Engaging with activist NGOs

Published on
February 26, 2015

Put simply, the age of digital and social media has empowered grass-roots, non-government organisations like never before.

Their ability to mobilise support from seemingly disparate corners of the globe and quickly activate campaigns that halt or delay projects has seen their focus change from lobbying government, to targeting companies and operations directly.

For organisations and business operating in this highly charged environment, navigating a path forward can be daunting — but not impossible.

The difficulty arises because very often, the facts about an organisation’s project or operation get lost amid emotion-charged campaigns that ignite and harness concern to mobilise the public using attention-grabbing sound bites.

In Queensland, for example, many communities would be acutely aware the Great Barrier Reef requires careful attention and would point to climate change as its chief destructive force. Fewer communities would be aware of the significant work a number of industries across Queensland are doing to protect it. Why? Because there’s little emotion in fact.

Faced with these challenges, what should a company do? Here’s a small list of absolute non-negotiables for organisations facing activist campaigns:

  1. Critically map those crucial to maintaining your social licence. Mapping is more than simply identification. It requires the fortitude of forensic-like investigation to gain a deep understanding of all your stakeholders — both advocates and those who oppose you.
  2. Create an emotional connection with the stakeholders who matter to you. Be they NGOs, community groups, local residents, or like-minded businesses and partners — look for common goals or shared objectives and communicate them consistently.
  3. Marshall your stakeholders. Be scrupulously honest with them and seek to empower them to advocate the work you are doing. ‘Bringing them into the tent’ can be achieved with the right approach.
  4. Proactively scan for emerging issues and risks, and plan accordingly. Issues and risks might not be easily apparent today, but very often they can be identified by examining national and international trends, or looking more broadly within the activist community.
  5. Embed sustainable development into your organisation and communicate your achievements. Remember there are tangible commercial benefits from effectively managing your triple bottom-line.

While it looks pretty simple displayed in a list, the art is in the execution.

At Rowland, we design and implement pragmatic stakeholder engagement plans that help you achieve and maintain consent for your operation or project in the face of relentless stakeholder scrutiny. For more information about how we can help you, please contact Marc Joshi, Group Manager on marc.joshi@rowland.com.au or (07) 3229 4499.