Source: Guardian | Katharine Earley
Sindyanna of Galilee invests 100% of its profits in promoting organic farming, educating women and healing cultural wounds.
The concept of "business for peace" is gaining traction as companies seek to redefine their role in society, engage with communities and harness the power of commerce for social good.
Sindyanna of Galilee, a female-led fair trade association, is working to encourage understanding between Arabs and Jews in Israel by selling local producers' olive oil worldwide and investing 100% of the profits in educating women, bridging cultural divides and promoting organic farming.
Tensions in Israel are running high as the peace process falters, and the shadow of terrorism remains as hate crimes leave Palestinian property vandalised and farmers' trees uprooted or torched. In this environment, business offers an important platform for change.
"We're creating real economic opportunities for Arabs and Jews by uniting producers around a common goal: supporting their families and achieving positive transformation in the community," says Hadas Ladav, chief executive of the Sindyanna. "And in doing so, we're showing international customers that the situation in the Middle East is not black and white. There is a will to create change."
Established in 1996, Sindyanna buys olive oil from 200 local producers, largely Arab farmers in Galilee and the occupied Palestinian territories. It also supports them with practical advice on farming and finance.
The group worked with other local organisations to transform a derelict firing range into Israel's first Arab-Israeli organic olive grove, and now sells more than 30 tonnes of organic, fairly traded oil a year to 12 western countries. In the UK, its customers include Lush, the cosmetics company, and Zaytoun, a social enterprise selling artisan products.
Uniting across cultural and political boundaries gives Sindyanna's smallholder farmers a voice at an international level and strengthens their collective offering. The story behind the product and its ecological credentials help to win business in a marketplace increasingly interested in ethics and provenance.
Channelling profits back into education also helps farmers learn how to benefit from sustainable agriculture and helps women secure valuable skills for work. At its visitor centre in Galilee, Sindyanna helps Arab women build their confidence, learn Hebrew and English, and develop friendships through educational and craft activities, such as weaving baskets. It plans to create a second training centre in Nazareth, 10 times the size, to teach literacy, numeracy and commercial skills.
"We're creating a different reality, showing that there is an alternative way of being," says Ladav. "And we look beyond the balance sheet to measure our ability to create a positive social impact, be heard and taken seriously at government level and improve our professional reputation."
Sindyanna's business model has real potential to help in other fragile and conflict-torn areas, according to Elspeth Donovan, deputy director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership's South African office.
"One of the biggest challenges for small-scale producers is access to markets," explains Donovan. "This model sparks economic activity, allows people to support each other in the process and brings it full circle to support producers' communities. Importantly, it also empowers women – who often suffer most in conflict situations – to be at the forefront of creating social cohesion.
"Applying this model elsewhere would require being mindful of local tensions and on-the-ground challenges," she says. "Communities know what they need and want to be involved in decision-making, so businesses must take a consultative approach."
Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, agrees: "Although bringing disparate groups together can be challenging, people really just want to get along and business is well placed to help because it comes at things from a very practical angle. It has a clear purpose, whereas politics can breed animosity."
The organisation's success is not just about the product. Ladav sees patience, empathy, transparency and collaboration with like-minded partners as vital to succeeding in business. And she believes the businesses which can demonstrate a sense of humanity will be the most effective in promoting peace.
Similar organisations using trade to support reconciliation include PeaceWorks, a company supporting the Arab-Israeli peace process through health food sales, and BH Crafts, a social enterprise that brings Bosnian and Herzegovinian women together to make clothing for customers including fashion business Agnès B.
Business for peace was recently highlighted by Forbes as one of the top trends to look out for in corporate social responsibility. "Business action on peace will become more important as conflicts over resource scarcity grow, fuelled by climate change pressures," says Hartigan. "A vital part of future-proofing businesses will mean companies need to roll up their sleeves and get involved in helping communities to survive peacefully."
The UN Global Compact's Business for Peace initiative, its fastest growing platform, is advising 100 companies on how to act responsibly in conflict-affected and high-risk areas. With regular business practice simply not an option in conflict environments, the project aims to show that the issues of peace, development and business success are often inextricably linked.
Katharine Earley is a journalist and copywriter specialising in sustainability.
Sindyanna of Galilee: A Solution to the Middle East Conflict - by Irit Hakim