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 am hoping this blog will achieve something similar – the regular, free and open sharing of ideas and experiences. Time will tell how well it works out.
A few years ago I reviewed a community-company grievance mechanism. The company didn’t have the best of reputations and I had some seriously negative preconceptions when I agreed to take on the work. I have to say, I was wrong. I found the teams on site were doing a much better job than I expected with a significant and multifaceted effort being put into grievance prevention…
My first surprise was the approach to community engagement:
- The importance of engagement and how it needed to be done was well understood.
- Past community team efforts were acknowledged as having been reactive.
- There was recognition that while the Investment Agreement required a focus on registered landowners, failing to engage with outsiders would lead to future problems.
- An effective engagement process, which could easily be replicated, had recently been implemented in support of a sensitive asset protection initiative. This involved:
- Collaborative effort between the Communities team, the Security department, and the implementing Contractor.
- Pre-implementation strategy planning, intensive engagement, and a willingness to talk and take time rather than be driven totally by schedule.
- Establishing information sharing committees in each village which, as best I could tell, were working well; and
- Continuing the information sharing with the committees beyond the immediate need of the initiative.
- A process of “joint patrols” had been implemented a few months before my visit. Essentially this was about having a cross-discipline team (community, security and operations) make regular visits to communities to share information and talk, moving the site beyond the widespread practice of talking only with a select few “leaders”.
The second piece that surprised me was that procedures related to local employment and local purchasing had been overhauled, replacing systems that had become corrupted over time. This included replacing company staff found to have been involved in ‘pay for a job / pay for a contract’ rorts. I say surprising because in my experience this sort of fundamental change is unusual. Other good practice changes included establishing criteria defining “local”, the introduction of a vetting committee comprising community and company members and regular reporting back to the communities.
The last surprise of the visit was their recognition that community projects that had historically been used as peace buying tool (this is often frowned on, but was reported as being quite effective on this site) were being undermined by a failure to deliver – the company had been good at starting things but not good at follow up and completion. Two recent examples given were a local development planning initiative and a restoring justice program, both of which involved considerable effort to get going but both of which were acknowledged by the site team to be stalling or stalled. In both cases it appears that the required (and promised) government support has not been forthcoming.
A Timely Reminder
All in all, I have to say the site was doing a much better job than the information in the public domain had led me to believe, which was a bit of an eye opener. It reminded me of the importance of keeping an open mind, not to take everything heard or read at face value and that whether a company does well or not comes down to the attitude of employees on the ground, immersed as they are - to a greater or lesser degree - in their local communities.
- Community Development
- Community Engagement
- Community Health
- Company Behaviour
- Mining Insights
- Responsible Business Management