As its lead partner, Wärtsilä supports CMI’s activities and creates partnership programmes with the organisation in selected areas. We spoke to executive director, Tuija Talvitie, on CMI’s working methods, and how international corporations such as Wärtsilä – with operations around the world – should function in today’s complex geopolitical mix.
How has CMI developed into the organisation it is today?
From its establishment in the year 2000 until President Martti Ahtisaari’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, CMI was very much his support organisation. After the award, things took on a new momentum and there was more demand for CMI’s services in their own right. From relatively small beginnings, we started building an organisation that could fill the gap for an independent conflict resolution and conflict prevention actor.
Since then we have quadrupled our turnover and the number of our personnel, and President Ahtisaari is now the chairman of our board. He is a great role model for CMI, but he also keeps us on our toes, and any work that we undertake must be of the highest quality to honour his principles of conflict resolution.
Inclusiveness is a value Wärtsilä has encouraged through its selection of NGO partners. How is this principle reflected in your work?
At CMI we are always conscious of thematic priorities such as gender and inclusion. We consider it particularly important to strengthening women’s role in peace processes. All the evidence tells us that when you include women in any group, that group produces better solutions and better work.
Inclusion in general is necessary in that for any peace process to really be effective and for the resultant peace to be sustainable, it needs the support of all of society. This means not just the elite, and not just the “men with guns”, which sadly has been very much the way peace agreements have been negotiated in the past, and still are in many cases – you buy yourself a seat at the table through military might. We aim to reflect another, more inclusive way, hopefully achieving a more lasting end result.
What are the challenges most often faced by those responsible for redeveloping infrastructure in conflict zones?
90% of conflicts are reignited conflicts, which often means that the follow-up work or perhaps the peace agreement itself has been flawed. Very often, people think that once you sign the agreement, you’re in the clear. But that is really the moment when the work starts.
It’s important to give the peace agreement a vision that the society can commit to, one that is hopeful and points to a future that people believe in. There’s often a lot of history that needs to be taken into consideration, which is very important to begin a process of healing.
Then there is the whole notion of infrastructure and the role of businesses in that, along with the role of institutions and the role of culture. All of these need to be resourced. You need the right people in the right places who have to want to rebuild their countries and not revert back to their old ways, and we all know that old habits die hard.
These are big questions. Change is difficult, so how do you keep up the momentum? How do you deal with issues like corruption, which are perennial problems in fragile, post-conflict settings?
Why is corruption such a persistent challenge in such settings?
Very often this is one area where people feel that they cannot move ahead; they feel that corruption is preventing them from reforming. It’s asking a great deal from decision makers and some of them at the end of the day are not really ready for it. They would like to hang on to some of the benefits that they have carved out for themselves. The magnitude of changes that we’re talking about are absolutely huge and mustn’t be underestimated.
So the challenge for us is how to support societies – once they’ve signed that peace agreement and started that peace process – in staying on track. We have the research that shows very clearly that the one thing that helps the sustainability of peace processes and peace in the long term is inclusion. If the peace is an elitist deal, then it’s not likely to last.
What guidelines should companies follow which are, for example, helping to redevelop infrastructure in such settings?
The United Nations Global Compact sets out the ten key principles that any companies working in post-conflict settings or fragile states should adhere to. These are very basic principles of fairness and humanity, pointing out the importance of equality and respect for the local environment, in every sense of the word. These are the sorts of qualities that all companies operating in the West are generally held to adhere to, and if they didn’t, it would be really harmful for the companies and their operations.
I think it´s important to understand that when companies start to operate in a post-conflict setting, these principles should still be followed, even though they might not be stipulated by local law. Abiding by them will go a long way to setting an example of how international companies should do business in post-conflict settings, as such companies are often perceived as exploiting volatile situations. That’s not good for anybody, and it’s not good business either. So it’s important to emphasise ways of operating that are helpful for the local community, which will also help the company in question and the greater business community at large in the longer term.
How are Finnish companies viewed in the regions where CMI has been active?
Finns seem to be seen in a very positive light in the places where they operate. We’re seen as a pragmatic nation, and the fact that we don’t have a colonial past is a big asset. It’s also surprising how aware people are of Finland’s history. A hundred years ago we were the poorest nation in Europe and now we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and people are fascinated by that story.
But we are also appreciated for the fact that we’ve had a difficult past, and for the fact that we don’t have a class-based society. That sense of equality is something that does resonate, and its something that we Finns can develop and use as a real strength. Finnish companies can also benefit from this perception if they uphold the values we’ve come to be associated with as a nation.