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Community Engagement as Part of Sustainability

As we draw closer to the United Nations Climate change Summit (COP27), which will be held in Egypt in a few months’ time, the message from COP26 is still loud and clear to the private sector. There is need to consider business unusual scenario through the linkage of business strategies and sustainability ambitions of a firm.

The movement towards sustainability should not be seen as a feel-good agenda but that of doing good as a business. The key is to maximise the stakeholders’ value and at the same time ensure that the company remains a going concern.

For all businesses irrespective of the sector it is important to consider and pay attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) challenges and opportunities that may be present. This, for instance, will include keeping a watch on the business carbon footprint, resource consumption, social issues withing the firms among other sustainability elements.

Community engagement is key to the success of any given corporate sustainability strategy as it assists businesses and their employees to understand and embrace challenges that may be facing such organisation from a community perspective and ensures a beneficial relationship with communities.

Businesses worldwide may set better priorities and promote sustainable development by involving their communities and ensuring continuous feedback from such communities.

According to the United Nations, sustainable development is development that “meets the requirements of the present without jeopardising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs”.

Sustainable development calls for us to figure out a way to live and grow our economies while protecting the environment and addressing the social challenges.

The significance of community engagement has become crucial for well-functioning, twenty-first-century democracies with the surge in deepening and increasing public engagement globally.

Since it is likely to result in more sustainable public decisions and enhance the livability of local communities, community engagement is not only desirable but necessary if we are to attain viable positive interactions between communities and the private sector players. Engagements with the community are crucial for everyone—individuals, public and private sectors alike.

There will be no sustainability without community engagement. Community engagement is an important facet when it comes to the determination of the material topics for companies’ sustainability engagement.

The materiality concept is the methodology which is used to determine the most important and significant sustainability topics for a company to consider when it comes to its sustainability engagements.

Organisations should aim at cultivating broad ownership of their projects which will be achieved through collaboration. Establishing a culture of collaboration will result in stronger relationships, better projects, and greater participation in the near and long term.

Collaboration can occur naturally, but being deliberate, planning and structured processes are the best for maximum benefits.

The SDGs form a good basis for companies and communities to collaborate resulting in sustainable development. The SDGs continue to gain traction as more and more companies engage with them.

There are 17 SDGs and each has several objectives which were developed through community engagements as well as input from other stakeholders – governments, private sector, regulatory agencies, faith-based organisation etc.

SDGs have placed a strong emphasis on community involvement for instance under SDG 6, Clean water and sanitation for all, community participation is key to achieving the underlying objective of the particular goals.

When the government and private sector seek out the aspirations, concerns, and values of communities and embedded them within their operations. More success will be achieved compared to instances where such community engagements are not involved and at the same time better able to respond to community needs.

The 17 SDGs are broad and comprehensive objectives that businesses should work towards in bringing genuine change at the local level. Local governments and businesses have a significantly better chance of making progress toward the SDGs by incorporating locals directly into their activities.

They should also ensure that the selected activities are tailored to the local context and directly serve the community.

While there are many instances of remarkable success as a result of community engagements, there are also many instances of failure and hence not leading to the desired results which further disadvantages the most vulnerable groups. However, community engagements remain necessary if we are going to achieve sustainable development in an efficient and effective way.

Community engagement is an integral part of our journey to sustainability. In order to produce long-term and sustainable results, private sector companies should aim to engage the community in a much better way.

This would call for a deliberate community engagement strategy which will provide the methods and strategies of engaging with the communities including relevant key performance indicators on community engagements.

Additionally, strategy should emphasize the importance of building and enhancing trust as a fundamental component of long-term, sustainable and efficient engagement with the communities.