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Q&A: ‘Doing Good and Doing Good Business Are Not Incompatible’

Rousbeh Legatis interviews SARA LULO, Executive Director of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 1 2011 (IPS) - It is short sighted to dismiss the benefits or potential of engaging the private sector in human rights matters, says Sara Lulo, director of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.

I would disagree that “doing good” and “doing good business” are incompatible, Lulo told IPS, stressing that, “the private sector might have some relevant resources to bring to bear to help advance the goals of 1325.”

U.N. Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security – adopted ten years ago – is described as the first in which the Security Council addressed the role and experience of women in armed conflicts, called on warring parties to adopt “a gender perspective” on peace negotiations and “gender mainstreaming” in peacekeeping missions.

Lulo spoke with IPS about opportunities and challenges for private sector engagement in implementing Resolution 1325.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: There is some resistance to engaging the private sector in human rights matters such as the implementation of women rights, what is your stance on that? A: In my view, it would be short sighted to dismiss wholesale the benefits or potential of engaging the private sector on human rights matters. Many private entities already commit significant resources to creating and advancing women’s rights initiatives around the world. So I would disagree that “doing good” and “doing good business” are incompatible, in theory or in practice.

As to engaging the private sector on 1325 specifically, I consider it in line with the spirit and principles of the resolution to involve all sectors of society in its enforcement.

Q: Does the private sector have a specific responsibility in implementing 1325? A: The private sector has a responsibility to uphold human rights, including women’s rights. In my view, private sector actors that are operating or doing business in post-conflict areas have a particular responsibility to uphold 1325 in their own practices.

However, not all aspects of 1325 are necessarily appropriate for direct private sector involvement. For this reason, it’s important to identify relevant entry points where the private sector can be meaningfully engaged – such as providing technical expertise and skills trainings to women. That in turn ultimately determines how the women on the ground can benefit.

Q: How could one get businesses on board to put the promises, provisions and projects of 1325 into practice? A: There is a three-tier way to involve private sector actors in the implementation of 1325.

The first priority would be to indentify champions of this issue and this cause, because ultimately there are great advocates for women’s issues within the private sector. For example, Avon and Vital Voices created the ‘Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women’, which supports anti-violence initiatives in 15 countries. Goldman Sachs’ ‘10,000 Women’ project provides business and management training to women entrepreneurs around the world.

Second, along with identifying those champions, it is important to equip them with the types of information, and measurable indicators that can help them galvanise resources within their respective organisations, educate others and really sell their ideas internally. More specifically, individual advocates will need details regarding the needs on the ground, foreseeable challenges, credible local partners, and how success will be measured so that they can get their support institutionally and from their colleagues for these types of issues.

The third point I want to make is that we need to think broadly and creatively about what we mean by the private sector, and what we mean by financing 1325’s implementation. We should think of the private sector as people and organisations that can lend relevant expertise as well as possible funding opportunities. But… we should think more creatively about not just underwriting the costs of initiatives, but how we actually implement them and what we do with the money that is there. Corporations, for example, are increasingly interested in not simply funding an initiative, but leveraging their other resources to have a higher impact and be more directly involved. That goes to the point of in-kind support and tapping into the relevant expertise of the people in the private sector – through the development of training programs or by providing a relevant product or service for example.

Q: How would that work in practice? A: Private sector engagement should be largely guided by the priorities and initiatives set forth in countries’ National Action Plans (NAP). For example, a NAP might call for greater public education on a particular issue. Relevant businesses could pool their expertise in public relations, communications and advertising to create and finance a public awareness campaign. This was done in Sri Lanka, where business leaders joined together to create a series of television segments to promote dialogue on the many personal and national costs of conflict.

Q: Do you have concrete examples of how private sector actors have helped to implement 1325? A: I know from in-country advocates that examples of local private sector contributions include hotels providing meeting space, and businesses providing supplies free of charge to organisations working on 1325 initiatives. These are important and valuable, especially because they come from the local community.

However, we can go further. In addition, I would suggest that there is an opportunity to learn from existing corporate alliances – with an eye towards possibly creating one that is specific to 1325 work. Three types of alliances come to mind that could be instructive. For example, there’s an alliance of international companies that works to eradicate human trafficking – participating companies commit to certain guidelines and self-regulation to ensure that their own supply chain and employees do not engage in activities that support trafficking. There are also global private-public partnerships like GSMA mWomen, through which governments and mobile communication companies work together to find specific ways to apply mobile technology to advance women’s security and women-led enterprises. There are also specialised networks such as through the NGO Lawyers Without Borders, which works with major international law firms to develop rule-of-law initiatives, such as advocacy skills training programs.

To maximise the potential of private sector engagement, I would advocate cross-sector collaboration and, importantly, involving in-country stakeholders.

Q: What are the biggest challenges? A: Private sector engagement with 1325 is a largely uncharted area. Although many private entities are doing important work in the areas of women’s empowerment and violence against women, this work is not often tied specifically to 1325 and individual National Action Plans.

A major challenge is demonstrating and convincing individual and institutional private sector actors why and how they could play a role in enforcing 1325. And why 1325 warrants particular attention.

Another key challenge is that political instability, weak rule of law, and corruption serve to undermine 1325 generally. These factors, not surprisingly, would be a concern and possible deterrent to private sector involvement – especially for non-local entities unfamiliar with the particular country or post-conflict work. Proven processes, reliable and credible partners, and measurable success are predictable priorities for private sector actors.

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