The following is a short reading from my book The Social License I recently recorded for “Author’s Corner” on National Public Radio in the USA. It relates to Chapter Six of the book and the issue of community consent.
When we talk about an enterprise as having a “social license” what do we mean? I mean it has legitimacy through accountability to the people and not just powerful interests. But cultures surely differ in how they understand this.
As one indigenous leader in Guatemala explained to me: “Companies want to consult with us about their operations. They often want to know how long it will take our community to respond. We tell them that sometimes it will take one night, sometimes it might be a week, or even years. It depends on the question they ask.”
There was once a mining company desperate to open a mine deep within the Australian outback. The challenge for the company was the fact that the mine would sit upon the land of indigenous peoples. Under Australian law, the company needed to gain the consent of the local community before any mining could start. Every month, the company’s anthropologist went to talk to the village elders. One old lady sat there in silence during every visit with her eyes closed, letting the men of the village voice their fears and concerns.
The anthropologist was concerned by the silence of the woman. After two years of visits, the community was still withholding its consent. After one awkwardly long silence, the anthropologist was surprised to see that the woman had opened her eyes. The woman fixed the anthropologist in a long stare and said in her broad Aussie accent: “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”
I’m author John Morrison