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A fundamental driver of community unrest and poor public relations is the disconnect between funding allocation and community needs. Project funding is often seen as either not aligned with the needs of the communities which surround the corporate entity, or as providing short-term, unsustainable benefits.

More South African corporate entities need to create strategies for mutually beneficial outcomes which boost businesses and communities around them. M4Jam’s Community Connect service is designed to be the platform that brings together corporate goals and community needs.

Community Connect is an important service because it amplifies the social change that is possible when companies contribute toward community development. It is absolutely possible to do the right thing ethically and achieve business goals at the same time. In fact, it makes great business sense to align community development with the sustainable future of the company.

Using an example of a mining company that was previously perceived as closed off to local community concerns and suffered fractious labour relations as a result, McCann says M4Jam helped the company identify key concerns, share information openly and respond transparently to show that the mining house was committed to community development.

Communities surrounding mines are overwhelmingly dependent on the jobs and wealth created by the mines in the area. Since these mines tend to have a finite lifespan, the economic sustainability of these communities can only be ensured if the mines contribute to the development of a localised commercial base that will ultimately become independent of mining activity.

In that case, M4Jam’s solution, driven through Community Connect, was to provide ring-fenced tender opportunities to the local community to generate income, develop skills and ensure that local businesses providing services to the mining company remained commercially viable in a sustainable way.

Through this pilot project, M4Jam was able to help its client create sustainable SMMEs around its facility, generate more external funding to the community, promote a positive relationship with the host community and avoid mine close-downs by reducing unrest incidents to zero during the course of the project. M4Jam’s tasking technology is still being used as the tender solution which notifies all registered local SMMEs of new job opportunities which can be pursued through the app.

That link is often missing in the South African context. By listening and engaging more closely, companies will be better placed to identify emerging community issues at a nascent stage and deal with them proactively. There are no simple solutions for success because communities are by nature complex and dynamic entities, but following principles of good practice through Community Connect will produce the desired outcome.

The first step is to acknowledge that if the company is to be truly sustainable, long-term engagement and involvement of surrounding communities is vital. A sustainable company works with the communities in which it operates over years to ensure that local people have a voice in development that affects them. They are then able to approve or oppose all of a development proposal or components of it. While this may initially seem like a frustration of corporate objectives, it moves away from one-off grants and paternalism to a strategy that is focused on long-term, collaborative outcomes.

The benefits are manifold and in this emerging model of engagement, companies work with communities on initiatives that help strengthen the social, human, economic and cultural capital of their surrounding area.

This requires a high degree of commitment in order to be effective, which must be driven by senior corporate leadership.

Community Connect is designed to prevent expectations from either party going beyond what can reasonably be delivered. Commitment from both parties is grounded in clarity about the reasons for engagement and what can be achieved. It also reduces the risk of terminal lack of consensus because engagements are constructive from the outset, rather than one-sided or rooted in scepticism. It is often the case that legacies of distrust have been built over years and have led to ‘consultation fatigue’.

While these challenges can be complex to address, Community Connect strives towards deliberative democracy which facilitates a collaborative exchange regarding policies and actions.

Increased visibility and understanding of issues across all affected parties empowers communities to be more self-reliant and have their say over decisions that affect their lives, their towns, cities and neighbourhoods. It provides opportunities for community members to contribute to public decision-making processes, and informs and educates communities on policy issues that have an impact on their everyday lives.

Through feedback, Community Connect enables organisations to listen and, in turn, demonstrate the value and impact of community contribution. Ultimately, Community Connect strives to build deeper, stronger and more trusting relationships between public organisations and communities. It helps organisations – particularly in the mining sector – improve the efficiency, legitimacy and transparency of their decision-making.

One of the best examples is from a mining industry client, which sought to implement a community transformation and activation solution to become more inclusive of host communities in its procurement. Historically, local communities which host mining projects tend to experience unrest and dissatisfaction as a result of exclusion from mining operations, and our client desired a way to effectively ring-fence tender opportunities for local small businesses.

M4Jam was tasked with developing a pilot project in 2018 – based on its proven crowd-tasking app platform – which would facilitate community development through creating an inclusive and sustainable community around the client’s operations at a particular site.

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