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Centre of Social Excellence: A pathway to sustainable community engagement through social practitioners
Centre of Social Excellence: A pathway to sustainable community engagement through social practitioners
News Jun 25, 2024

Centre of Social Excellence: A pathway to sustainable community engagement through social practitioners

7 min read

For over 15 years, Earthworm Foundation’s Center of Social Excellence (CSE) has served as a training ground for experts in natural resource value chains.

Today, these experts play a crucial role in managing social and environmental issues and ensuring respect for human rights in their respective areas of operation. In Africa, it was established to resolve conflicts between logging companies in the Congo Basin and local communities, our Center of Social Excellence (CSE) Africa addresses issues such as land disputes, environmental degradation, pollution, deforestation, and the destruction of ancestral and spiritual sites.

Training during a Centre of Social Excellence (CSE) Short Course

CSE's short and long courses for social practitioners equip graduates to handle these and many other social and environmental challenges.

The program's primary goal is cultivating local expertise in building and embedding holistic social management programs into company, government, and NGO operations.

At the core of this transformational journey are the social practitioners who, after their training, now play significant roles in their professional environments, implementing the knowledge they have acquired. We explore the lives of two CSE alumni who share their experiences and the impact they are able to generate.

Francis Akong Binang, CSE Alumni 2015, from Nigeria

Francis Akong Binang, a Nigerian from Cross River State, is a CSE alumni of the 2015 batch who works with Siat Nigeria, a subsidiary of SIAT NV, as Health Safety and Environmental/Sustainability Manager (HSEM) in charge of the company’s certification process and health and safety. Francis gained access to the professional world after his CSE internship with Willmar International Nigeria. From a humble cocoa farming background, nurtured by his grandparents, Francis graduated from the University of Calabar with a Forestry and Wildlife Resources Management degree in 2004–2009. In 2015, he was selected by Earthworm Foundation (then The Forest Trust) as part of the scholarship funded by the Waterloo Foundation at the CSE in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

“CSE is a very important program and should be incorporated into the curriculums in universities.”

Francis pointed out that many companies struggle with certification, community engagement, health and safety, environmental protection, conflict resolution, and monitoring and evaluation.

The CSE curriculum equips social practitioners with the skills to address community concerns impartially and constructively, fostering cooperation and mutual understanding, thereby achieving harmony between companies and communities. Regarding environmental conservation, Francis noted the emerging concept of High Conservation Value (HCV) during his CSE training. This approach requires joint efforts from companies and local communities to oversee such areas (Concentrations of biological diversity, including endemic species and rare, threatened, or endangered species, that are significant at global, regional, or national levels.), recognizing the rationale and significance of their preservation. 

As an environment and conservation assistant manager, I manage and control over 5000 ha of HCV, managing illegal activities such as logging, farming, and hunting. I have identified forest areas suitable for HCV and enabled management to designate the area before replanting.

With the knowledge acquired in community relations, Francis was assigned to Ghana Oil Palm Development Company, a subsidiary of Siat NV, to help reorganize the community relations department, conduct a procedure review, and determine how it should be standardised as a mode of operation. After this, he was transferred to another subsidiary of SIAT NV as the HSE Manager, also doubling as the sustainability manager in the company, handling health and safety matters and the RSPO certification system for every subsidiary certification.

Graduation Day - Centre of Social Excellence (CSE) training in Guinea
Graduation Day - Centre of Social Excellence (CSE) training in Guinea 2023

Prosper PELO's Insights on Urgent Problems in Company Operations

Prosper PELO, CSE Alumni 2016 - From Democratic Republic of Congo

On the other hand, we have Prosper PELO, a distinguished alumnus from the Penya Promotion class of 2016 at the Center of Social Excellence (CSE). Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Prosper is the Senior Project Manager for 'Minerals for Peace and Development' at International Alert DR Congo.

A geologist by training, Prosper is a seasoned socio-environmentalist with extensive expertise in natural resource governance and mineral supply chain auditing. His career includes roles as a mining advisor to the Provincial Ministry of Mines, Energy, and Environment of South Kivu, DRC, and as a geologist and mining inspector at Service d’Assistance et d’Encadrement du Small-Scale Mining (SAESSCAM), currently the Congolese Ministry of Mines (SAEMAPE).

Prosper learned about the CSE while researching professional training in supply chains on the internet, seeking to enhance his skills and advance his career in the natural resources sector.

“I believe it’s crucial for initiatives such as the CSE to expand, thereby equipping numerous social experts with the skills to manage natural resources. This will also enable them to find roles across various domains—governmental, corporate, and non-profit organizations—ensuring that the core principles of their training can incrementally effect transformation.”

  • Companies often obtain exclusive rights to resources without consulting local communities, leading to disenfranchisement and restricted access for those who depend on these resources.
  • Many companies also lack strategies for engaging with affected communities, failing to inform them about projects and their benefits. Social practitioners are crucial for ensuring proper consultation and communication, specifying project benefits, and safeguarding community rights.

Prosper advocates for a "social license," integrating customary law with modern administrative licenses. This concept helps communities become protectors of projects. He stresses the need for free, prior, and informed consent and responsible Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies to manage natural resources sustainably and equitably.

One of Prosper PELO’s notable achievements, influenced by his training at CSE, is his practical work on community consent for mining projects in the DRC. He analyzed the CASA MINERALS Misisi project in South Kivu and published his findings as an article titled "Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: A Step Forgotten by Congolese Mining Companies." This work, supported by Max Impact asbl - a non-governmental organisation incorporated under Congolese law (DRC), working mainly in the field of governance in relation to natural resources, was shared with civil society actors and influenced the 2018 revision of the DRC's mining code. Although Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) was not fully adopted, the revised code now includes requirements for social and environmental responsibilities that can lead to the withdrawal of mining rights if not met.

Prosper's ongoing analyses on integrating small producers into supply chains have promoted peaceful coexistence between large mining companies and mining cooperatives. This practice, recognized in the 2018 mining code revision, is now being advanced through initiatives like the creation of the Entreprise Générale du Cobalt (EGC) to manage artisanal cobalt miners alongside La Générale des Carrières et des Mines (GECAMINES) in Katanga.

Earthworm's Centre of Social Excellence (CSE) in Africa has trained over 300 people from over 11 countries in short and long courses. Its alumni impact the management of approximately 7 million hectares of land and 700 communities, directly or indirectly impacting the lives of over 200,000 people, an estimated 25% of whom are indigenous communities.

The CSE program in Cameroon and Guinea continues to thrive on the continuous support of our funders and partners. Alcoa Foundation supports the Centre of Social Excellence in Guinea, and government bodies like the Ministry of Mines and Geology and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development provide technical guidance and strategic insights. Numerous companies have placed their trust in the program from its inception, fostering its growth and success.

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