Carlos Cabrera, General Director
It is evident that in many different sectors and areas of our society, there is a clear trend towards being anti- or against new projects, services, models and initiatives; most promoted by the private sector, and many that counted with initial public sector approval or even involvement. Examples include renewable energy development projects, investments in electricity grid infrastructures or new management models for public goods that include transferring management of essential services to the private sector.
Until now, companies and organisations have tended to respond to such social rejection by aiming to explain to the various interlocutors their vision, from their perspective, without thinking to deeply about the reasons behind the rejection. Concepts such as speculation, excessive profits, and the inevitability of conflict between private and community interest are popular among social movements and can quickly become convincing arguments that are difficult to refute. At the same time, public administrations easily give in to social pressure and to the already classic opposition circuit: creation of platforms or associations, search for political and media complicity, elevation of opposition to European bodies asking for the repeal of projects or formulas of service management, global collection of signatures and endorsements and, finally, victory.
Business dynamics do not know how to react to this avalanche of movements and oppositions, and to the weakness of administrations and political representatives. This carries the latent risk of leaving the private sector and its initiatives in a very delicate position whereby they neither understand what is happening, nor how to deal with it. Surely this must now be one of the most complex moments in recent history in terms of low levels of reputation and lack of credibility of organisations.
The key is that it is not enough just to aim to explain something better, however good the arguments may be, and especially if the action or performance in question is already failing to inspire confidence in the majority. Instead, we must learn to put ourselves in the place of society, to listen attentively to what is being said and to really understand what people are trying to tell us. If we do this, we come to a conclusion: today it is no longer possible to carry out any activity or implement any local initiative until it fits well with three basic concepts. These are: maintaining transparency throughout the development process, especially at the beginning of each project; being clear about what the local benefit of the action will be (and making sure that there is one); and finally, for focussing on, and relating well to the local community from day one (not just on those directly affected or with close affinities).
This cultural change is definitely needed if these private, and public-private projects, services and infrastructures projects are to succeed. They need to be explained and analysed from below, and not from above, from the perspective of local people not from the headquarters of big corporations. There is no magic formula, just learn to incorporate the concepts of transparency, social-benefit and integration with the territory.
In some cases, it is too late for this approach to be applied because the social rejection has already become consolidated and immobile. This has been seen in the case of private management of highways or in some services that have returned to public management after the rejection of business intervention. But, despite this, we still have time to change cultures, models, and ways and to understand that social approval today is achieved by listening, relating and seeking benefits for the community.