I first heard the words “meeting under the mango tree” as a euphemism for having a predictable, easy to access process for enabling community members to raise issues and concerns in a safe and familiar place. There is no fixed agenda and no one-size-fits-all for these exchanges. With one company we set up drop-in centres in each local village with a designated community officer in attendance everyday. Another made it known that a company person would be available “under the mango tree” for two hours every market day. I was hoping this blog would achieve something similar – the regular, free and open sharing of ideas and experiences. It hasn't worked so I'm taking a break and having a bit of a rethink. In the meantime I'll be reposting a "best of" selection from time to time.
We know that the level of social risk associated with a project is linked to the quality of relationships with local people but how can you know where you stand?
There are two simple ways to do a rapid reality check.
The first is to pay attention for changes in the tone of meetings with government agencies, partners and community members. If they are becoming less friendly, more demanding and accusations start flying it isn’t hard to work out things are heading in the wrong direction. On the other hand, a friendly welcome and a sense of shared purpose say that you are doing okay.
The second is to note and keep track of changes in behaviour and attitude you see happening in the community. Good signs include:
- New notices from the company remain on community noticeboards without being defaced;
- Low theft levels, little damage to company property;
- Decreasing trend of community incidents or complaints;
- More people associate improvements in their quality of life with the presence of the company;
- Outsiders (journalists, NGOs, politicians) campaigning on an anti-corporate platform get no local support;
- More community requests that benefit the community rather than individuals;
- More community requests that focus on personal life-skills development instead of demand for material things;
- Less or no public outrage following accidents;
- Community members identify troublemakers and informs company staff about (security) rumours in the community;
- People say they have access to site management and say the company is responsive to their concerns;
- People waving back when greeted;
- Government officials publicly acknowledge that the company keeps them informed and has enabled them to be more effective;
- The government increases its social services presence in the local area;
- Government officials are present and are responsive to company and community requests;
- Civil servants say they feel respected in the community due to the company presence;
- The government includes the company in discussions around policy and regulation;
- Journalists highlight the benefits of the company presence;
- Credible NGO want to be associated with the company;
- No advocacy NGO are active in the local communities;
- Outside groups regard the company’s practices to be among the best.
Running through the checklist every two or three months will help you to keep up to date on community and government sentiment and should flag if the relationships are starting to head off the rails. If you currently have a poor relationship and you are taking steps to improve using the checklist is a quick way to gauge if your changes are working.