Tag Archives: Honourees

Tackling COVID-19 in a war zone





What does Covid-19 look like in a country with no stable government? Until April, Covid-19 was something Yemenis citizens only read about in the news. Other major challenges were already part of their daily life. War and hunger have been their reality since September 2014.

The Former Minister of Information and former Chief Editor of Yemen Times, Dr. Nadia al-Sakkaf has hope for the private sector to rebuild the country and bring a future to the many young Yemenis entrepreneurs. The 2013 Business for Peace Honouree gave us insight as to the current situation, the growth of the business sector, and what anyone — everyone — can do in order to positively change the future of Yemen.




Nadia al-Sakkaf calling in via Zoom

Nadia al-Sakkaf calling in via Zoom







What is the COVID-19 situation in Yemen?

We knew inevitably that the virus would come, but there is no state authority, so who is going to prepare us? It is left to civil society and the private sector. More than 24 million people — 80% of the population — is in need of humanitarian assistance. There is a lack of infrastructure, sanitation, and access to clean water, making the population vulnerable. There are other diseases which are being spread as well. Until April, Covid-19 was unreal. What was real to them was war and hunger.

We started to teach about social distancing and hand washing. Some of the reactions we received were so sad. “You’re telling me to wash my hands with soap and water. I don’t have access to soap or clean water.” For many young men on the frontline, they would rather die from a bullet than to the suffocation felt from Covid-19. The reality is that the choice is still death. There is a disconnect and a denial of the extent of this.



Can you tell us about the projects you’re working on in response to the pandemic?

I’m a part of several small projects. One is the Women’s Solidarity Network, which partners with Food for Humanity. This organisation is on the ground helping communities get access to clean water.
Then there is also the global advocacy element. We’re trying to amplify women Yemenis voices through op-eds in mainstream media to try and bring a different perspective. I am disappointed in mainstream media. International newspapers are not accepting these pieces because they don’t write about war or famine.


At Business for Peace, we focus on the role of businesses in building up societies. What role do you see for the private sector in helping Yemen through this crisis?

Yemeni business people are the ones providing protective and testing equipment. Their sense of social responsibility is big. Tech-based entrepreneurs held a hackathon in April. There were three ideas that passed onto the next stage: a medical consultation app, low-cost, fast-paced mask production, and recycling plastic for PPE with 3D printing. These great ideas need more support; there’s so much potential.
Yemen is a large country, but it is very fragmented. The de facto authority is the private sector. They’re the ones that will bring the country back, and it is important to acknowledge them as an important stakeholder. They are being ignored but ignoring the private sector in national policy does not make sense. They are involved in the local levels, involved in sanitation, clean water, and renewable energy. The private sector is holding the community together and giving people hope.
The economy will motivate people. Yemenis are getting paid to be involved in the frontline. If they have a proper job, if they have a system around them that is somewhat prosperous, they will think twice before they join any armed conflict. The solution is economic, not political.



Much of your career has been about women’s empowerment. What sort of unique role do women play in navigating this crisis?

Globally, women make up 75% of healthcare workers. Equal pay, promotions, and even just recognition would help. Women are working hard on the frontlines and have been able to mediate more than the official means. Yemeni women deserve recognition for what they do. They are powerful. They are superheroes, despite disadvantages and lack of resources and even the cultural discrimination against them. It’s not right.
Women-led organisations are doing much better than male-led organisations. They are more effective and cut through the nonsense and get things done. They are the ones who are the peace builders.
I cannot express enough how important it is to consider women as a main stakeholder when it comes to discussions. For sustainable and fair peace, women need to be at the table and involved in partnerships.



Finally, many people are talking about the chance to build a new normal. What would you prioritise?

Talk to the real actors on the ground and recognise them, in Yemen and countries in similar conditions. Facilitate the engagement of Yemeni entrepreneurs. We need to think about the economy post-Covid. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You could easily start a project for $1000 and help a community of 200. Just the planting of the seed will quickly spread to others. They will be jealous and will want to replicate the success. We need to motivate and network the right people.


Want to help?
Support the initiatives! A like, retweet, comment, or signing a pledge helps gain global attention. You can support organisations like Food for Humanity or sign the petition for a ceasefire. The Hackathon ideas need expertise, funding, and expanded networks.

Free speech allows room for discussion and perspective. Make sure women’s voices are heard globally in the Yemeni peace process.

Support from abroad “brings life back to us,” as Nadia said.


This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to covid-19 and has been edited for length and format. Watch the full interview here: https://www.facebook.com/businessworthy/videos/2825640327548691/



Zoom interview with a split screen of interviewer Business for Peace and interviewee Dr. Nadia al-Sakkaf

Alison of Business for Peace talks with Dr. Nadia al-Sakkaf

Being businessworthy in Beirut: Interview with CEO Sarah Beydoun






Sarah’s Bag is a Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise that empowers women,  employing over 200 prisoners, ex-prisoners and underprivileged women. Their artisan handbags have been spotted on the arms of Beyoncé and Amal Clooney, but now the company is navigating a dual crisis. 


In many parts of the world, the economic and political situation was already precarious before the pandemic outbreak. Producing and selling products in Lebanon has not been easy since the revolution began several months ago. This means that the current pandemic forced 2016 Business for Peace Honouree Sarah Beydoun to take on the complexities of a crisis on top of a crisis. We talked with the fashion designer and entrepreneur about how her company, Sarah’s Bag, is responding. 







Four women doing beadwork in a workshop

CEO Sarah Beydoun and a few of the artisans of Sarah’s Bag







What’s the situation in Lebanon?

For us, the pandemic has been able to inflict maximum damage on a country already going through one of the worst crises of its history. By the time we started quarantine in March, Lebanon was already months into the worst financial crisis the country has seen since the Civil War ended in 1991. 

As a social enterprise, the human element of our work is at the heart of what we do and everything that we create. We are involved in local initiatives to support the creative sector in Lebanon, because this feels like an existential crisis for all of us here. We don’t know where the country is heading. 

Sarah’s Bag has been in crisis mode for the past five months. We have been in business for 20 years. We have already weathered war and political and economic crises, but what we are experiencing now is unprecedented. I am in a crisis within a crisis.  




How has the pandemic affected your business?  How have you as a leader responded?

I had to be honest with my team and tell them that things are tough and are going to be tough for a while. We had to make difficult decisions as a team and a company. 

During the past five months, hundreds of businesses in Lebanon have gone bankrupt, or cut hours, salaries and jobs. Unlike others, I wanted to avoid lay-offs as much as I could. Now, we are operating at 10% of our capacity, so some of the team and I are on half salaries. However, for employees who are in the lower wage bracket, the salary cuts were less. 

We worked on a strategy to compensate for the local loss in sales by focusing on our online boutique in addition to focusing on the international market. The type of products people are buying are essentials and things for the home. We therefore plan to work on big pieces for home décor rather than for handbags. This way, I can keep all these artisans employed. 


Three women standing around a work table weaving

Photo courtesy Sarah’s Bag



What would you say to fellow business leaders about how to act during these times?

Consumers are more aware than ever of how brands treat their workers. Companies have to be careful not to be tone deaf during a crisis. People will be watching to see how these companies will react, and business as usual will no longer work. I do not think people will go back to this. This is the right time for businesses to think of the kind of impact they can have, and I hope this means an increase in social enterprises. 

Businesses have to find ways to protect their workers, especially in crisis. This means we have to focus on saving jobs as much as possible. This is more important than shareholder profits; these are the people behind the successes of the company. It would be incredibly sad and disheartening if there isn’t any kind of reevaluation of business values after this global disaster. 

I started from scratch. When you start from scratch, you can always do it again. A lot of businesses also are going to start listening to social demands, and other businesses are going to emerge as a response to social needs. 



Many people worry that this crisis will have a disproportionate impact on underprivileged groups. At the same time, there might be an opportunity to create a ‘new normal.’ How do you hope the world changes in the aftermath of this crisis?

We have to be in tune with what is happening around us. The crisis will impact a lot of underprivileged people. Everywhere in the world, this is going to impact those who have the least. There will be an opportunity to create a new normal. I hope people will emerge from this crisis and extract from it a new way of acting and living. 


A lot of nice things come out of a crisis. This pandemic has brought the world closer and people are looking for instances of hope, kindness, solidarity and humanity. These should also be business values and consumers will be watching to see how companies stepped up and had a positive impact during a crisis and these companies will be rewarded for it with loyalty after this difficult time is over. 



This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to Covid19. For more on Sarah Beydoun, visit https://sarahsbag.com/our-story/

Three artisans weaving and sewing

Sarah’s Bag provides opportunities to Lebanese women who would otherwise not have these opportunities. Photo courtesy Sarah’s Bag

Former Business for Peace Honouree received Queen’s knighthood (KBE)



At a ceremony which took place at Clarence House, 2011 Business for Peace Honouree Sir Francis Yeoh received the Queen’s knighthood (KBE) by HRH Prince Charles. This is an incredible achievement, which celebrates Sir Yeoh’s extensive contributions to economic relations and to economic growth. Sir Yeoh is the managing director of the YTL Corporation, Malaysia’s top integrated infrastructure group. 



Sir Francis Yeoh, Business for Peace Honouree, receives knighthood

Sir Francis Yeoh, Business for Peace Honouree




The Foundation is delighted to see our Honourees continue to be leading examples of businessworthy behaviour long after they receive the Oslo Business for Peace Award. 

Sustainable business is a core reason as to why the Award Committee chose Sir Yeoh to be one of the recipients of the 2011 Oslo Business for Peace Award. To this day YTL continues to thrive in and focus on long-term sustainability business practices, which takes into account not only the social and economic aspects, but the environmental and cultural as well.  


“I feel humbled and honoured by this award which recognises the hard work of all the great employees at the YTL Group in the UK and Malaysia. I also want to thank my family for their support and love, which gives me strength and energy in my work.”


For more information in YTL, visit: http://www.ytl.com/aboutus.asp

For more news from Business for Peace: see: https://businessforpeace.org/category/news/





“This is the Olympics for businesses” – Interview with Vladas Lasas





The Olympics haven’t been cancelled for this year after all. According to 2012 Honouree Vladas Lasas, this current moment is the Olympics for businesses. Everyone needs to find their inner athlete and put their energy towards recovery and building a new way of life. 

Lasas has been an entrepreneur his entire career. He is Co-Founder of the Carbon War Room, Founder and CEO of UPS Lithuania, and an inventor. He is a leader for many. Always an advocate for quick and responsive action, we spoke to Lasas about the actions that he has taken in response to the crisis. 




Honouree Dean Cycon talks with Vladas Lasas at a Business for Peace Summit. Photo: Olav Heggø




You’ve taken swift action to start new initiatives in response to the global pandemic crisis. Can you tell us what you’re working on? 

“In mid-March, we started Hack the Crisis, which is now a global initiative. It is supported by the European Union and is attracting people globally. In the beginning, only small countries like Estonia and Lithuania were part of the initiative and we were surprised at how productive it was. We had 1000+ attendees joining; everybody managed to work on Zoom and Slack teams. Everything was almost as if it happened in person, even though it was on teleconferencing. It is incredible. We need to stay up-to-speed if we want to make an impact on the world and help people.”




How has the crisis affected your core business? How have you as a leader responded?

I am trying to help our CEOs with what can be done. In a time of crisis, there is a lot of opportunity to grow new leaders, to help them, to encourage and mentor them. I think it is better for everybody and for the future if you use the situation as an opportunity to grow leadership in your young colleagues.




You’ve previously told us that sometimes one has to be a rebel to make change. Is that what you’re doing now?

Yes absolutely. People are reluctant and, as always, a little bit afraid of change. One thing that institutions and officials do not recongise or understand is that democracies and their resources are optimised for an ordinary way of living. We are right now in a completely unprecedented situation. It is understandable that governments do not have resources to deal with this on their own. We have exponential growth of our enemy, and therefore we need stronger exponential growth in order to break the barriers. 




What sorts of collaborations and partnerships are needed in order to respond quickly? 

Institutions should not have any objections to accept help from professionals, academics, and the private sector, and let them do things that institutions in the government cannot. Sometimes in business the best people are outside of your company. 

In democratic societies you can easily mobilise people. If you communicate in the right way and are open. That is really the test as to how democratic a country is, if you can accept help from people and let the professor work next to the minister and have a level understanding that the academic knows better in this situation.  The Lithuanian National Health Authorities at first were really slow at communicating. The data was handled mostly manually. No system was prepared for this. In a few days, we managed to get the best IT guy next to the Head of Authority, and within a few days we got these pain points fixed. It’s only one example but I remember 30 years ago, early in Lithuania’s independence, we had some code to take over from the Soviets at that time. I worked with no official authority but I was working with the Parliament to help communicate and translate for journalists about what was going on. That was also without any approval or order or law for that. Red tape that is usually useful in ordinary times, needs to be cut. 



What would you say to fellow business leaders about how to act during these times?

Use this situation to make your organisation stronger, to grow new leaders. Look for new opportunities. These are really huge right now. It is hidden as a crisis, but actually we can handle the crisis and build up more new and good things for the future. 

Thank you so much for your insight and time, Vladas! We are feeling more confident in winning at the Olympics now. 

This interview is a part of a series highlighting #businessworthy efforts in response to Covid-19. For more on Vladas Lasas and his rebel leadership, see: https://vimeo.com/404685461

Meet the 2014 Honourees


The 2014 Oslo Business for Peace Honourees have been named by the Foundation’s independent Award Committee consisting of Nobel Prize winners in Peace and Economics. The Honourees’ significant contributions to a wider acceptance of Businessworthy behavior will be recognized during the Oslo Business for Peace Summit and Award on May 15, 2014, in the Oslo City Hall.

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