How NGOs Can Build “Trust Bridges” Between Stakeholders in Africa

Debate at the recent Mining Indaba Sustainable Development Day in Cape Town, South Africa was a continuation of the discussion from the 2014 forum. The key takeaway from 2014 was that there is an onus on business to engage with affected communities in order to progress the development agenda. This year, Her Excellency, Graça Machel, President of the Foundation for Community Development shared her vision for the world, and Africa in particular, in a very engaging conversation with Dr. Anthony Hodge, President of the International Council on Mining and Metals.
Machel’s key departure point is that she would like to see an Africa in the year 2030 that is able to feed itself. Achieving this goal can only be realised if all stakeholders collaborate, and that business as usual needs to be something of the past. Large companies can no longer engage primarily with government when either entering a country to establish a business or to grow a business in a particular market. Machel singled out four key stakeholder groups: business, labour, government, and the communities directly affect by proposed or current mining activity. In her view, collaboration is hampered by a distinct lack of trust and that in many cases, a so-called “trust crisis” exists. Machel believes that NGOs can play a strong facilitation role in bringing together diverse stakeholders, as these groups are often highly trusting of non-government organisations in general. This position is reflected in GlobeScan Radar, a research program focusing on issues around trust and the interplay between business and society. The NGO sector is consistently rated only behind science and academic institutions when it comes to trust. Companies, and in particular global companies, together with National government are not trusted to the same degree. See the graphic below.

It is crucial to be as inclusive as possible when engaging with community stakeholders. Tom Albanese, CEO of Vedanta and Dr. Janina Gawler, Global Practice Leader, Communities and Social Performance at Rio Tinto both stressed the need for greater collaboration with communities, but also added that it brings new challenges. For example, engaging primarily with the leadership cadre in a community is a serious risk, as leaders might filter expectations and not fully convey the views and needs of the whole community. A number of speakers raised concerns that corruption is an ever-present issue, and therefore it is crucial to engage with a broader set of stakeholders within each community and not limit engagement to elected or traditional leadership. Delegates also called on business to ensure that women – who have traditionally been excluded or underrepresented in stakeholder engagement processes – are present and fully accounted at these critical conversations. The mere fact that two religious leaders, the Most Revered Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa and the Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana formed part of the panel discussion further highlighted the role that religious organisations play in facilitating more inclusive stakeholder engagement and emphasised the diverse nature of modern-day stakeholder engagement in Africa.
Gone are the days when corporations and government can assume that communities in developing countries are not informed about their rights and what they can expect from business. Access to social media and the proliferation of information has changed the context of stakeholder engagement forever. As John Capel, Managing Director, Bench Marks Foundation said, “Communities have opinions and they are able to formulate them quite well and it is key for business to listen rather than talk.” He stressed that engagement must always be as representative and inclusive as possible.