50% of the worlds population are under the age of 25, so of course many in the world wouldn't remember Northern Ireland before the peace process, (which is now approaching its 23rd year) However things are not so simple for those of all ages who live in Northern Ireland, in that many have family members who were affected by the troubles and all in Northern Ireland are in many ways affected as it remains a very much divided country.
If people are living in their own silos, living in their own private reality, is it any wonder that as a nation Northern Ireland has problems to make it a country that competes on the world stage? Global success requires Northern Ireland's people to work together and things are improving in that regard, but there is much more needed to be done.
If we look at what people want on a macro level, all people are actually not that different. They want opportunity to make something of their life, however with many traditional Northern Ireland based industries in decline (such as agriculture and manufacture) and many jobs being lost, this means for many, opportunities to make something of their life are limited.
Northern Ireland has an amazing education system, with fantastic schools (many of which are some of the best in the UK), fantastic further education and universities. Academic achievement from this great infrastructure reflects this and indexes at a great level, however once educated many face the prospects of limited opportunity and many succumb to the lure of joining the huge diaspora, emigrating to countries such as America, Australia and Canada. Sadly many leave and do not return. So as a nation, Northern Ireland is essentially feeding talent to the world and struggles to retain it.
If we look at those who remain in Northern Ireland, especially those who under achieve academically, they have limited options and all generally achieve a salary which is below the UK average.
If we tie this into the wider issues and the legacy of the troubles, it is far more likely that people who are disengaged and lack opportunity will enter the negative aspects of life, with sectarian aspects also a possibility.
Understanding the economic pillar of sustainability as part of the peace-sustainability nexus is not like looking at one isolated branch of a tree. It is rather like observing the tree as a whole, its changes during seasons and its growth over time in order to understand its inner processes and condition.
If its environment is inhospitable and the soil is impoverished, the tree will not grow. Of such a character is the nexus between economic sustainability and peace – by saying this I state that there is such a nexus in the first place. While a true philosophy of economic sustainability will foster peace, a corrupted one will only nourish conflict.
Economic sustainability can shortly be defined as the ability of an economy to support a certain level of production indefinitely, which means that it needs to use and to conserve its resources at the same time – economically, socially, ecologically. Unfortunately, the dominant ideology in global economy, namely a nation-state organised neo-liberalism, does not seem to be up for that task. Its idea of ‘sustainability’ consists of fiscal discipline, infinite and steady growth as well as a reassuring atmosphere for investors. Those are meant to guarantee a reliable environment for its mode of production.
It is not news that the expectation of and constant pressure for national growth in this highly competitive framework is not sustainable; it can’t be. Instead, it is shattering the other pillars of sustainability. On the social level, the obligation to grow means increasing austerity, cuts of social benefits and wage restraint. As we again had to witness lately in the financially stricken states of southern Europe, the price for austerity is paid mainly by the lower classes with poverty and social exclusion. On the ecological level, the focus on short-term benefits and individual advantages renders the attempt of a far-sighted conservation of certain common goods not only a lost cause, but a competitive disadvantage. This disadvantage will be exploited by other actors – not because of any inherent wickedness of these actors, but because these are the rules of the game.
Focusing again on the peace-sustainability nexus, it has been written a lot (but not been done enough) about the direct ways in which the dominant economic order has been harming peace and causing physical violence, from arms trade and resource wars to civil wars in the deprived global south. Therefore, I want to draw your attention to another condition of peace: the absence of structural violence. This idea by Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung defines peace as the fulfilment of basic human needs in terms of survival, prosperity, freedom and identity. Its underlying premise is that the absence of physical and structural violence are ideals of equal worth. A peaceful world order therefore not only consists of a silencing of the weapons but also focuses on the individual and its personal development. However, with today’s pressure to sacrifice the just share of billions of people for the ‘greater good’ of economic growth, to accept poverty, hunger and heteronomy for the sake of competitiveness, such peace will be impossible.
But with a new common philosophy comes a new chance for peace. We at PeaceTech believe, think and hope that there is a way for a revolution in mind and society, which comes to the conclusion that true economic sustainability only works hand in hand with social, ecological and cultural sustainability and is not in conflict with basic human needs, but in fact inseparably interwoven. With an economic order sustaining nature and the individual’s prosperity and freedom we can also sustain peace. It is in everyone’s power to contribute to this new philosophy and make the tree blossom once more.
PeaceTech sees entrepreneurship as a vital key to economic sustainability in Northern Ireland and it will not just take more people becoming entrepreneurs but a stronger ecosystem, giving the opportunity not to only begin, but to scale and thrive. We have established our organisation as a platform from which to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship.
We seek to ultimately create world class success in Northern Ireland, that will ensure opportunities and peace for generations to come