A philanthropist using systems thinking to build peace

February 10, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

Steve Killelea is an intriguing man, an Aussie software millionaire who, in the words of his bio ‘decided to dedicate steve killileamost of his time and fortune to sustainable development and peace’.  Think a more weather-beaten Bill Gates. He also (full disclosure) bought me a very nice lunch last week.

In pursuit of this aim he set up the Institute for Economics and Peace in 2007. The institute dedicates itself to measuring the hard stuff – ‘developing metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value.’ It puts these measurements into the public domain through four flagship annual reports:

The Economic Value of Peace: e.g. ‘The total economic impact of violence to the world economy in 2015 was estimated to be $13.6 trillion and is expressed in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This is equivalent to 13.3 per cent of world GDP or $1,876 PPP per annum, per person.’

The Global Terrorism Index: e.g. ‘There was a ten per cent decline from 2014 in the number of terrorism deaths in 2015 resulting in 3,389 fewer people being killed. Iraq and Nigeria together recorded 5,556 fewer deaths and 1,030 fewer attacks than in 2014. However, with a global total of 29,376 deaths, 2015 was still the second deadliest year on record.’

Killelea 1The Global Peace Index: The 10th edition found that ‘The historic ten-year deterioration in peace has largely been driven by the intensifying conflicts in the MENA region. Terrorism is also at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict are at a 25 year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in sixty years. Notably, the sources for these three dynamics are intertwined and driven by a small number of countries, demonstrating the global repercussions of breakdowns in peacefulness. Many countries are at record high levels of peacefulness, while the bottom 20 countries have progressively become much less peaceful, creating increased levels of inequality in global peace.’

But the most innovative of the four is the Positive Peace report, which compares itself to the shift in health from focussing on sickness to focussing on health, broadly defined (including wellbeing). It uses a systems approach, seeking to quantify the ‘attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.’ To do this it identifies 8 interlocking elements:

  • Well-functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbours
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of human capital
  • Low levels of corruption

It then assesses each of these against a series of proxy indicators from public sources. For example Human Capital is measured by a combination of Secondary School enrolment (World Bank stats), Scientific Publications (World Bank again) and the Youth Development Index of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

I’m sure you could quibble with the gaps (environment/sustainability?) and the assumptions and value judgements global peace index coverbehind what constitutes ‘sound economics’ or ‘corruption’, but the IEP has an advisory council with some of the smartest people on measurement issues, so I assume they get thrashed out. Steve’s business background also comes out in a very World Bank-y emphasis on the instrumental (business) case for a lot of things which are really just good in themselves.

But what interests me is the niche the IEP is filling here. As the time series of its reports builds, so will their usefulness. Because they are backed by a philanthropist with a long term vision, they don’t have to follow fashion (eg to chase funding, or media profile). Feels like this is an excellent use of philanthropic funding. He could have gone for something more directly feelgood and tangible, but instead has chosen to engage at a more systemic/policy level. According to Steve the Terrorism Index ‘sadly has the most impact’, but the Positive Peace report is gaining momentum – he sees it as at least a five year project. Coincidentally, I’ve just come back from a seminar hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation on how to introduce systems thinking in support for market development – blog to follow.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who are more familiar with the work, or who have used the IEP reports – what are their strengths and weaknesses?



February 10, 2017
Duncan Green