Decision-making, relationships and trust, and capacity development are three vital aspects of managing and meeting community expectations, says Inyathelo Executive Director Jessica Rees Jones. Speaking in a panel discussion at the Trialogue Business in Society conference in Johannesburg (16 May) Jessica said that ‘community’ is a misnomer because it is blanket term for multiple abilities, age groups and interests.
Referring to research undertaken by the University of Calgary and a Canadian Trudeau government initiative, she discussed roles and responsibilities involved in developing a social licence to operate. Capacity development is a learning curve for all parties; it is vital to understand who makes decisions, what the choices are, and to understand that relationships and trust are not sequential.
Jessica said Canada has examined existing standards, structures and policies and created a guiding set of principles and protocols in terms of social licence. South Africa offers an excellent opportunity to remove ‘us and them’ thinking and blame, and to put a more constructive framework in place, using the Canadian case study.
Jessica explained that the term ‘social licence’ does not mean one licence, as different sectors and stakeholders have different needs. It incorporates varying roles and responsibilities. If companies or other parties are to add value, and have a relationship with stakeholders and be empowered in a community, they have to develop and work within a central framework. The language between corporates and NGOs, civil society and government is different and needs a common language.
She gave an example of energy industries (such as wind farms) entering South Africa, and how an enterprise and the community might have very different expectations. For example, the company may predict a profit stream only after a number of years, while the youth might expect jobs immediately. It is vital for all stakeholders to be part of the conversation and to have their expectations heard, otherwise they will not trust the messaging.
Accountability underpins all three aspects (decision making, relationships and trust, and capacity development) she said. If individuals and stakeholders are aware of and understand and negotiate matters, it gives a different sense of accountability - individually and collectively.
Accountability is not only when things go right, but when they go wrong. In the case of Marikana, South Africa should unpack this example, and see what can be done collectively to avoid it again (and not only in mining). She cited the Royal Bafokeng as a successful example, whereby the community leaders embarked on a lengthy process with the mining houses on their land. The result was a massive return on this investment for the community.
In terms of dispersal of this income, expectations were managed not only in the immediate community, but also with other stakeholders such as migrant workers. A structured communications process invested a great deal of time in allowing stakeholders to tell their stories. Every quarter, all community members and other interested parties could attend a gathering in a process of massive transparency and accountability.
“None of these issues are simple, but if we focus on them we can get clarity,” said Jessica. “The process involves listening, telling the story and being accountable. We are asking some questions now in corporate social responsibility that we asked ten years ago, and we don’t want to be asking the same questions in ten years’ time.”