26 July 2019

Effective Community Engagement - A Model for Success

Submitted by Archy Hlahla
Effective Community Engagement - A Model for Success

Sheldon Mayet, Group Transformation Executive, Concor Construction 

To ensure long term success and a positive reputation, companies need to place community engagement at the forefront of their agenda before commencing with their projects.

Community Engagement refers to the dynamic relational process that facilitates communication, interaction, involvement and exchange between an organisation and a community for a range of social and organisational outcomes. It is a way of developing a working relationship between companies, public bodies and community groups. (SCDC - We believe communities matter, 2019)

Sheldon Mayet, Group Transformation Executive of Concor Construction says, “it is essential for companies to collaborate with and build communities in areas they operate. Community Engagement is about sustainability, it is about making a remarkable, realistic difference in society, within the budget and boundaries of what we can do.

When engaging communities, he suggests the 3C approach to ensure maximum benefits and value for all parties. First you need to Consult, then Communicate and finally, Compromise.

  • Before starting a project, you must consult all the relevant stakeholders and community gatekeepers. Seek information and advice from community leaders, e.g. the chief, religious and political leaders etc. It is essential to understand the powerbase within a community. , Engaging key figures will help to understand  local community needs and jointly find solutions to pressing needs such as skills development and training.
  • Establish ongoing communication forums and provide regular updates (weekly or monthly) about plans and outcomes. It is crucial that you are clear and honest in all communications.
  • Listen to what people are saying, consider their needs and concerns, and meet them halfway. Compromise to reach common ground and be fair to all parties.

A well-planned strategy uplifts the community and helps create long term social stability. Your community engagement strategy should also ensure that it creates room to develop opportunities to address local challenges such as poverty and local economic development.

“It is important to understand that communities are different, and you cannot always apply the same strategy in two different places. Approach each community with an open mind, and be willing to listen and learn,” says Mayet.

Every society is unique; therefore, it is important to research, know and understand the demographics of the area you are engaging. Mayet adds that trust is very critical. “You need to establish a sense of trust with the people you are engaging in order to obtain the licence to operate. Do not sell dreams or say things that you cannot deliver.”

Concor has a remarkable understanding of local engagement and its success is a good example to emulate. Mayet has been in the industry for over a decade s and has successfully executed numerous projects including engaging the community of Msikaba in the Eastern Cape where the company is building the Msikaba Bridge, the community of Hantam in the Northern Cape where the Loeriesfontein wind farm is installed and the community of Sunnyside, Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape province where the Jeffrey’s Bay wind farm is located.

Mayet shares the following lessons from his many engagements:

  • When running a project, there are always unexpected challenges, be agile and flexible to respond to all eventualities
  • Lobby as many local leaders and key role players as possible. Always remain impartial and never take sides on social or political issues in the community
  • Whatever you do, ensure that you add value to the community. Make every effort to create opportunities for social cohesion through education, sports, and community events.
  • Be clear on what the project will give back to the community in terms of job opportunities, trainings, wages and overall work environment. Do not overcommit and underdeliver.
  • Always be available for the community when they need your attention or assistance.

One area in which Concor has consistently enjoyed success, is through empowerment of local supplier’s project communities, this is done by local material suppliers and contractors.                  

This article was published by Archy Hlahla, Hlengani Communications on behalf of Concor Construction.