Nobel Prize in business: A model for CEOs in the SDGs era

2020 / 10 / 9 | Author: EcoNetworks

The Norwegian Business for Peace Foundation each year recognizes business leaders who have made an outstanding contribution to responsible business and peacebuilding. The recognition is called the Oslo Business for Peace Award, also known as the Nobel Prize for Business.

Here we explain the evaluation criteria for the Oslo Business for Peace Award based on an interview article and e-mail interview with Per Saxegaard, founder of the Business for Peace Foundation.


Author: Mayo Suzuki
Sustainability consultant/ writer/ translator based in Colombia


Relationship between peace and business

The relationship between peace and business has become an important topic of discussion at international conferences. Take the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, hosted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland, which has begun sharing good practices from companies that are not only helping to prevent conflict but also acting responsibly to sustain peace.

Last year’s forum showcased corporate efforts to protect human rights defenders from fear of killings and intimidation and also discussed how many companies are actively working to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses by security forces in countries of conflict around the world.

Despite these examples, however, only 38% of companies actively contribute to Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “Peace and Justice for All,” according to the 2019 report “Reporting Matters” by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Goal 16 is the third least-tackled of the 17 goals, following Goal 14 (32%) and Goal 1 (34%).

The role of business in achieving peace

Perhaps the reason why so few companies are addressing Goal 16 is that companies have a narrow definition of “peace” and believe that peace and business are only distantly related.

Per Saxegaard, an experienced investment banker who founded Business for Peace Foundation in 2007, describes the concept of peace this way:

Peace should not be limited to its common understanding as ‘absence of violence,‘ often referred to as negative peace. The word has positively sensed meaning too, positive peace. This can be understood as the attitudes, structures and institutions that create and sustain peaceful societies. (from the interview article)

Regarding the role of business in peacebuilding, he expresses the belief that companies can create a peaceful society by “making money” and “making a difference” simultaneously, and by providing “the optimal environment for the human potential to flourish.” (from the interview article)

Without a peaceful society, companies will find it difficult to do business. Saxegaard calls on business leaders to take action to create and sustain peace based on the concept of positive peace, rather than relating to peace reactively. Specifically, this means providing opportunities for people to develop skills through business and creating economic and social value through business, which in turn will lead to a peaceful, just and inclusive society as advocated in Goal 16.

Business for Peace Award, judged by Nobel Prize winners

Business leaders are shortlisted for the Oslo Business for Peace Award based on recommendations by international organizations, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The winners are selected by an independent committee composed of Nobel Peace Prize and Economics Prize winners.

As part of the selection process, there are three criteria by which business leaders are judged:

1. Being a role model to society and their peers
2. Standing out as an advocate
3. Having earned the trust of stakeholders

Winners are not only recognized for their past achievements, but are also expected to make important future contributions to ethical and responsible business practices.

For example, the 2015 winner, Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, has demonstrated leadership in business for many years. The year before, in 2014, Ouided Bauchamaoui, Africa’s most influential businessperson, received the award (and the Nobel Peace Prize the following year) for his contributions to promoting reconciliation across Tunisia, protecting corporate and employment policies, and restoring security.

In addition to these long-time leaders, the following next-generation leaders have received the award.

Agbor Ashumanyi Ako (2019 winner), who developed a digital platform aimed at reducing maternal mortality across Africa

Sarah Beydoun (2016 winner), a social fashion designer and business owner who employs over 200 prisoners, ex-prisoners and women from vulnerable groups in Lebanon

Juan Andres Cano (2015 awardee), a young human rights lawyer and entrepreneur who works directly with companies and entrepreneurs in Colombia to defend ethical principles and create solutions for sustainable peacebuilding

The three criteria for evaluating business leaders

Let’s take a closer look at the three criteria for evaluating business leaders.

1. Being a role model to society and their peers

The first criterion is to be a role model. Here, leaders are expected not only to set an example in business, but also to earn the trust of citizens.

In Japan, there seem to be many “faceless companies,” large corporations whose leaders have a low public profile. Saxegaard describes the characteristics of leaders who are trusted by the public as follows.

When business leaders maintain a ‘businessworthy’ mindset, they influence the culture and strategy of the organization. With that mindset, they continually deliver on their commitment to society and become trusted role models. That mindset is very important for business leaders. (From an email interview)

“Businessworthy” is the keyword for businesses that contribute to peace. The Foundation defines businessworthy as “in an ethical and responsible way creating value both for business and society.”

In other words, a business leader’s constant mindset of continually creating both economic and social value is the source of building trust with the public.

2. Standing out as an advocate

In Japan, while business leaders are increasingly talking about the importance of ethical and responsible business, many use the phrase in the ways we’ve heard before.

On the other hand, the Business for Peace Foundation expects business leaders to publicly promote this concept as “as an advocate” with their own logic and mindset.

We asked Saxegaard, who has experience interacting with Japanese business leaders.

I had the pleasure of visiting Hiroshima and giving a speech to several hundred Japanese business leaders at a conference in 2015. It seemed to me from that experience that the concept of being businessworthy and that business should be here for society, is not a strange part of the Japanese culture. Business plays a key role in improving society. Making this as a conscious higher purpose, business’ contribution to social harmony and peace will be more evident. (From an email interview)

3. Having earned the trust of stakeholders

Thirdly, the winner has earned the trust of their stakeholders, which include shareholders, investors, consumers and local communities.

In order to earn trust, the emphasis is on values that do not monopolize profits but rather ensure that benefits are distributed equally throughout society.

The interviewee David Sloan Wilson pointed out, “the Norwegian business world … is very different from America and the UK…. Norwegians would not tolerate a 300-fold income disparity between the CEO of a company and the average employee.” Saxegaard responded, “I think these values contribute to an important level of trust.” (From the interview article)

Saxegaard founded the foundation after questioning the “profit-first” business philosophy that he had learned in business school in the 1980s.

From the interviews, we get the sense that Saxegaard felt a need to raise the alarm on the selfish and short-sighted business model that pursues only short-term profits, and a desire to recognize leaders who are promoting businesses that have value for society.

These three criteria of the Business for Peace Award constitute a model for business leaders in the SDGs era. They place a spotlight on the identity of the business leader and their values as a businessperson. They focus not only on the creation of economic value, as is traditionally expected of leaders, but also on how to think about and practice the creation of social value in order to build and sustain a peaceful society.