Corporate community engagement professionals in the renewable energy industry

Dilemmas and agency at the frontline of South Africa’s energy transition

September 20, 2021

As the development of large-scale wind- and solar projects gathers pace around the world, renewable energy companies are increasingly confronted with demands to engage with local communities in the planning and implementation of their projects. In order to address such expectations, renewable energy companies increasingly employ professionals to facilitate dialogue and collaboration with communities. These practitioners occupy a potentially significant position in the everyday implementation of socially just energy transitions but are also confronted with multiple dilemmas and challenges in their work.

A new research article by Mikkel Funder (DIIS), Holle Wlokas and Tasneem Jhetam (both Stellenbosch University), and Karen Holm Olsen (UNEP DTU Partnership) examines the challenges experienced by community engagement professionals in South Africa’s renewable energy sector, and how they try to overcome them.

Read it here.

The article shows that these practitioners occupy a difficult position inside renewable energy companies and face three key dilemmas, namely (i) how to pursue personal ideals in a corporate context, (ii) how to make a difference from a marginalised position inside the company, and (iii) how to deliver results without practice frameworks.  The researchers find that community engagement professionals actively seek to address their dilemmas through a range of measures, such as embedding personal ideals in their everyday work, mobilising their position at the interface between company and community, and creatively piecing together their own approaches to community engagement.

On this basis, the researchers call for more support to the work of community engagement professionals in ensuring a socially just transition, but also highlight the need for deliberation on the broader institutional mechanisms that govern renewable energy projects and their contributions to local development.

The article is based on collaborative research between DIIS, Stellenbosch University and the UNEP DTU Partnership. It forms part of the wider TENTRANS project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and administered by Danida Fellowship Centre.

Further publications and information on the TENTRANS project can be found here