It is not unusual to come under community and government pressure to help but jumping in without giving some thought to the longer term consequences can turn the instant gratification that comes with a quick fix into a nagging headache that won't go away. Moving away from providing hand-outs which have a tendency to create dependency and more towards building capabilities and developing a sense of ownership and accountability will get you heading in the right direction.
It is also important not to fall into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering and turning a positive benefit into a negative result for all concerned.
Guide to Community Development
WHY LOCAL DEVELOPMENT MATTERS:
The reality is that for most projects the benefits that come from job and business opportunities fall to a relatively small proportion of the population, usually those with better education and better connections. For the majority of community members local development is the one broadly distributed benefit they might see. Community and government pressure to “help” and a natural tendency for feeling that helping those you might think of as being less fortunate is “the right thing to do” often lead to a temptation to do something quickly to relieve pressure and to live up to a self-image. While this is understandable, it is important to try to resist the instant gratification of a quick fix and for you to move away from "giving stuff" and providing hand-outs which create dependency and take on the bigger challenge of building capabilities and developing a sense of ownership and accountability. It is also important for you and your company not to fall into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering and turning what should be a positive into a long term liability.
WHAT TO DO:
HOW TO DO IT:
Build trust in the community development process
Define the company drivers and short and long-term objective for local development in a way that everyone on the project can understand and that you can explain to the local community;
Define the rules for assistance at all levels – donations, infrastructure and long-term investment - in a way that everyone on the project can understand and that you can explain to the local community;
Define local using criteria that make sense for the site (see below for some ideas);
Ensure all the players on site – company and contractors – consistently apply the rules.
Remember: Geography and Impact are commonly used criteria, often as a combination.
It is never too early to start;
Talk about your performance – on your website and in locally used forums. Radio, TV, social media and the tried and tested community noticeboard are all possibilities;
Explain to your local staff how and why you do community development the way you do. As with health, peer education is one of the best ways to get results;
Prepare a frequently-asked-questions sheet for everyone to use. Keep it simple, focus on the top 10 and aim for a single page;
Use the opportunity of site visits by company leaders to share community development related news and information with staff and community alike. One-on-one meetings, small groups and larger gatherings can all work.
Implement a good donations program
Donations are discretionary funding driven by requests from the community. While usually small dollars and short-term, they show the company is responsive to local needs and can be used strategically to support long-term objectives. Always:
Consider the bigger picture;
Define areas of support;
Define selection, assessment and approval criteria;
Communicate processes and the results widely;
Do quick impact projects well
Quick Impact Projects are high-visibility projects and are sometimes referred to as ‘ribbon cutting’ projects. They can be done quickly to generate good will and result in a tangible benefit, short-term benefit, usually in the form of a building or infrastructure. The benefits of quick-impact projects need to be weighed up against the risk of creating dependency and the question of long-term sustainability. Always:
All of the above plus:
Consult broadly during project identification, design and assessment;
Build training and skills transfer into program where possible;
Involve beneficiaries in tracking programs and quality and results.
Develop a long-term investment plan
Long-term Investments are activities, programs or projects that build local capability and self-sufficiency over time. They support longer term business objectives such as delivering lasting benefits, building reputation and sustainability.
All of the above above plus:
Choose the option that builds local ownership and capacity;
Move away from doing it yourself to making sure it gets done.
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO:
Know that money can’t buy you love: A multi-year study of over 60 international companies operating on five continents concluded that there is no correlation between the amount of money a company spends on community projects and the quality of their relationship with the community.
Resist the temptation to impose your own preconceived ideas: For communities, shared decision making is about respect and ownership. No matter how well intended, if a company decides the priorities for communities instead of with communities, people might willingly accept—but feel no responsibility toward— what the company offers. The result is a bit like when someone gives you a well-intentioned but inappropriate gift- at best you don’t appreciate it, at worst you resent it.
Help people recognise the importance of making choices: Large numbers of requests from communities for support tend to occur when the company has not set any parameters or managed expectations effectively. Open dialogue with communities on issues such as budget, criteria, and cost-sharing can help facilitate discussion on priorities and how to make the best use of available resources. Additionally, evidence suggests that when communities trust that a company is willing to support them over a longer timeframe, they are more likely to prioritize skills training and capacity building.
Defining Local: The more local involvement in defining local the better. As a minimum, include the views of national and local members of the site team. If you already have well established relationships with the community you could canvas views from as wide a range of people as possible. Gaining the support from the local traditional leaders is an important part of the process but needs to be done in such a way that other interested and affected parties are not excluded. Be prepared to review and revise the criteria as you gain more insight into the community. There is nothing inherently wrong with changing criteria but you do need to be clear about why, what and how and to be able to explain the process.
Sponsorships: Supporting sport is often seen as an easy win - kit, prizes and travel money don’t require a lot of effort by the company – and sport is often seen as a unifying activity because ‘everyone plays sport’, but equally the sport field can become a de facto battleground where longstanding and deep seated rivalries come out. Sponsoring a local sporting team or event shares all the characteristics that need to be considered in every other community based investment: Who is in, who is out and who decides? How to say ‘no’? How to exit? And, if you find it difficult to get it right with a simple sport sponsorship what chance a more complex community project? The message here is be careful, think before you act and give yourself the best chance to build connections instead of creating divisions.
Is that all? Companies are often told they don’t do enough and are often their own worst enemies because they put too much emphasis on their community development activities and overlook the bigger picture of their contributions through the taxes they pay to government, the wages they pay and the training and skills development they invest in their local employees; payments to suppliers and SME development, which is a bit short-sighted, particularly when every bit of data is at your finger-tips!
Orienting yourself (2021 update)
(the new bits are links to human rights and indigenous peoples resources)
We make assumptions all the time. Sometimes they are reasonable and sometimes they are wrong and lead to serious consequences. Investing an hour to do a little on-line research to learn about the the country where your project is located will be time well spent. While there are any number of sites to choose, I find some to be more useful than others...
Companies, Communities and the Sustainable Development Goals
Last year I wrote about how smaller companies can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals by staying focussed on the intersection of company, community and global priorities – the sweet spot. This year, I’d like to see what these sweet spots look like, starting with SDG3 which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
I recently came across this story from Zimbabwe while clocking up some miles in the gym – an ABC "All in the mind" podcast about grandmothers, mental health and the friendship bench. Having benefitted from access to counselling when going through my own difficult times a few years back it struck a cord. Inspiring and a reminder of the ingenuity and strength of local solutions. From very small beginnings the friendship bench has been exported to Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Zanzibar and, perhaps surprisingly, New York City...
I went to Ghana as part of a team planning to build a new mine. I had been working on the studies and design work for the company's Ghana projects for five years so I was very familiar with the project but not particularly familiar with Ghana which I had visited only three times, two of those being very short project kick-off trips. I was also a complete community novice, with this being my first overseas assignment so, perhaps not surprisingly, I made plenty of mistakes. What follows is a look back on some of the processes we put in place and the results we saw in three important areas...
I posted in March the benefits that result from working in a structured and systematic way. This follow-up is related to the outlook and governance aspects and again comes from Ghana. It came as an of evolution in our thinking, particularly in the areas of livelihood replacement, mitigation vs benefit and social investment linkages to the project life cycle...
I can’t think of one site I’ve worked on or visited that doesn’t provide some level of support to improving the availability of clean water and better sanitation. It is easy to cut the cloth to fit the available resources, although it must be said this is an area where it is easy to under-estimate the amount of effort to create long lasting behaviour change which goes far beyond simply providing a borehole or building a toilet and hoping for the best, which unfortunately is an approach taken by many companies, big and small...
Community health is another area that is very broad and where it pays to stay focused on a (relatively) small number of areas. Malaria, HIV and communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis have long been priorities for company and community alike. Ebola and COVID-19 are more recent concerns. The first three are essential in so far as ensuring a healthy workforce is concerned and are standard practices for responsible companies operating in Africa. And they are not that difficult to address...
Quality Education (SDG4) is a laudable goal but I have struggled for years to find a strong case for company funding of community requests for assistance with education-related activities and projects. I have never bought into the oft-stated rationale for spending time and money on the early education of future generations of potential employees. It just doesn’t stack up for most projects with their relatively short development and operating cycles. The exception might be where the majors (Rio and BHP come to mind) with their 30 to 50-year operating windows have a much stronger argument for inter-generational impact.
I don’t know about you, but when permaculture was suggested to me a technique for community development I had some doubts but having seen Edge5 Permaculture in action I am now a convert. The Edge5 way uses an integrated approach to design, combining the ecological processes of land, plants, animals and climate into highly productive systems resulting in stronger and healthier communities. The approach is practical and hands-on, encourages peer-to-peer learning, starts at the backdoor with intensive kitchen gardens before building to larger scale strategies for water-harvesting, sustainable farming (crops, trees and animals) and agro-forestry...
Making a contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.
For the last few years I have been making the case that junior and mid-tier explorers and operators can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) and just as importantly to be recognised for what they do, to the extent that shorter life-cycles, smaller physical, environmental, social and economic footprints, leaner management structure and lesser lobbying strength allow. So I’ve been digging away, looking for ideas to borrow and tweak. The ICMM was quick out of the blocks, mapping the SDGs to theirSustainable Development Principles. Another good source has been a think-tank reportmapping mining to the development goals . Both have been useful but they definitely reflect the capabilities and strategies of the big-end of town. More recently IPECA has published a guide for the oil and gas industry and the US FAO has incorporated SDG considerations into their Sustainable Forest Management Toolbox.
This story comes from my early days in Ghana. At the time we were in the pre-final investment decision phase and not having in-house community development skills we chose to work with a local development NGO. We also made the decision to put a strong focus on debunking community misconceptions that the company was the centre of their universe, that we had unlimited access to money and that we had all the answers. We had a very self-centred reason for taking this approach, believing as we did that success for the business was intimately linked to the ability of the local communities to develop and grow and that success would only come if we worked with local people and local government to identify and implement ideas and actions that would ensure that they would both be better off as a result of us operating in their backyard...
Electric mobility - harnessing Africa's engine of growth - its women
Can the electric mobility revolution help transform rural Africa and lift the daily burden for African women of carrying such heavy loads? Shantha Bloemen, founder of Mobility for Africa is convinced that with the availability of off grid energy, new advances in battery storage, and by adapting tricycles for off road African conditions, there is no reason it should not transform rural areas of the continent. She shares her journey to grow her start up in Zimbabwe and expand to other parts of Africa.
Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone?
An entertaining talk with a serious message about the unintended consequences of good intentions underpinned by preconceived ideas...
GATES-AfDB: Extractives Industry and Social Investment
History shows that an abundance of natural resources does not necessarily improve a country’s human development, which begs the question – how can governments turn new discoveries of natural resources into outcomes that matter for their citizens – including better health, better education, and access to quality social services? To try and find some answers the Africa Development Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came together to develop a joint flagship report: Delivering on the promise: leveraging natural resources to accelerate the human development in Africa. This paper, one of a series of eight, looks at how government and industry can maximize the human development impact of companies’ social investment spending. You can find the online publication at www.gatesfoundation.org
ICMM Community Development Toolkit
A key element of sustainability when it comes to community development is that actions must be community planned and driven. It just doesn't work if ideas are imposed by outsiders. When done the right way company activities can play a useful role, acting as a catalyst for positive economic and social change in areas that have limited opportunities for economic and social development.
IFC Strategic Community Investment Quick Guide
A strategic approach to community investment encourages creative thinking across the company when trying come up with ways to generate value for both your business and your neighbouring communities.
SDGs - Forty achievable targets
This list of 40 targets is the result of mapping the seventeen global goals against the company actions in the SLO-framework. It trims the number of targets from 169 by focusing on company activities and local communities, bringing the global agenda down to something achievable at a local level by smaller companies.
SLO Idea: Getting the most from baseline studies
We know that decisions that are well informed are more likely to lead to better results than decisions based on assumptions and inadequate data. Pulling together the socio-economic information needed, in a manner that is appropriate for setting, scale and stage of the project can seem overwhelming but, as this simple, one page guide shows, it doesn't need to be...
Small Doable Actions. A learning brief from WASHplus
A small doable action is a behaviour that when practiced consistently and correctly will lead to personal and public health improvement.
Zandvliet and Anderson: Getting It Right
This book has been written for corporate managers who are responsible for company operations in societies that are poor and politically unstable. Many such managers are frustrated with the situations they face. They try their best to run effective, profitable and beneficial operations that take account of the needs of all their stakeholders, including local surrounding communities. But, even with their best efforts, they encounter community dissatisfaction, unrest, opposition, and delays and, worse yet, threats and violence. Why does this happen?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Luc while I was feeling my way during my early days in Ghana and am forever thankful for the lesson (obvious with the benefit of hindsight) that resource development by default creates tension and conflict, and that it is how companies approach conflict – as an opportunity or as a threat – that shapes the ongoing relationship between company and community. Some of the ideas in the book have been particularly sticky:
Relationships matter – at a personal and business level this seems a no-brainer but sometimes the connection seems to get lost when it comes to communities
Company impacts are never neutral – they can be negative or positive but from the time a company starts work on-the-ground it starts to create change
People everywhere get annoyed about the same issues – this one gave me a lot of comfort that I could be confident applying the ideas to my particular circumstances plus, the issues are not complicated – behaving appropriately, taking responsibility for impacts and fair distribution of benefits are the keys
Relationships require ongoing effort – again not really earth-shattering news, so it is somewhat surprising how often it happens that over time we take things for granted and it takes a nasty wake-up call to show us how far we’ve gone off the rails
Company actions shape the nature of relationships – this last one relates back to the third point, because the reality is that the three issues that most influence a relationship - impacts, benefits and behaviour – are all company initiated actions, and it is totally within the company’s control to determine what it is going to do and how it is going to act