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. Three years on and it hasn't worked as I had hoped so I'm taking a long break and having a bit of a rethink. In the meantime I have reposted a "best of" selection.
Tapping into local knowledge
Responsible Business Management | 1 February 2022
This short piece highlights a few simple actions you can take that will reduce your community-related project risk.
My suggestion is that whether you are taking on an existing project or you’ve acquired it through a purchase or takeover, the simple act of talking to the in-country site team can save you a lot of grief.
You can ask them about current practices for accessing land – whether permission is always sought before entry, if compensation is paid, how the current compensation rate was determined, what they do to make sure the right people are paid and how they handle complaints.
Likewise with employment and services – how many local people do they employ, what type of work, how do they choose people? Are their processes easy for you to understand and do they seem fair and reasonable?
If they are making donations and sponsorships what are they supporting? Can you see the logic in what they are doing? If not the chances are the local people are also confused.
Are they providing free services – water from the camp bore, power from the generator? These are easy ways to win support early on but will come back to bite later as people very quickly become used to these services and begin to see them as entitlements.
The team’s knowledge of local customs will give some insight as to how engaged they are with the local communities.
What promises have been made, have they been delivered on and are they written down? Failure to deliver on promises is the number one trust breaker for communities.
Have there been any notable incidents/disagreements – anything that has caused work to stop or made the team to feel less safe?
Last but not least, what changes have they seen in the time they have been on-site? More houses, new shops, bars and restaurants, higher rents are all signs that in-migration is happening.
If the team is on-the-ball they will be a good source of information to help you get up to speed. On the other hand, if they can’t quickly put their hands on the information you need and you can’t easily understand what, why and how they operate or if what you hear just sounds wrong – that it would leave you feeling unhappy or angry if you were on the receiving end – it probably means the they are not paying as much attention to the relationship with the community as they should and you might have a few more problems (and more risk) than you think you do.
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