Diplomacy Is Only the Beginning: Nations in Conflict Need a Viable Economy to Truly Rebuild

An underlying thread running through the bloody turmoil roiling across the world in such nations as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and South Sudan is the economic dislocation of people who not only live in fear of their lives but also lack means and opportunity. We worry about whether or not a society is truly democratic, but we forget how important it is for ordinary people to be able to support themselves and find ways to achieve economic success.

The daily headlines focus on the gathering of military forces, the air strikes, and the threat of armed conflict. The response of Western powers is to engage in intense, high-level diplomacy to stop the bloodshed, as well they should. But once the guns are silenced, then what? When Russian President Vladimir Putin ceases his saber rattling and the crisis along the border is diffused, the news on Ukraine will fade. It is then, when the media moves on, that the real work of rebuilding a nation begins.

The current political crisis is destroying Ukraine's economy. I traveled there recently in my capacity as head of the International Executive Service Corps to see how we might assist in the country's economic rebuilding. For 50 years, IESC has played a small but important role in developing countries by encouraging a stable business environment and stimulating private enterprise. While the political power brokers toil at finding solutions to end the immediate conflict, what is desperately needed is to stimulate long-term private sector development. I have seen the development community do this very effectively in collaboration with local entrepreneurs. Ukraine needs these kinds of partnerships today, just as it did two decades ago.

Take, for example, Celantano Pizza Company. With some initial support from organizations like IESC, Celantano Pizza Company has grown over the past 20 years from two restaurants to a chain of more than 100. It is now the largest and most successful franchise in the Ukraine. Celantano is an excellent example of how private enterprise can contribute to economic progress and long-term political and social stability. By collaborating with Celantano on the benefits of franchising, we were able to help the company create hundreds of jobs for cooks, managers and delivery personnel, people making a living through new skills and smart management techniques.

On the vast international scale, being able to contribute to the growth of a Ukrainian pizza chain may seem like a small thing. And in some ways it is. Ukraine's development needs (and those of other nations embroiled in conflict) are much larger than just stimulating private business growth. For example, it must establish a commercial code of law, with trained lawyers and judges, before it can attract foreign investment. However, in my travels over the past several years in Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan, I have encountered any number of entrepreneurs -- like the founders of Celantano -- who want the opportunity to live, work, and thrive in their home countries. Often this can be realized with some outside support. And when that support stimulates economic growth and increases employment opportunities, it is no small thing.

While diplomatic efforts may resolve the conflicts, the real challenge -- often overlooked by the dramatic headlines -- is building a viable society and economy. People need to trust and feel confident about where they live. Conflicts overshadow the conditions necessary for creating opportunities in which people can support themselves. Whether it is a dairy farmer needing to increase milk production or a pizza restaurant wanting to understand how to franchise or a manufacturer requiring help accessing export markets, this is where the development community and its partners can effectively support the growth and prosperity that will strengthen these fragile emerging countries, create jobs, and give young people a stake in their own country. If we do not, we will be reading the same horrific headlines all over again in another 20 years.

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