Investing for Prosperous and Inclusive Communities

Companies from all industries face the challenge of mitigating their negative impacts and increasing their positive impacts on local communities, often with small community investment budgets. Meanwhile, community members increasingly expect more from companies, particularly as inequality grows. This session focuses on community investment and seeks to answer questions such as: How can companies shift from one-time philanthropic investments to a participatory process to design and implement strategic, sustainable community investments? What common challenges must companies face when making this transition? What are some reliable approaches for evaluating the outcomes and impact of community investments? This one-hour session will bring together perspectives from corporate players and a community empowerment organization.


  • Tracy Bame, Director, Social Responsibility and Community Development, Freeport McMoRan Inc.
  • Phillip Berry, Sustainability Director, Stora Enso Oyj
  • Christophe Dargnies, Director, Access to Energy, Total
  • Ronni Goldfarb, Founder, President and CEO, Equal Access International
  • Alison Colwell, Associate Director, Advisory Services, BSR (Moderator)


  • Corporate investment in local communities has historically followed a one-time philanthropic investment approach; the new model is moving toward a more integrated, participatory, and engaged process with local community members.

  • There is a tremendous challenge for companies across all industries to increase their local community impact, invent new approaches, and incorporate diverse perspectives as community members are expecting more interaction, investment, and involvement.

  • Companies face many challenges when deciding how to approach and prioritize their community investments. Evaluating the outcomes and impact is a critical component of the decision-making process, and companies have tools in place to help prioritize and understand the most sustainable projects.

Memorable Quotes

“Any participatory process is a messy one. As organizations we all have to find ways to get comfortable with that both internally and externally. You’re dealing with human beings, and everyone has a different point of view and perspective; you can’t predict what people are going to say, or do, or bring to the table. You just have to be willing to come to the table as an organization and hear what people have to say and be willing to be messy.” —Tracy Bame, Freeport McMoRan Inc.

“After you do the stakeholder engagement mapping and planning, then it’s low-level going into the villages. But it’s a lot of time and companies don’t want to pay to do it. That’s part of the challenge. You should be there enough that you’re not even seen anymore. Eventually, your face and my face shouldn’t be there, it has to be local.” —Phillip Berry, Stora Enso Oyj

“We try to engage [community members] as owners of process and out of that discussion comes ideas for projects. They’re the owners of the process, and it’s their job to think about and understand what sustainability looks like for them in their own context.” —Tracy Bame, Freeport McMoRan Inc.

“You really want to get to the underbelly of where the gaps are so you can actually provide something of value.” —Ronni Goldfarb, Equal Access International


Alison Colwell from BSR began the session by asking each participant how their companies engage in communities and what participatory processes and practices they have in place. Ronni Goldfarb explained that Equal Access, a community empowerment organization, uses three simple processes: interviews with everyone inside the vertical chain of stakeholders, stakeholder workshops to engage community members, and a loop process for feedback once the project has begun.

Tracy Bame of Freeport McMoRan, a global mining company, spoke about how the firm is moving away from the old investment and philanthropy model to a new engagement model where the goal is empowerment and capacity-building. They do this through structured programs, community partnership dialogues, a member-based panel, and a collaborative community process.

Phillip Berry from Stora Enso Oyj, a Finnish pulp and paper manufacturer, explained how, due to the nature of their business, they initially engage with communities on a gradual basis and then there is a punctuated engagement that accelerates as the trees are harvested. Stora Enso puts processes into place to make sure there are full-time people in the village communicating on a regular basis over extended periods of time.

The conversation then shifted to the tools that companies use to engage in the participatory process. Berry emphasized how working face-to-face is a critical piece of his company’s toolkit. He also spoke about their contract correction process, which consists of 20 lawyers who work with the villages. Bame talked about Freeport’s community-led funds, a pool of funds set aside for operating areas, which local panels define and prioritize. They also use a tool created by BSR that asks a series of questions relevant to stakeholder priorities and business priorities and, through a scoring system, plots responses on a matrix in order to identify top priorities.

Goldfarb explained how they work with other groups to codesign projects. They have a radio show for farmers, a mobile application for crop and market prices, community listening circles, town hall forums, and even street theater. Christophe Dargnies of Access to Energy, an incubator improving energy access for low-income communities, spoke about mapping that is done with top executives to leverage the local teams and their knowledge of the local environment, as well as partnerships with new types of players such as start-ups to assist with product development.

During the Q&A half of the session, a Goldcorp representative asked Bames how they get people to let go of their personal priorities and focus on the established matrix priorities. Bames responded with three major elements that take time and don’t happen overnight: They direct a lot of pet projects toward their United Way campaign and matching gifts program; they have an internal engagement dialogue reiterating how certain programs benefit the business, will impact the local community, and will help manage risk; and they set rigid matrix criteria and define strict boundaries and parameters.

Another audience member, a CSR manager in the cement and concrete industry from Lima, Peru, then asked panelists how companies can avoid conflict with communities. Berry pointed out that since poverty drives conflict and is unavoidable, companies must plan, budget, and staff for it, as well as communicate openly with Western stakeholders. Bame described how companies can’t stop engaging, even for a second: They must constantly communicate with communities about their plans and actions to avoid misunderstandings that lead to rumors and protests. Goldfarb focused on how telling the stories about what is happening is a way to share these positive efforts among peers. Dargnies explained how advance notification and communication with communities can help local members prepare for inevitable occurrences, such as natural disasters, and avoid protests that stem from surprise and lack of knowledge.

Joe Danni, a senior advisor at BSR, asked the final question about how companies ensure that they are hearing from the full spectrum of voices. Berry spoke about how difficult this is and how they can never know for sure. However, for them, it’s about putting processes into place to make sure they get to the people they normally do not talk with. Bame said they focus on creating relationships with trusted local entities, such as religious leaders or churches, who act as intermediaries. Goldfarb spoke to how their staff in each of the countries are nationals of the country and they try to reach everyone by l


November 5, 2014