On Wednesday, 11 November, SPARK hosted its third IGNITE! conference titled ‘Doing Business in Fragile States.’ The conference brought together experts from many different fields and parts of the world to discuss entrepreneurship and employment in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Queen Maxima attended the opening session that was followed by keynote addresses and practical workshops, in which the participants—including entrepreneurs, academics, policy experts and practitioners—sought ways to improve conditions for business in fragile states. During the morning break-out session, The Hague Institute organized a workshop on the theme of ‘Entrepreneurship for Stability: Fiction?’ which aimed to discuss how NGOs and donors can maximize the stabilizing impact of their economic interventions. The workshop was coordinated by Tom Buitelaar and Manuella Appiah, both Researchers of the Global Governance program.
In his welcoming remarks, Tom Buitelaar, also the moderator of the workshop, highlighted the Institute’s work on the NWO-funded project “Employment and Stability”and noted the academic and policy debate on the effectiveness of economic interventions in creating stability in fragile states. He referred to a recent review paper by Christopher Blattman and Laura Ralston which concluded that billions of dollars are being spent on programs for which there is little evidence that they are effective in creating stability.
Following the introductory remarks, Manuella Appiah briefly addressed the audience on the developments which had led to the organization of the workshop. She referred tothe 2014 Hague Conference on Business and Human Security, a collaboration between SPARK and The Hague Institute, and a follow-up workshop at the 2nd SPARK IGNITE! on the theme ‘From norms to action: strategic entrepreneurship in fragile environments’ . She emphasized the fact that both events were instrumental in providing information for the development of a recent policy brief on Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Security in Fragile States. The Policy Brief aims to inform business and human rights stakeholders about a range of extraordinary private-sector initiatives that contribute to advancing human security in fragile areas.
The workshop discussions were preceded by presentations by three panelists. Johan te Velde, advisor with Double Loop, underlined the importance of action-based research for ensuring a link between economic interventions and stability in fragile states. Bringing to the table experiences from value chains in Burundi and South Sudan, he stressed that concrete targeted approaches were a precondition of entrepreneurship for stability. Subsequently, Gemma Van der Haar, lecturer at Wageningen University, added a critical academic perspective on the complex relationship between entrepreneurship and employment. Pointing to the need for measures which go beyond the role of businesses, she argued that “economic intervention and job creation can only be one step towards stability.” Representing Women for Women International, Teddy Kaberuka complemented these presentations by discussing challenges faced by farmers, in particular women, in Rwanda. If business were to play a role for stability in the area, he held, value chains should be targeted to stop profits being exported to industrialized countries.
The workshop ended with a discussion between participants and the panelists, emphasizing amongst others the need to better harmonize general policy frameworks and specific economic interventions, as well as strategies of entrepreneurship for stability favored by academics and practitioners. In addition, the discussants noted that although education is crucial for employment, steps should be undertaken to ensure that educational curricular meet the demand of employers and as such do not contribute to underemployment.