Tisha Greyling is a Principal and Director, Golder Associates Africa

Words of Wisdom:Nothing is ever simple on your path to reach your dream or your goal. Accept that and don’t see it as a stumbling block. Have a plan A, plan B, plan C and still be able to think on your feet.” – Tisha Greyling

Interview with Tisha Greyling, a Principal and Director at Golder Associates Africa.

Tisha Greyling is a Principal and Director, Golder Associates Africa

Tisha Greyling is a Trailblazer in public participation in South Africa. Tisha founded the first company that focuses on Public participation & engagement of Stakeholders in South Africa. Acts as Project Director, strategic advisor, reviewer and mentor for social and environmental assessment and management on large international projects in various sectors.

She is an accredited trainer with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). She has developed and reviewed numerous guides on Public Participation /Stakeholder Engagement, presented training in social impact management to a wide range of companies and organisations, has worked extensively with international bodies and has directed social impact management programs for several large mining and oil and gas companies.

She has worked and trained in the mining, oil and gas, energy, waste management, industrial forestry, chemical and paper manufacturing sectors in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the UK, Italy, Romania, Canada, the USA, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Singapore, Chile, Peru and Brazil.

Tisha acts as Project Director, strategic advisor, reviewer and mentor for social and environmental assessment and management on large international projects in various sectors.

Tisha’s expertise has also been tapped into on many of the boards she has served on.

Website: www.golder.com

Tisha Greyling is a Principal and Director, Golder Associates Africa

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

What was the catalyst to work with an organization like with an engineering firm, Golder Associates?

Golder is an employee-owned company, so you actually are part of ownership structure, which was the first attraction.

Secondly throughout my career I realized to make a difference in society that you need three strong pillars:

  1. Engineering
  2. Social and environmental science
  3. Communications or engagement of people

Myself and others came together to become the Africa arm of Golder Associates to bring all those disciplines together to make a difference in Africa especially in the projects in which we work.

You need to have all three to have all perspectives to make a difference.

For many years of your career (1998) have focused on public participation, consultation and awareness creation…Can you explain the importance of this focus?

That focus is part of making a difference. Worldwide we know when you bring people into a project that they will be affecting as a result of that project. You get local knowledge so you understand their fears, how they live their lives. With this information you can plan upfront to avoid or mitigate those impacts.

All these stakeholders, which could include NGO’s, or really emotional house wives, or afraid communities, when you bring all their views into a project you have a lot of free consultants that help you design your mining or your oil and gas project.

You bring in people you create relationships. In mining and oil & gas, for that matter in any large development today you need to have good relations with your neighbours and your stakeholders and that is what we help our clients to do.

Can you give us an example in the oil & gas industry where you communicated to the community and had an affected some of the decisions on that project?

In South Africa we on worked 555Km multi-fuel pipeline, meaning hazardous pipeline, from Durban on the coast to Johannesburg. Most of the pipeline had to go through private land because it is so built up between those two cities.

When we accepted the commission from the client we made it very clear that it is no use giving us a line on a map that an engineer has drawn where they want to pipeline. We need to bring in the local knowledge of the people that would be affected as well as the engineering knowledge. We would go to a farmer and say: “A pipeline needs to go through here somewhere, for you which would be the best place if it was to cross your farm?” The farmer may say: “Straight over that mountain” and the engineer would say: “That Is not possible. ”On the other hand the environmental people would say: “You can’t take it through there because it is very sensitive wetlands” for example.

We started off with 36 broad route alternatives. We worked with the public, landowners, farmers, engineers, social specials and the environmental specialist. Worked with teams and through ongoing dialogue with everyone, we found a route for that pipeline within nine months. That pipeline route was designed in a participatory process.

How many stakeholders did you need to communicate to for that project?

Since we had so many route alternatives at the beginning we personally contacted over 900 private landowners. In most cases face-to-face, sometimes on the phone or in meetings. In the end there were 450 to 500 landowners that need to sign the servitude agreement. It wasn’t our job to get them to sign the agreement, but they were signed after we met with them all and assisted them to make their contribution to where the pipeline should go over their land.

In some cases there was some advantages. One farmer said they had just bought the farm and they would like to have horse trails. When you building a pipeline you clear 30 meters of space to dig the trench and also for the working space for the vehicles. One farmer asked for it to be made in a specific area then they would have my horse trail on top of the pipeline.

When you approach the community is there certain procedures you need to go through for example i.e. Discuss with chief. What is the process you take to engage the community?

It depends on whether it is rural communities or say commercial farms. There are always leaders be it of farming associations or NGOs, leaders of communities.  The protocol is often different. You make very sure before you approach people what is the local protocol. Sometimes you have to go through the local university or you ask someone in the know.

What we do when we work in countries outside South Africa when we are not familiar with the culture, we always team with a local counterpart organization. In the process we help build up their capacity. They can pave the way for us culturally and by using local languages. They help us make sure that we don’t make a mistake.

In some cultures for example you should never touch a Chief with your left hand or if you give a present or document, you have to give it to the chief advisor. It would be the same if someone came into an organization and started talking to your people without your permission, that is not a good feeling.  We need to follow those protocols.

So partnering is one of the key ways to find out those protocols.

Absolutely, local counterpart organizations in Africa you always will find a small local firm that works in the environmental, social or communication field, or it can be university. These people know the local knowledge. We may have better expertise in communication, in message management, development of materials, but they know what the local circumstances are.

It is excellent advice no matter what business you are in – learn from the people who have first hand experience.

What else can companies do to promote public participation?

If the project you are embarking upon in anyway will affect people, by law in most countries you have to ‘consult’ most people. Often companies are afraid to do that because they are afraid to loose power. They may feel that it is their decision to be made or the government’s decision to be made.  Why should I go ask these people?

We assist people to overcome that by illustrating the benefits of consulting people. We often help by explaining to clients the benefits for engagements. There is great research coming out from such respected institutions such as Harvard Business School about the advantages of stakeholder engagement. One of our mining clients in West Africa in 2006 had work stoppages, road-blocks and really bad press. We assisted them by helping build good relations with the local people. Talk to people, have a relationship. The resent research shows today, that they spend 1.6 million dollars per annum LESS on security because they have good relations with their communities.

If you view public participation in the right way, it is like getting a lot of free consultants to design your project. As a developer, be it a big project or small, you don’t want to have 20 or 30 years of grief with your neighbours.

You need buy-in to the process. If you can try to get buy-in to the project, but if they agreed to the process it can have a more favourable impact. Sometimes what can happen is promotional experts will go out and try to sell the benefits of the “project” without talking about the impacts and how they can be mitigated.

You need buy-in to the process and from that you will get support of the project if people happy with process and they see their views have been taken into consideration.

As a trainer and someone who has directed social impact management programs for several large mining and oil and gas companies. What are some of key pieces of advice to consider when implementing a social program?

When implementing a social program you have to make sure that that client has done or going to do a social impact assessment.

  • Will they be doing stakeholder engagement, receiving people’s input?
  • There is often a resettlement program where people need to move to make way for the mining or oil & gas infrastructure.
  • You often have to do training with the construction crew on social management.
  • You need a community impact avoidance plan.

It is whole sweet of social management plans that need to be implemented. In order to do so, you need to understand the international best practices standards in the world today and those are:

  1. International Financial Corporation they have performance standards. They have eight of them, which six focus on social management and they guide you in having those social management plans.
  2. Second thing that is critical, especial on large project, you need to have senior social scientists or communicators or resettlement experts. You need senior people that can think on their feet.

Those are the two key things.

Clients are often really surprised by the budget, because these things can cost so much. You often need large teams of people to go out into the field and talk to the communities and make presentations.

I always say, “Good social management can cost money, but bad social management costs a lot more.” If I am not mistaken, this comes from a 1996 IOC publication and I have been using it ever since with great affects.

Can you state some of the consequences of badly executed social programs?

Projects all over the world have challenges with things like:

  1. Road blocks
  2. Work stoppages
  3. One of my clients in Mideast had people arriving and shooting guns in front of the bulldozers saying: “Stop the work. We want jobs” or “you damaged my house.”
  4. We know some oil & gas projects around the world there have been deaths and random shootings.

All sorts of negative things can happen if you don’t have good relations with your community.

I am not saying something will happen, but often people feel so powerless in their countries with inadequate laws and then they have this really big major company and they feel completely powerless. The community resorts to measures that are not acceptable to us.  The shooting in front of the bulldozers was there only voice. This is what happens when people feel powerless.

Give us an example of a social program that was implemented well and huge positive implications on a project.

In the Congo for a mining company in the 90’s. It was implemented really well after some trouble and strife with the community. This mining company started communicating and we assisted in having meetings. The mining company did a social impact assessment and started supporting community development. Some of the people who were most against the company and angry toward the mining company in the beginning ended up in their own businesses.

The mining got a trusted NGO to help people in the community to establish their businesses. Every brick that was made for the mine, every piece of road, every door frame was made by the local people in their own businesses.  When that phase of the construction stopped, that money was circulating in the local villages with people saying they needed something done to their house etc. there was sustainability.

As we all know, we all have to work on relationships. It takes a second to break the trust and it will take a long time to build it up again. With a lot of work, this company did.

You mention sustainability, do you have any advice on how to make a social project, such as a community project, sustainable?

Africa if full of abandoned schools and hospitals, put up by some companies with very good intentions. They leave, there is no longer money to support those hospitals to pay the nurses and doctors salaries.  The notion on sustainability that came out of the world summit in 2002 very much relies on partnership.

You’re a mine, you are going to be there for 20 years, what ever you do during construction and operation you want to endure post closure. If you can partner with someone who is going to be there a lot longer than you and who has the local expertise, that is often an NGO, Church or a university. We now see models coming out where companies establish a separate company with Directors, secretariat to run this community development projects so they endure post project.

This is something close to my heart, as I have read, and seen often individuals and organizations coming to poor countries and setting up projects then leaving them. Sometimes without the money to sustain it or the education to repair it.

That is often why providing a hand-pump for a bore hole is often  more effective than a mechanical pump because when it breaks down no one can fix it.

I just want to say something else that is important in terms of sustainability of social projects.

We cannot, or should not decide what the project should be, the community the stakeholders including the government stakeholders themselves decided what is needed there. We see very well meaning projects vandalized because people say “You never bothered asked us.”

There is a great publication from an Australian Aboriginal leader called: Ask first.

I actually did a keynote to the engineering community under how much money is spent under the banner of ‘help’ and then how much is wasted.

In your role of cross culture communications, can you share some strategies you use to communicate cross-culture. Indicated by your introduction, you have needed to communicate with 20 diverse cultures – where has it been the most challenging for communications and why?

I worked on an oil & gas project in South East Asia where you find true indigenous peoples. Some of those tribes have only became known to the Western world in 1970’s. I have found working in Africa, Europe or Australia there is an imprint of the European culture. Then I working in East Asia everything was counter intuitive to Western or European thinking.

For example:

  • You (from Canada) and I (from South Africa) we enter into agreement so we sign a contract. There signing a contract was only one part of the negotiation. The contract only lasted as long as both parties were happy. That is completely counter-intuitive. Also there where a lot of tribes, 800 languages and a history of tribal warfare. There is a problem with a worker of the one tribe, perhaps has an accident in a company vehicle and kills someone from another tribe. He immediately runs away because the tribe is going to kill him, and if they can’t find him they are going to kill his brother. That is just one example of working in a completely different environment and bring local people into our engagement teams was absolutely necessary.
    • If you are asked “can you put a school here?” You reply, “we will put that forward as a suggestion to the company.” They have taken that as a yes.
  • Another interesting case was in central Africa where jealousy and the spirits are very closely linked. You have more than me, so I get jealous and the spirits tell me to kill you. This was also for a mining client and they were going to create a thousand jobs, but there were 10,000 people in the area. The concern was, were a 1,000 people going to be killed because of jealousy?
    • We ran program and communication management that a job is not only way to benefit from this mine and gave examples of benefits.

What are some of the most important elements to consider when communicating cross culture?

  • The things you may or may not do…
    • In some cultures you can’t look into the other person’s eye
    • Some you can’t touch them with your left hand
    • The most important thing to do is your homework about the culture
    • Secondly, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. How does that person want to be communicated with?
      • What is there tradition?
      • Example: when I was in Congo and met with the Chief, he was sitting down. I immediately sat down in front of him. I did not stand and look down on him.
      • In cross-cultural communication you need to use simple language, not technical jargon
      • We find in the field where we work, African’s are use to old style mining with really negative impacts. To explain modern mining we use verbal and visual presentations. WE don’t explain it ourselves, we get local facilitators to explain it. We train them we explain it to them modern mining.

What advice would you provide to women in dealing within a male dominated industry particularly being much of Africa is a patriarchal society?

For women to work in the field of mining and oil & gas as a minimum she needs to have the same qualifications as men – A Masters, or a  Doctorate. There are a lot of women that have those qualifications now. When you interact on a professional bases with people in that field, as qualified and experienced as they are gender doesn’t become as important.

Professional women, if gender does come into anything, take the moral high ground. Just prove your worth.

Women in rural communities life is very hard, but there are often strong women that are role models in those communities. There are NGOs that create programs to build capacity of young girls in terms of women in society. It is not going to be solved in a years time or our life time in traditional society.

We make a point that women’s voice are heard when we do our community outreach. We also make sure some of the programs that are implemented benefit those women.

What do you think has been the most significant impact you have had in your career to date?

I think there are two things I would mention:

  1. By bringing the voice to people into projects, sometimes fighting hard with our clients and saying “you should not do that or you will have this impact.” And being successful in that making a difference on the ground. That has been very rewarding for me.
  2. Leaving a legacy. I started my own company in 1989, and some of the staff that joined me in the early 90’s are still with me today in senior positions. They came in at a lower level job ie. Cleaners, secretary etc. I tried to leave a legacy with people I work with and elsewhere. At Golder, I am the technical lead in these services and the last two years I have trained all over and to get an email of thanks is very important to me. .

If there is one thing you would attribute your success to, what would it be?

I have a drive to succeed probably because I grew up in not a very wealthy family. Everything is a stepping-stone to my dream. I just keep learning more and make more of a difference.

What is the most challenging aspect of career?

Convincing clients of these feeling things – the importance of public participation. My clients have often chosen a career in the first place not to work with people. Now I have to stand-up in front of people that have been able to all their lives design a mine or oil & gas field without any interference and have done it well, now they get all this soft stuff coming in.

It is often very challenging to explain to people that are experts in their own field, this new discipline is not only going to make a difference but is essential for the laws; banks will not lend you money unless you can prove you have the plans in place to be environmental and socially responsible.

This is very challenging for clients to open their company and plans to the public.

What was the biggest obstacle in your career to get to this point?

It links back to getting the qualifications. I started my own business with a B degree. I thought at some point if I wanted to be respected from people that are two, three levels higher then me in education, I better get a Masters.

I got a Masters degree in two years while starting my business.

Have you ever implemented a project that did not work as intended? If yes, what would you do differently now knowing what you know?

At some point during the recession in South Africa my company, which had grown and we were now 25 people and all of sudden we weren’t doing well. All of our clients put their projects on hold for six months. All of sudden I had this machine to feed and unfortunately I had to let some people go.

Because we were working in so many places, with so many projects, I let some key elements of running the business go, things that I should have looked after. One of them was signing cheques. I had given that responsibility to someone else, and too much money flowed out without me keeping tabs on it.

I would be a little more circumspect to grow so fast, if I ever did start a company again – which is highly unlikely. Been there, done that – lots of hard work, however, I would rather work with sub-contractors when you need them rather then hiring full-time employees.

The economy fluctuates so much that you just may not be prepared for it.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself discovered when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

Persuading people in technical disciplines that they need the communication aspect of the business. That was hard to build a business that had not been a business before in South Africa and perhaps not in Africa. To build a business on public participation was so new and even now it is still a challenge.

If there was one thing you would do differently in your career, what would that be?

I went through menopause through my mid forties, and I did not know what it was. I became very cranky, an unpleasant person and extremely anxious. I became very strict and judgemental.

My advice to people when you go through those years, realize it. Go get help. Know that there is something wrong when you suddenly change personality.  When I eventually went to see a therapist, I realized that was the problem. Knowing the problem made it better, but it had been going on for two or three years.

I would get help sooner when I am struggling personally.

I have always got help from mentors in business and business projects. One forgets to get help for ones self.

What does success mean to you?

It is leaving a legacy. I would like to sit on front on my porch and move my chair with the sun and see people making a difference in their lives based on my contribution.

How would you define leadership?

Is to have the ability help people in a certain direction while building their capacity and profile. It is built through influence, rather than instruction.

Some said: “A leaders whispers.” I am not there yet, but I am getting there.

Leadership lessons.

You are a leader in the community, what advice would you provide to others?

  1. That issue of leaving a legacy, building your people.
  2. Take giant leap of faith in people when you see potential to help propel them to a hire position. You help your people to fly.
  3. To have mentors. They have been there before you. Ask them for advise.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 10yr. old daughter?

You can do it. You can grow, excel, think… just do it. Pursue your dream. Things are not simple, but with an enough drive you can go out and get your dream.

Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?

The same.

Is there anything in your life you would do differently when you reflect?


What is next for you?

For a long time now I have been a strategic advisor. I feel the need to work on the ground again and build people’s capacity while doing that. I have to manage my work life balance a bit. I am a ‘birder’ (someone who has interest in birds). I have a community camp in Northern Zimbabwe and I would like to spend more time up there birding and to help the camp be viable.

Words of Wisdom for African women

Nothing is ever simple on your path to reach your dream or your goal. Accept that and don’t see it as a stumbling block. Have a plan A, plan B, plan C and still be able think on your feet.



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