HomeBase MetalsAre mines adequately addressing rural and tribal communities?

Are mines adequately addressing rural and tribal communities?

Managing and understanding risks and opportunities and two-way engagement are terms always included in any stakeholder engagement programme developed and implemented by mines. 

But when it comes to engaging with local communities, are mines just ticking communications boxes or are they really getting to the heart of what matters and why?

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More often than not, a stakeholder engagement programme will commence with:

  • engagement strategy (setting vision and objectives for future engagement and reviewing past engagements)
  • stakeholder mapping (defining criteria for identifying and prioritising stakeholders and selecting appropriate engagement mechanisms)
  • preparation (focusing on long-term goals to drive approach, determining logistics and rules)
  • engagement (on-going contact ensuring adequate stakeholder participation and open lines of communication)
  • finally an action plan (identifying opportunities, reviewing strategy and tactics and determining next steps), based on feedback from the engagement phase.

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However, no matter how well a stakeholder engagement strategy is planned and executed, and while there are several essentials that should always be included or considered no matter the audience or objectives, community relations cannot and should not automatically be incorporated with other stakeholder groups. 

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Reality cannot be ignored – there is always a chance of a disconnect between shareholders, management, labour and affected communities living in and around most mine campuses. 

While traditional principles of stakeholder engagement include the imperatives of purpose, inclusivity, timeliness, transparency and respect, without a deep underlying understanding of rural, tribal or community dynamics, things literally get lost in translation.

Exacerbating this is engagement plan development which is often done through a management filter which may not adequately address the nuances and sensitivities of community relations.

Community stakeholder management is also not just a nice to have – it is an absolute operational imperative. Yet poorly executed community stakeholder engagements inevitably permeate into the mine’s operations. 

In many instances, community engagements are a mine’s top ranking operational risk and thus require very careful planning and execution. 

A badly executed or maintained community engagement plan will adversely impact the profitability and sustainability of a mine’s operations. 

We know there are key imperatives which lead to successful community engagement:

Each community is fundamentally different and several factors such as:

  • tribal and community structures
  • existing land rights, land claims, ethnicity and socio-economic requirements need to be taken into consideration.

As such any strategy must be regionally and community specific. Community is not a collective or all-encompassing term. 

There cannot be a one size fits all strategy which blankets various locations – each individual site requires a bespoke strategy which talks to the specifics of that community.

Aligned to this is the requirement to understand existing skills within each community and how they can best be deployed, skills gaps and how focused skills development initiatives can address disparities.

The communication strategy must be dynamic and an ongoing engagement. It cannot only be retrospective when there is an issue. This breaks trust and diminishes respect. 

Tangible development is critical to bolstering community relations.  Any developmental strategy always needs to be broad based and involve inclusive participation.

Tangible development cannot be achieved without understanding the legislative, regulatory, tribal and political environment.

There is often an overlap between various legislative elements and thus any meaningful socio-economic development will require careful planning across the differing acts – Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights, Agricultural Act, Limpopo Traditional Leadership and Institutions Act and so on.

Know who the gangsters are – every community has one.  Similarly, know who the “power brokers” are. Understand that women are the backbone of any successful community engagement.

Understand, understand, understand …. every community and traditional authority is different with varying challenges for example, is there a tribal challenge that needs to be navigated?

Perceptions are critical – every mine is seen as a possible cash cow.  Communities, broadly speaking, may battle to understand complex corporate decisions and announcements and the rationale behind them. 

Make sure that any communications speak the language, speaks with rather than to, delivers the message in a manner that is easily understood, talks to the mine’s intentions, and doesn’t set the mine up for failure. 

Communications is a bit like Pandora’s box – once out it cannot be retracted! Get it right the first time to start building trust and collaboration.

AUTHOR: Jennifer Stein, managing director, GGi Communications