Nigeria’s Corporate Social Responsibility literature is replete with copious examples of failed and abandoned development projects running into huge millions of naira. Human Rights Watch states in one of its reports that almost every community in the Delta area of Nigeria has a failed, abandoned or non-functioning water or electricity scheme sponsored by multinational oil companies (MOCs). London based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in putting a cost to the losses revealed that in Africa, about $360 million has been spent on building boreholes and wells that have become useless because they were not properly maintained. From Egypt to Ghana and Liberia, every country on the African continent has its own fair share of failed and abandoned CSR projects.
While corruption, absence of government support and poor planning have been identified as some of the causes of CSR project failure, one that stands out conspicuously and widely accepted as the major cause of failure is the insensitivity of corporates to the voice and input of the stakeholders who these projects are meant to help. While needs assumption can be a winning strategy in business, it often fails awfully when incorporated into CSR project processes.
A case in point is that of a multinational oil company exploring oil in Nigerian waters which decided as part of its CSR to build a fish processing plant in one of its host communities in Akwa Ibom state to empower people in the community. Unfortunately, the plant stands empty and unused because it is constructed a long distance from trade markets, lacks electricity for cold fish storage and lacks qualified personnel to effectively manage it in and around the community. The money, time and vital resources that went into this project could have been saved or expended on a thriving project if the company had consulted properly with the people of the community instead of assuming their needs.
However, the company learnt lessons from such failed projects and for subsequent projects invested in stakeholder engagement using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) to determine the specific needs of people. This afforded the people a chance to have a hand in developing the project plans. This process facilitated project success and efficiency while also solidifying the relationship between the company and its host communities and saving the company a lot of money and time.
The case cited above typically underscores the need for corporates to pay crucial attention to local engagement before committing to CSR projects. Ask the people what their most pressing needs are and liaise with them on how best they think the needs can be met. This gives the beneficiaries a sense of responsibility and enhances project sustainability as beneficiaries own the projects and maintain them long after handing over giving that their own resources also contributed to the success of the project. Moreover, like it’s been mentioned earlier, it also saves corporates’ time and resources as the locals can be co-opted to use their expertise, time and influence to foster progress. Furthermore, engaging stakeholders is also a form of risk management as it fortifies the relationship between locals and corporates thereby making cases of conflict and security a rarity.
However, while choosing a bottom-up approach rather than a top-bottom one, we must be careful not to be blinded by the engagement euphoria. Too much consultation is as detrimental to project success as little engagement and sometimes those with the loudest voice do not really speak the mind of the community but seek to feed their own parochial interests; the more reason why corporates should employ the services of skilled and experienced CSR service providers to help them navigate the slippery interstices of stakeholder engagement. Plan your stakeholder engagement painstakingly, consult with stakeholders early enough, open vertical and horizontal channels of communication and most importantly, build relationships with your stakeholders.
- Causes of failure and abandonment of projects and project deliverables in Africa. PM World Journal Vol. VI Issue 1. Chima Okereke, January 2017.
- Why stakeholder engagement is an important aspect of project management. Kahootz Online. John Glover, January 2015.
- How to effectively manage and engage project stakeholders (checklist). Software Advice. Eillen O’Loughlin, 2016.