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Economic development within ethical framework more effective than aid.

By Mike Strathdee

As printed in The Marketplace - January/February 2018

Reducing armed conflict and providing economic opportunity are goals that go hand in hand, the founder of War Child Canada and War Child USA says.Samantha Nutt keynote MEDA convention 2017Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child

“You can’t have development without peace, and you can’t have peace without development,” Dr. Samantha Nutt said in a plenary address to MEDA’s annual convention in Vancouver.

War Child helps children and young people in war-affected communities reclaim their childhood through access to education, opportunity and justice.

Nutt, author of the best-selling book, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns Armies and Aid, has worked in conflict zones for more than two decades. In addition to practicing medicine, she teaches medicine at the University of Toronto, and has received the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, for her efforts.

Nutt admits that it is far too easy to succumb to a sense of fatalism given the current refugee and famine crisis, which is the worst since World War II. Yet she believes that peace is possible.

Over 40 million people have been killed or displaced by small arms. Without homes or access to income, people all around the world are driven to make very desperate choices, she said.

Still, she has hope for a different future for these people. “All along the way, there are opportunities to shape a different outcome, to reduce rather than compound these kinds of tensions.”

Training, investing in employment and local capacity building can all make a difference in reducing war and poverty around the world, she said.

The single most important predictor of child mortality in the world is a mother’s independent access to income, she said. More broadly speaking, improved access to income and education greatly decrease the likelihood of conflict. Access to capital is as important in reducing conflict as other commonly cited factors.

“Business and economic development have the power to do what no amount of humanitarian aid can.”

But that positive outcome only occurs when business is done properly, within an ethical framework. Done wrong, it can exacerbate human suffering and erode peace, she said.

We need to focus on how we invest, what we invest in, and why it matters, she said. Globally conscious entrepreneurialism is the most powerful tool we have to address major problems around the world.

She decried the fact that 12 times as much is spent on fighting and killing each other as is committed to humanitarian efforts. “If you really believe in peace, you have to start addressing that imbalance between military and humanitarian spending.”

There are 500 million Kalashnikov automatic rifles (also known as AK-47s) in circulation around the world, part of the global arms business that degrades and defeats peace. The challenge of famine in Somalia wasn’t a medical or humanitarian failure, but rather efforts thwarted by trigger-happy, drugged-up young boys, she said. An old lightweight, “child-friendly” AK-47 that can fire 600 rounds in less than a minute sells for as little as $10.

Attacking those young men directly is counter-productive, as they become more hardened after every military intervention.

Including light weapons, there are 800 million legally traded small arms in circulation, one for every 60 people on earth. That includes only the officially reported numbers.

More than 40 million people have been killed or displaced by small arms, mostly in the global south and the Middle East.

Sadly, 80 per cent of the weapons traded in the world come from the five permanent member nations of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, the US, the United Kingdom, France) plus Germany.

Thinking that these weapons are only used in areas of persistent conflict is mistaken, she said. “Small arms don’t ever recognize borders, which means their first stop is rarely their last.”

Even Kalashnikov, the Russian who invented the AK-47, has said he wishes he had invented a lawn mower instead.

The arms trade issue affects many investors. A number of publicly-traded pension funds in both Canada and the U.S., plus the Canada Pension Plan, have money invested in arms manufacturers.

Divestment won’t end war, but it is a step forward in accountability and transparency, she said.

The U.S. government hasn’t ratified the global arms control treaty, and Canada hasn’t yet signed on, although 115 nations have done so.

Nutt wants people to advocate for different measures of financial return that don’t trump ethics.

Coltan, a mineral used in cell phones and computers to make the electronics run faster, is a major source of conflict in Africa, as it is sometimes traded for weapons. Between 60 and 80 per cent of the world’s coltan deposits are found in the Congo.

When rapes of young women there were plotted on a map of Eastern Congo, researchers found that rates of rape with extreme violence were higher the closer one got to mining areas.

Victims of these crimes seek justice, not charity, opportunities, not handouts, she said.

Building up civil society and safeguards in supply chains for minerals so their sale doesn’t fuel conflict are among her prescriptions for change. “It is possible to invest differently in places like Eastern Congo.”

Nutt had several concrete suggestions on how people can act. She urged people to take time to read or watch one piece of international news every day, to advance knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the world.

Nutt also noted that she wholeheartedly endorses MEDA’s development model. She urged audience members to give to MEDA regularly. “It’s critically important for all of us to continue giving. But know that how you give is just as important as how much you give.”

The work that MEDA does isn’t (successful) overnight. It takes time, she said. “Those organizations that you believe in need to be able to depend on you. Consider becoming a monthly donor to MEDA.”

Businesses and entrepreneurs have the power to shape conversations around socially conscious investing and consumer practices, she said. Businesses can restore faith in the capacity of business to do good. “Model the way by ensuring your consumer practices are socially responsible.”

“With the right amount of effort and initiative, we can give peace the advantage.” ◆


For further reading:

  • War Child websites:,
  • The Stockholm International Peace Institute, publishes a list of the top 100 arms manufacturers in the world.
  • is a source of information on ethical mining practices