Can cooperation and peace be achieved through marketing a dried-fruit product?
That's the question a group of graduate students in diplomacy and international business recently took on.
Mixing capitalism with altruism might not be a concern for most business executives - but it's a key issue to PeaceWorks, a company that works to create cooperative business ventures among rivals in war-torn areas. And for fresh ideas, it turned to students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass.
"If you're only concerned about making money, you run the danger that important things in life don't get done," says PeaceWorks founder Daniel Lubetzky. He and publicity director Melanie Garson, a Fletcher graduate, felt the school had a unique expertise in business and international affairs with which to tackle the project.
Working with the United Nations, the company is hoping to market dried fruit from Guatemala, which is recovering from a 35-year civil war and faces many economic problems, including severe poverty. The dried-fruit business would be a cooperative effort among former rival Mayan farmers, and would impact some 2,880 families.
Help is right next door
Founded six years ago, PeaceWorks got its start in response to an Israeli foodmaker that was losing money because it imported supplies from far away, rather than work with nearby Arab suppliers.
The organization has developed products like WAFA, a hazelnut chocolate bar created by an Israeli-Arab partnership, and La Bici pasta chips from KwaZulu-Natal, one of South Africa's most troubled regions.
Fletcher graduate students, working in four teams under associate professor Bernard Simonin, took on the marketing challenge as a semester-long project.
"There is an element of altruism and a greater cause that drives all of our students," Mr. Simonin says. "We had a chance to show them how to leverage that passion so that they could have an impact. The learning is much more powerful as a result."
Eric Davis, a member of the apple marketing team, said his team's challenge was raising awareness among Americans of the Guatemalan civil war.
His team suggested launching a Web site that would help people become better informed. Another idea was to create a holiday theme: "Let the fruits of our labor sweeten your holiday season."
Team Mango had a different approach. They proposed partnering with a major coffee chain store to sell the dried fruit to a target group of socially conscious women. They created the brand name Paloma, or "dove" in Spanish. The team also suggested printing a story on the fruit package about reconstruction efforts in Guatemala, which explains the product's significance.
In the end, students, who recently presented their plans to Mr. Lubetzky, said the project was rewarding because it put them in closer touch with real-world problems. The work even inspired some to change career paths, or it underscored their desire to work for a mission-driven organization.
"It taught me that I could have a good business career in a company that also had a good social cause," Cynthia White says. "It opened my eyes to look at these companies a little bit more."
Perhaps the biggest payoff came when Lubetzky said he planned to mix students' ideas with the company's own vision.
"They are extraordinarily bright people," he says. "They don't have much experience in the business world, which can allow them to think creatively."
After the presentations, Lubetzky discussed his company's own approach to marketing peace. Organizing the partnerships for pestos, pastas, and chocolate bars is not without challenges, he told students.
"The level of cooperation has gone down a little bit for the pestos [in the Mideast] because of the closure of territories that supplied ingredients," Lubetzky says. But he adds that regardless of the fighting, his partners want to continue working.
"If you can change one perspective, one life ... one interaction, then you make a difference," he says of the Arabs and Israelis who work side by side.
Lubetzky recalled meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once and giving him a WAFA bar.
"Barak said, 'with this sweet chocolate, there's a good chance for peace in the Mideast,' " he says, with a tinge of melancholy.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society