Liberia – Change Management for local communities

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Liberia – Change management for local communities

‘The most effective way to manage change is to create it.’

When working for the rehabilitation of the hydro plant (the Mt. Coffee Hydro Power Plant outside Monrovia in Liberia) my role initially was to support the planning of the transmission lines but it then shifted quickly to the social aspect in supporting the affected communities through the changes they were experiencing because of the project.

A project of this size has serious impacts on the communities. Through the infrastructure, like roads that were being built for the construction, came better accessibility for the villagers to the city, to jobs or just to the markets. Through the demand in local workforce, which meant an influx of people to the villages, came a change in the structure as well as the economy of the villages. The workers created income for the villages not only through the needed accommodation and food, but markets quickly evolved to cater to the new demands and spending power. But their presence also caused serious challenges for the sanitation and waste management in the community, which caused a massive spike in hygiene related illnesses. With the high numbers of workers came also an increase of drug related problems, prostitution and crime. The workforce were mostly men who now lived removed from their own families and community structures and therefore did not identify as responsible members of their new community and did not respect leadership and elders in the same way.

So it became crucial to help the villages address and resolve these challenges.

A first step was for them to reflect and understand these changes as they were happening. To see the advantages that came with it, but most of all the challenges. In the next step it was important to work on solutions. Which was often not an easy process and needed patience and consistent reassurance, as much of it was trial and error. To address a challenge under normal circumstances means that it requires to understand beliefs, behaviours and attitudes to then be able to change them. But when that also takes places under new, unfamiliar circumstances and includes people that they don’t know very well or who don’t feel as part of their community then it requires a learning process and period that helps to understand what can work within these new circumstances, and how to continuously take action.
That was often also difficult because there were a lot of expectations towards the project, so for me it was important how to manage those expectations and how to help them develop ownership over the changes they were experiences and how to shift into a direction that aligned with their own vision and goals for their communities.

That also included to prepare them for the changes after the completion of the project when there wasn’t international companies present and the majority of the workforce was leaving again. So if they had started building businesses or invested in accommodation for the workers then they needed to also have strategies on how they would continue after the project.

The biggest challenge for sure was to address the hygiene and sanitation problems, raising awareness and then working on solutions like building latrines and introduce waste management to the community.

My focus when working with the communities was mainly on the leaders of the villages, who I supported through leadership trainings and in meetings with the community. But I also was very engaged with the general community and guided my own local team to build competencies that would help them to take charge of the processes so that my role would be more and more in the background and allow for me to be less present as the international project representative and for them to feel empowered in their own transformation.