By Keith Kozloff
Director, OPIC Office of Accountability
In supporting private investment in emerging markets, OPIC strives to also support local communities near project sites. A 100-megawatt power plant in Togo, which was built with the support of OPIC financing and political risk insurance, is one project that delivered significant local benefits. In addition to dramatically increasing power generation and reducing blackouts in one of Africa’s poorest countries, the project sponsor ContourGlobal has invested in the local community by building schools, a local market and providing potable water.
I chose the area around this power plant, outside of Togo’s capitol city of Lome, to solicit ideas from project stakeholders on how to improve services offered by the Office of Accountability. While I have used other means of getting input, I wanted to hear from affected communities directly to explore ways that the Office of Accountability might enhance our services in all the regions around the world where OPIC has active projects. The Office of Accountability is an independent office within OPIC that addresses any complaints or conflicts about environmental or social issues that arise around OPIC-supported projects.
During my trip in September, I met with ContourGlobal management, hosted discussions with project workers and community leaders, met with public agencies, and visited two of ContourGlboal’s community development projects: a women’s market and a school which is being expanded to accommodate new enrollment. While face-to-face meetings are invaluable for answering questions about OPIC projects and establishing a rapport with locals, my larger goal was to get a sense of the sorts of concerns that are likely to arise and the challenges local people may encounter in voicing them. In Togo, I encountered not only a number of different spoken languages, but people of varying levels of education and technological sophistication, including many who lacked access to the internet. On the other hand, I was encouraged to learn not only about the company’s internal grievance mechanism, but also about other local problem-solving resources.
Over four days I collected valuable feedback on such topics as how to better inform communities about my office and its services, when to contact the office, and who should represent the community during a problem-solving process. The dynamic comments, questions, and suggestions provided a necessary viewpoint which will be used to improve the office’s current guidelines and services. Through it all, the warmth of the Togolese people was on full display, especially when I was invited to the home of my local consultant for an extended family celebration.
As the Office of Accountability continues to enhance its policies and procedures, the views and opinions from these local communities will provide valuable guidance on how to make the office a more effective and robust resource for addressing local concerns about OPIC projects.