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Governance – as much about mindset as about making rules

Despite so many best efforts being made by so many, it is still sadly true that high level corruption, avoidable armed conflict, human exploitation and environmental degradation on a seriously large scale are very much a part of our world. And, paradoxically perhaps, the biggest problems often occur when the potential for something truly beneficial is at its greatest. If you doubt that, just ask yourself whether, for example, Nigeria’s oil reserves have proven to be a blessing or a curse for the Nigerian people.

It would be simplistic to proffer any kind of easy solution to the problem. However, it may be time to re-assess how we think about it.

Sticking with oil in Africa, take the case of Uganda which was examined recently by Ben Shepherd writing in The Guardian Still in the planning stages of what promises to be a major resource production and management journey, Uganda has the opportunity to achieve great things. But it has to be said that it also runs the risk of following the Nigerian path. Whilst there are some encouraging signs – a partnership agreement with Norway and the involvement of some expert NGOs being amongst them – it still remains the case that without good governance not even the best laid plans can prevent disastrous social and environmental outcomes.

And the key point here is that governance is about more than making rules. In his article, Shepherd refers to a UNDP Working Paper that outlines some of the key factors involved in successful resource management. Aside from technical expertise, they include a commonly shared commitment not just to economic growth but also to social stability; mechanisms for building widespread consensus over how the resource wealth should be distributed strong apolitical institutions that can advise and influence government.

What’s particularly interesting to note is the extent to which it all depends on people working together, wanting to work together. And it’s a point that is highlighted by an initiative undertaken by Grieg Green, a subsidiary of the shipping company Grieg Star.

Seeking an alternative to the beaching method used to ‘recycle’ some 80% of end-of-life vessels – a method that comes with an exceptionally high price tag in terms of human injury and loss of life as well as environmental contamination – Grieg Green has compiled an approved list of quayside ship recycling yards with a proven reputation for responsible dismantling. The company then bids for end-of-life vessels – potentially worth a considerable amount of money in salvage – and, if successful, transfers them to one of the yards on its list.

What could be simpler? What responsible ship owner wouldn’t want to participate? After all, a full and fair price is being bid. Well, it seems that Grieg Star has encountered resistance. And it seems to be a question of mindset.

In an interview about his new bookThe Collaboration Economy – the relevant chapter of which was co-authored with Petter Heier, CEO of Grieg Green – Eric Lowitt explains how the problem is rooted in the belief system of traditional shipping company executives. Competitors are competitors. You don’t do business with a rival. You don’t cooperate or collaborate. So, a sustainable alternative to a major social and environmental blight is effectively being hindered by attitude.

Now it so happens that new regulations are in the pipeline for the ship dismantling industry. But if the willingness to cooperate isn’t there, ways can be found around regulations – whether it’s oil, ship dismantling or, indeed, any other industry. As we say, effective governance is as much about mindset as about making rules. People have to want to make it happen.

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