Ag Voice | Are you a victim of Community crisis crippling your business reputation?

Give surprises of crisis a surprise - Early stage comprehensive vulnerability study, an appropriate potential issue and, conflict resolution strategy is both a prevention and preparedness dose of medicine.

The Issue:

The economic liberalisation has ushered in, not only rapid growth for Indian industry, the need for them expanding into newer territories both here in the country and abroad throwing surprising and outstanding challenges right from entry till exit.

With the rapid extinction of availability of resources particularly space, the organisations are constantly looking for alternative options.  The availability of land in the rural India for any kind of industrial activity seems to constitute mostly that of agriculturel space that sustains the livelihood of the population there.  Arrangements steered by both Governments and the organisations to address the needs of the industrial expansions have witnessed violent chaos stemmed largely on account of lack of understanding of the local needs and issues equally.

The resultant factor of much of industrial development is a huge uncertainty at the grassroots level across many states in the country today.  India’s colonial past and capitalistic growth of multinationals perhaps has brought about a sense of uncertainty among the population, about the mighty large organisations wanting to establish their presence in their locality. 

Though there is an optimistic desire for being part of the so-called developed evolution of fast moving consumerism at the heart of india’s villages, the rate at which the so called organisations want to establish their presence with the kind of socially disengaged attitude has always forced them to look at things through microcosm of suspicion. Entry of an organisation into a village signals prosperity on one hand and exploitation on the other. The latter however, seems to be the general perception of the locals. It is some what like the fear of an unknown since people either have not understoodood or have not been communicated of the benefits. This fear in a way is instinctive, owing to entry of an unknown entity trying to occupy the ancestral territorial rights even if it be by legal means.   This is where the organisations big or small, Indian or foreign are stuck mostly some at the business commencement stage and many at the land acquisition stage itself.

What’s more, the complex set of land acquisition procedures in India have added to the already existing perils of the industrialisation. In many cases the central and state governments at the policy level and local administration when it comes to facilitating and implementing peaceful co-existence of both industrial activity and the social development have miserably failed.  The organisations being in a hurry of their business and market needs have adopted conflicting approach rather than co-developmental approach thereby have equally failed to reinstate the confidence and weed away the fears of the locals who were aprehensive of being or may have been already afflicted affected during the process at the hands of local implementers representing these projects on behalf of the organisations in expansion.

The conflict as seen between organisations and the locals, the two critical stakeholders is a problem not just for each other but also for the governments which have embraced an aggressive strategy of economic growth.

The absence of proper and transparent grass-root level social engagement often owing to hurrying exploitative business needs of the organisations and bureaucratic conveniences of governments have reached the problems in the hands of both genuine and hypocritical local social and political activists groups coming into picture as people’s representations or interlocutors.  Not to mention about the hurdles in the form of stringent environmental laws and multitude of clearance procedures by certain Ministries of Government - Ministry of Environment and Ministry Rural development and Panchayat Raj.

The organisations that have faced business continuity issues both at the project commissioning and at the commencement stage are aplenty.  Posco in Orissa, Tata is West Bengal, and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are some of the classic cases of community conflicts that all stakeholders have grappled to resolve in vain.

The lessons learnt by these examples are far too many.

Massive social and business projects with huge investments in cases as these require the organisations to understand the geo-political and socio-economic pulse of local communities before venturing into such projects.
As much for the organisation with desire to invest and expand, the desire to understand the vulnerability that could hinder the very commencement or sustenance of the projects seems abysmal at most of times.  

The Solution
One of the primary reasons for the rise of un-resolving conflicts has been the failure of organisations to identify and address the community level issues of the areas they wish to invest right at the early stage and adopt an appropriate long term mutually co-existing harmony rather than resorting to quick-fix approaches that don't deliver on the long run.

The rural India and the communities therein have a number of issues which govern them.  Understanding of these subtle yet vital matters need an extrodinarily special attention and a comprehensive public relations strategy and social engagement approach.

Vulnerabilities could arise through a variety of issues which may be political, social, economic, psychological, environmental, and cultural.

Identifying project related current and potential  vulnerabilities is vital to an organisation and its functioning in a new location, especially those areas which are not used to corporate investments in the neighbourhood.

Mapping of stakeholders and issues that could stem potentially at different stages with an audit on the quality of social engagement implemented at different stages of project commencement by project teams should be done through an in-depth grass-root level study with the help of specialist firms that have a touch and feel of grass-root understanding than that of a cosmetic feasibility pilots normally commissioned through global management consultancy firms often predict what can go good and not what can go against and at what stage and by what constituent.

There have been several instances of organisations which have set up operations hurriedly investing heavily and reached a stage of closure facing severe opposition that has become almost impossible to manage by when it is far too beyond for the organisations to realise the need for an effective social engagement.

What’s more, this organisations neither can afford the social reputation re-engineering required across different levels post the damage is done which is almost irrevocable nor do they have the wear-with-all to sustain the on-going battles of conflict that paralyses the entire business environment.

Organisations can pre-empt and avoid losses at many counts when a comprehensive vulnerability study is done to diagnose the issues at an early stage and appropriate potential issue management and conflict resolution strategy is set in place.

Rural India is mostly dependant on agricultural sustainability. Locals have huge insecurity when fertile agricultural lands are taken away from them. When  livelihood issues are identified, organisations could adequately take measures to reduce the fears and constantly engage with them. Treating the locals with respect and harnessing the local resources without much collateral and ecological harm, smooth relocation, provision of employment opportunities and infra-structural development and an on-going healthy social engagement and communication are some of the available options to annihilate some of these fears.

Political stakeholders driven out of selfish ambitions try to sway the locals in their favour to drive their ulterior agenda. Hence, identifying these stakeholders and predicting the kind of issues that could arise out of their selfish motives will help  address them according to the levels of  operational sustainability. Maintaining a satisfactory relationship with them is essential, to ensure that they co-operate with the organisation for its business conduciveness.

The expression and visible outcome of the vulnerabilities are often noticed through all stages of establishment of a project. Some of the outcomes include protests, physical destruction, political interference, legal issues and so on. One might assume that these might apply only to organisations in the manufacturing sector. An in-depth study on the conduciveness to sustenance of business operations is required for all other sectors as well. The issues that need to be looked into vary based on the nature of organisation. 

Thiruvalluvar, who is considered a divine poet cum philosopher who has mentioned an apt thought for this scenario in Thirukkural, one of the greated treasures of wisdom for all walks of life, in the chapter titled  “ The Possession of Knowledge “, 427;  “ The wise discern, the foolish fail to see, And minds prepare for things about to be”, 429, “The wise with watchful soul who coming ills foresee; From coming evils dreaded shock are free”

As these couplet suggest, a wise option for any one and that might apply to organisations as well is to know beforehand what is expected to happen.  They need to foresee, the kind of issues that could arise during different stages of establishment of the operations.  Feedback from the community will help to identify their opinion on the issues and the measures that could be taken to address them. This sort of upward communication needs to be utilised by organisations as it will also help them to customise the messages they wish to convey to the local community.

When issues are identified, the next step would be to prepare for the “calamity or dreaded evils” as the philosopher puts it. If for example, a project is considered to degrade the environment, the calamity could arise in the form of environmental activists working against the project. Preparation for the scenario would be to work along with them and look for their inputs on how a project could be environmentally friendly. Such sincere efforts are bound to produce results. As the philosopher points out, another advantage of such a measure would be that organisations will not be taken by surprise when issues arise rather they be prepared to give surprise a surprise to ensure that business continuity is not hugely at stake. By Jhon Arokiasamy.B

About The Author: 

The author is a Crisis communications consultant and COO of Good Relations India, a strategic communications consulting firm.


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