In 2015, more than 65 million people (1 out of every 113 humans) were displaced due to conflict or persecution. That's over 5 million more people than the year before.
Making matters worse is the fact that an astounding 40 percent of countries emerging from conflict fall back into conflict within a decade.
When it comes to reversing these trends, it’s safe to conclude that traditional approaches to aid aren’t getting the job done. Conflict-affected areas are in desperate need of better, more sustainable solutions.
From Sierra Leone to Tajikistan to Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the vast majority of civil wars in modern times have occurred in developing countries.
The prevalence of civil war and cyclical conflict often correlates to pervasive extreme poverty or marked economic decline. While not necessarily causal, the relationship between extreme poverty and conflict is a research-backed correlation we must understand as we seek sustainable solutions.
The United Nations’ primary sustainable development goal is to eradicate extreme poverty from the globe by 2030. The only way this will become a reality is if all entities — businesses, nonprofits, investors and individuals alike — devote their energy toward working in the world’s most difficult places.
Unfortunately, many of the most high-impact businesses and organizations opt to eschew the places where they’re most needed — and that’s a mistake. It’s time to deploy the world’s most high-impact poverty-fighting solutions to the world’s most fragile states.
Here’s what we shouldn’t do: Treat post-conflict environments like relief zones. While aid distribution through traditional charity models is certainly needed in post-catastrophe situations, it does not catalyze growth or put a country back on the uptick.
Looming insecurity doesn’t automatically mean a country isn’t primed for major capital inflows and private-sector investment. In fact, we must promote such investments to hedge against the all-too-common slide back into conflict.
So here’s what we all need to do: Invest.
We must be willing to take on more risk, urgently investing in private-sector initiatives that catalyze regional growth. These initiatives must be inclusive, benefiting the entire population; they shouldn’t push those living in the margins further into the margins, and they shouldn’t exacerbate existing wealth disparities.
It is quite possible to build businesses and healthy ecosystems that do just that. Dollars should be put to work to strengthen regional value chains, capture more components of the value chain within a region — rather than relying on pure commodity export, which is often related to the presence of conflict — and directly contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty.
The biggest key to success and sustainability is to partner with local leaders to ensure that such initiatives are locally led and community-driven. Outside-in interventions often fail because they neglect this all-important and foundational component.
When presenting this concept to others, I am often met with the well-worn axiom: “So instead of giving a man a fish, you’re teaching him how to fish.”
To pair this style of intervention with the old proverb omits a critical factor to the sustainable success of fishing: Many people trapped in extreme poverty are already excellent “fishermen.” Let’s not rob those we aim to help of their inherent dignity, talent and potential.
But to continue the analogy, we must ask: Are there even fish in the pond? If there are, is there a place to sell a fish once you catch one? And are there businesses engaged in cleaning, processing, cooking and selling fish? In short, is there a complex and interconnected economic ecosystem around the business activity we are stimulating? If there is, then when our proverbial fisherman goes to work, our teaching not only benefits him, but it also contributes to the wealth of dozens or hundreds of businesses upstream and downstream.
This is how we can ignite growth movements in post-conflict countries that have the potential to quickly outpace the work or intervention that any one organization or agency could possibly undertake. This approach doesn’t avoid complexity and nuance for the sake of organizational branding; it embraces these factors. Let’s face it: Conflict areas are complex places, and they require contextual solutions.
It is an international imperative that we strive to end extreme poverty in the world’s most difficult places — and we must do so with a never-before-seen level of urgency.
It is the right thing to do for the tens of millions of people who will continue to find themselves displaced in the coming years. It is the right thing to do for those trapped in oppressive cycles of extreme poverty and violence. It is the right thing to do to put rates of global conflict back on the decline.
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