I hope those who participated in the learning exchange in Sierra Leone last month are back at work and doing great things. I’d like to share very quickly how we started implementing a small but important suggestion from one of you and the results we are getting. During the exchange workshops, we shared how several villages that we work with brought three class action cases against the biggest iron ore miner in the country for pollution of their land and water sources, among others. We discussed the importance of being in really close communication with our clients during this sensitive period and one of you suggested a daily check in with them. Before now, we touched base with them when there are updates to share. They also call us if there are developments in the communities.
Based on the suggestion, we began calling each of the communities daily to find out how they are holding up. Even if there is no specific development to share we still call them for a few minutes. We always end with an assurance that we are in the fight with them to the very end.
As a result of this, a number of things have happened. First, our relationship with the communities is getting deeper as we talk about issues that do not relate directly with the cases but which are important to them- a death in the community, a celebration, etc. The community members themselves are picking up on this and look forward to calls. Second, we get information about any development almost in real time. Recently, we heard from our clients, on the same day, that the ore miner went to invite them to a meeting where payment of surface rent was to be made. Our clients wrote to the company and the paramount chief stating that they would not attend the meeting and wouldn’t collect any money. They directed the company to talk to us. The stance by the community members is unbelievable, as surface rent is one tool that companies use to manipulate communities and weaken their resolve. Our clients are standing firm.
The communities do not just wait to hear from us daily. They use their resources to make conference calls and provide update on matters arising daily and seek for advice or direction.
Thanks to the participants of the learning exchange for the emphasis laid on the increased communication with our clients. We are experiencing the benefits of the daily exchanges with our clients.