the peace building process in Sudan and Darfur.
We started the discussion with a round of introduction, and we heard how diverse the crew was in terms of cultural and professional background. Most of the participants had ambition to learn about the complex problems the world is facing and the ambition to act as change makers.
Haavisto shared many interesting, moving and inspiring stories of his trips to different conflict areas and meetings with national leaders. We learned about Somali women, who run basically all the economic activities in their country when the men are fighting. The profits the women use to pay the education of young soldiers – an innovative approach for disarmament coming from the grassroots level. Haavisto also told the example of refugees who ask for a mobile phone charger to call relatives before asking for food or shelter. Ericsson found the market potential and started supplying chargers to refugee camps. Haavisto also reminded how far reaching consequences companies have to carry in case failing to act responsible in a crisis situation.
Through the stories we learned about the many challenges related to peace making and building. For instance in Uganda, Haavisto attended a meeting with rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army aiming for peace. Everyone was there, and their leader Joseph Kony almost joined the meeting as well. Until the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony, and all rebellions disappeared back in the jungle. Would it be better to first create peace and then seek for justice?
Conflicts have many parties – those who fight, whether belonging to rebellious groups or to the governmental army, those who stay in the villages, those who live in refugee camps and those who have fled abroad. There are also parties in conflicts that benefit from the crisis situation. Children who grow up in war, who have always been fighting and never attended school, are basically useless in a post-conflict situation. Unless they are taught new skills, of course. Likewise, an illiterate rebel leader has a low chance to become a respected minister in peaceful times.
When discussing peace, the question which constantly needs to be asked, is who is good, who is bad and to what extend does it actually matter. Haavisto has been discussing with the dictator of Eritrea what Finland could do in terms of education for that country. We all know about the desperate people crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and with efforts like this Finland hopes to create opportunities for the youngsters in their own country, even though the country does not respect the same values of good governance.
We finished the discussion on a positive note, talking about the possibilities for us as future change makers. He told about a school in Helsinki, which had collected - through joint efforts of the pupils - a thousand euros, which they wanted to donate to a school in Darfur. As the pupils were somewhat suspicious, they wrote a letter which Haavisto had to deliver together with the money to a remote school. More than the money, the school children in Darfur were moved by the fact that there are people in a far-away country called Finland interested in their destiny. The social innovation and personal connection by the young children is a powerful example. Scalability comes from the courage to let small things grow, Haavisto said.
I think we all agree that the discussion could have gone on for much longer to hear more of Haavisto’s stories from places not many are able to visit. However, after a discussion of an hour we had to let him go, to catch a bus home and later that evening talk about the political situation in Finland on national television. However, the rest of the participants continued mingling, enjoying a few more beers and finishing the home-made pizza.