For centuries, Asia has been fragmented by conflict over divided beliefs (religious violence), divided borders (wars over territories), divided power (battles for resources). Governments, politicians and donor agencies often have peacebuilding as their number one agenda, taking a top-down approach and repeatedly asking: ‘How can we resolve conflict? How can we accelerate recovery? How can we avoid the next World War?’

It is time for the region to redefine the dominant narrative by changing not just what questions we ask, but also who does the asking and when the ‘peace process’ really ends. If the world is going to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #16, focused on ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, it will be imperative to view peacebuilding as a multidimensional term to reframe these questions:

What can be done to empower women and youth to become solutions for peace instead of victims of conflict?

Who is best positioned to reduce the risk of relapsing into violence by building economic and social resilience?

How can we transcend immediate crisis and conflict resolution to create long-term peace outcomes?

The IIX N-Peace Innovation Challenge 2015 is a game-changing initiative designed by Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the aim to serve as a platform for capitalism and peacebuilding to converge. Based on a rigorous diagnostic study on the systemic gaps in Asia’s peacebuilding spectrum, IIX’s advisory team found that lack of funding for sustainable solutions was the key challenge faced by peacebuilding constituencies in 6 of Asia’s high-risk countries: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines [Figure 1].

Traditional sources of capital are primarily in the form of government funding; donor grants and humanitarian relief are primarily allocated to address immediate needs of conflict resolution and recovery. However, it is difficult to attract significant funds for preventative measures and long-term interventions, even though these projects may have the greatest potential to sustain conflict-transformation and effectively institutionalize change.

GRAPHData based on a survey with relevant stakeholders conducted by IIX: sample size of responses: 125

The practice of grant making and donor funding have traditionally been considered separate from investing in both objective and approach, but the emerging field of Impact Investing creates the opportunity for a productive collaboration between these two disciplines. Impact Investing refers to investments that are intended to create positive social impact beyond financial return. IIX believes the Impact Investing market, estimated to reach US$1 trillion (JP Morgan, 2010) by 2020, represents a pool of private sector capital that could potentially be mobilized to address the funding gap faced by traditional peacebuilding agents, who have limited access to capital. The primary recipients of Impact Investment capital are Impact Enterprises (revenue-generating non-profits and SMEs with positive social impact) — entities that can catalyze systemic resilience in Asia by viewing peacebuilding through the dual lens of financial stability and positive social impact.

The diagnostic study laid the foundation for IIX to design and launch IIX N-Peace Innovation Challenge in August 2015. The Challenge identified 6 remarkable Impact Enterprises (IEs) as the winners, based on their ability to build peace using market based solutions in aforementioned high-risk or post-conflict countries. IEs are well positioned to address the current systemic gaps in the peacebuilding spectrum by (i) using market based solutions to create financially sustainable models that can create transformative, sustainable peace; (ii) view women and youth as change-agents, leveraging their strategic insights, unparalleled power and deep understanding to create inclusive peace; and (iii) leverage the power of innovation and technology to create replicable models that have the potential to transform millions of lives by creating scalable peace.


[From left to right: Bimala Shrestha Pokharel, Founder – Higher Ground, Nepal; Connie Duckworth, Founder – Arzu Studio Hope, Afghanistan; Saraswati Ratnaganna, Communications Officer – Kopernik, Indonesia; Helen Clark, Administrator – United Nations Development Programme; Durreen Shahnaz, Founder – Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX); Joji Pantoja, Founder – Coffee for Peace, Philippines; Fiza Farhan, Director – Buksh Energy, Pakistan; Michael Lwin, Founder – Koe Koe Tech, Myanmar; Natasha Garcha, Business Development – Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX)]

The 6 winners were invited to attend a special event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on 22nd October 2015, where they had the opportunity to share their inspirational stories with leaders from the development space and the private sector. They were recognized for their pioneering peacebuilding efforts at an awards ceremony hosted by the United Nations Development Program on 23rd October 2015.

We caught up with these peacebuilding entrepreneurs, and asked them to share the vision for their work and for global transformation in sustainable development.

“ARZU’s vision is to drive peace through prosperity by linking good-paying jobs to behaviors that drive long-term sustainable change. What began as a concept eleven years ago has now matured into a working, humancentric, design thinking system ready to be replicated, adapted and scaled by organizations and governments elsewhere in the world. Specifically, ARZU is a social business that empowers rural Afghan women rug weavers to lift their families from poverty through ethical, artisan-based employment with benefits,”

Connie K. Duckworth, CEO of Arzu Studio Hope. Arzu Studio Hope weaves peace with fair-trade, by helping women in Afghanistan break the poverty cycle by giving them access to skills and market. Arzu translates this into a simple equation: Jobs + Education + Healthcare = Peace. Read more here.


“Kopernik delivers sustainable energy technologies to last mile communities to reduce poverty. In Indonesia we work with Indonesian women to boost economic development and make life easier for families in remote villages. By easing the burden on women’s time through simple household technologies and creating new businesses where opportunities for women are extremely limited, we hope to encourage sustainable development in some of Indonesia’s poorest provinces, leading to more stable, peaceful and prosperous communities,”

Ewa Wojkowska, Co-Founder and COO of Kopernik. Yayasan Kopernik is energizing Indonesia’s peace and security agenda by empowering women to become micro-entrepreneurs who sell life changing, clean-energy technologies to remote villages. Learn more on how Kopernik provides access to clean energy and water.


“We believe the premise of our work is simple: if a person in Myanmar has a phone and our apps, he or she will instantly have access to high-quality health products, doctors, midwives, community health workers, and accurate health information. This is life-saving because there are a lot of fake and low-quality drugs, a lot of substandard quality health workers, and a general lack of access to good health information in developing countries such as Myanmar. Delivering on that premise, of course, is very challenging and complicated, which is why we need the help of the Myanmar government, NGOs, health institutions, and the international community,”

Michael Lwin, Co-Founder and Managing Director of
Koe Koe Tech. Find out how Koe Koe Tech’s innovative apps are acting as a bridge for peace in Myanmar, leveraging the power of technology to democratize healthcare.

“Higher Ground envisions a just and transformed society where people can live in dignity. We do this by restoring the lives of individuals at risk of exploitation, human trafficking & social injustice through awareness, counselling and socio-economic empowerment. Through decent work and quality education, we aspire towards reduced inequalities, peace, justice, gender equality and sustainable communities,”


Bimala Shrestha Pokharel, Founder and CEO of Higher Ground Nepal. Find out how Higher Ground Nepal uses an innovative, cross-subsidy model to build peace from the bottom up in Nepal, training and employing at-risk youth and women in their Bakery and Crafts enterprises to sustain operations for their Community Development Initiative.


“Buksh Energy aims to empower the underprivileged with access to sustainable and reliable energy for all, enabling them to become productive economic agents, creating sustainable livelihoods and peace within their own communities, while generating a measurable triple bottom line impact on the global economy as a whole. We envision an injection of 4000 MW of conventional clean energy while saving 16.5 million tons of CO2 emissions, protecting the environment for a greener future for the generations to come. Meanwhile, Buksh Foundation continues to alleviate poverty through both the Clean Energy Loans and the Lighting a Million Lives Project. With these new green industries, we will be creating green jobs and further promoting the green revolution to combat climate change and its adverse impact on the earth,”

Fiza Farhan, Director of Buksh Energy.
Buksh Energy is stabilizing society and strengthening their economic capacity to reap a ‘green peace dividend’ by providing low-income families with access to clean and affordable energy. Find out how here.

“Peace could not be built on an empty stomachs. Coffee for Peace’s vision is to empower communities and ensure the sustainability of their culture and resources through an inclusive business model which enhances community relationships, peace, and security. We listen to them, we teach them, we empower them so they can dream again,”

Joji B. Pantoja, Coffee For Peace.
Coffee for Peace uses a unique, triple-bottom line formula to brew peace for over 800 families in the high-conflict zone of Mindanao, Philippines – ‘Farmers, Environment, Peacebuilding’. Check out how they are doing that.


The graphic below illustrates the nexus between peacebuilding and Impact Enterprises, with brief explanations of how target IE sectors are positioned to advance social progress along three dimensions – Foundations of Wellbeing, Access to Opportunities and Basic Human Needs – designed based on IIX’s diagnostic study (Figure 2).


New DiagramFoundations of Wellbeing

In Asia, women are the backbone of agriculture and play a key role in achieving economic security. Yet, they face persistent structural constraints and financial exclusion that hamper their efforts to improve lives which negatively impacts not just their own lives but also the wider community. It is imperative to empower low-income women to become agents of change by working with them to increase access to capital, financial literacy and natural resources such as agricultural land.


Increased Economic, Resilience, Multi-generational Impact

Access to Opportunities

Majority of Asia has poor education standards and high youth unemployment rates. The removal of structural impediments in key areas such as livelihoods and higher education can provide a basis for human capital development to enable at-risk youth to integrate into the workforce and improve their future earning ability. Such interventions can effectively reduce the risk of these individuals from lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening the community from the bottom-up.


Higher Demographic, Dividend, Reduced Income Inequality

Basic Human Needs

Owing to Asia’s multiple ethnic groups, creating a harmonious, integrated society is a key challenge. These marginalized communities often lack access to basic amenities such as affordable healthcare and access to water, which leads to destabilization and social unrest. Marginalized women and youth bear heightened risk of vulnerability and exclusion. It is critical to design innovative market-based solutions that go beyond business as usual and to leverage the power of technology to scale impact and systematically reduce incidence of cross-cultural conflict.


Improved Social Cohesion, Reduced Cultural Conflict

IIX believes that leveraging the power of capital markets to transform the post-conflict landscape marks the dawn of a new era that will not only revolutionize the way the world works towards realizing Sustainable Development Goal #16, but also mobilize large-scale capital (from the private sector) and new actors (high-impact entrepreneurs) at the grassroots to advance the age of conscious capitalism and transformative peace in a collaborative manner.


Natasha Garcha
Business Development & Partnerships

[Photo Credit: Jayel Aheram / Flickr]