Workshop ‘Stakeholder Engagement in Development Finance: Mediation, Land Rights, and Sustainable Peace’ – A brief overview

 By Athene Richford

On the 10th May 2019 the Law School welcomed professionals and academics from a wide range of institutions and organizations involved in financing international development, including the World Bank; the EBRD; as well as representatives from NGOs and experts in mediation and land rights.

The event entitled ‘Stakeholder Engagement in Development Finance: Mediation, Land Rights and Sustainable Peace’ was co-organized by Catherine Turner (Associate Professor at the University of Durham) and the Law School’s own Giedre Jokubauskaite (Lecturer in International Law).

The starting point of the day’s discussion was whether social and political disagreements feature in development projects and what the key challenges of consensus-building in development finance projects were. Looked at from the various vantage points of the interlocuters in the room this opening question was answered through a series of experiences. For example, one discussant representing a financing body suggested that although disagreements do arise after projects have been established, the key thing was to recognise the diverging expectations of the parties involved in a project; i.e. from the private corporations, to the host-government, and the communities within which the project will take place and that will be impacted upon (in potentially negative and positive ways).

The broader suggestion here was that sometimes a development project inherits legacy issues, i.e. the failure of a government to keep their promises; or perhaps the government is actually absent and, in such cases, there may be an expectation that the private company can “fill the gap”. This discussant suggested that such an expectation could thus lead to tension as the company could only fail to fill a role, that was not theirs to begin with.

Another contributor, an expert in land rights, suggested the overall importance of thinking holistically. Firstly, in terms of legacy issues, i.e. that a project that looks good on paper may turn “sour” because of an historical issue that may not be picked up by standard project planning due diligence. The holistic approach also applies to how something like land is looked at (e.g. legal concept, but also cultural, spiritual connotations) and how that may affect the different stakeholder perceptions of what is desired for the future. In their experience, legal land disputes can be proxy for multifaceted community grievances. In order to ensure these “blind spots” aren’t missed this speaker suggested “howcommunities are accessed” is key.

It was generally agreed that this was an important point and picked up by another interlocutor representing Mediators, who in turn suggested that the question ‘which people are identified as so-called stakeholders to a project’ is fundamental. Disagreements have “to do with far more layers than are taken into account: identity, race, class, ethnicity, post-colonial history.” Engaging people before the project is designed can not only be very valuable for the project’s chances of success but also be empowering for communities; the importance of the “need for not just legal permission, but social permission.” This represents just a few of the responses to the first question of the day.

The discussions during the day were rich and there yielded many insights. One such being the need for, and importance of, “insider mediators”; that is “a person that the community understands and trusts. The cost of these things can be expensive but surely less expensive than the failures [of projects]. We look forward to reflecting on the full day’s discussion in the forthcoming report based on the workshop, that will be published in Autumn 2019.


Please find the Workshop Programme here.