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Socio-economic baseline study for Rio Tinto

“I wish to commend [Synergy] for the professional services rendered and the high quality outputs delivered. May I in particular highlight your ability to ‘style-change’ as required by the particular facts of a given situation. I was specifically impressed by your senior consultant’s ability to approach the so called ‘soft’ people issues with tact and maturity, whereas professional and more business, scientific and/or statistical issues were dealt with in a thorough, methodological and exact manner. Please accept my thanks and congratulations on a job well done!”

-Willem Buhrmann, Commercial Manager

Socio-economic baseline study for Rio Tinto

Client:Rio Tinto Energy
Country:South Africa
Sector:Extractive industry
Services client used:Assessment, engagement, implementation
Our expertise:Socio-economic impact assessment, stakeholder engagement, implementation, tool development

Project description

Rio Tinto Energy invited Synergy to undertake a social baseline study, including the design and implementation of a stakeholder database, to inform and support its pre-feasibility study of the Chapudi Coal Project, located in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

The broad objectives of the baseline study included:

  • Updating the secondary information collected during an earlier order of magnitude study;
  • Undertaking a household and community survey within the areas that are likely to be affected by the project;
  • Assisting Rio Tinto Energy in developing and executing a communications strategy and stakeholder engagement programme appropriate to the pre-feasibility stage; and
  • Providing Rio Tinto Energy with key project priorities and recommendations for the feasibility stage and social and environmental impact assessment work.

The team undertook analysis of secondary data and conducted household surveys to collect primary data. A key success factor for this assignment was the level of trust and engagement built with stakeholders (community leaders, traditional leaders and local authorities). A stakeholder engagement plan was developed and implemented, and focus group meetings were held with community leaders. The Synergy team worked closely with SRK Consulting, who conducted the environmental baseline work, and co-ordinated their engagement with interested and affected parties. Synergy also seconded two community relations personnel to the project who worked closely with project technical manager and the commercial manager.


The following reports were successfully delivered:

  • Socio-economic baseline study interim report
  • Socio-economic baseline chapter for the Chapudi interim report options study
  • Economic baseline survey report
  • Health impact assessment report
  • Land claims report
  • The community household survey report
  • The household survey project strike area report
  • The focus group discussions report
  • Stakeholder engagement and community relations function and support for the various study teams and Chapudi Coal Project Management
  • Development of a stakeholder engagement database

Key challenges and successes

In many parts of the world, traditional structures of authority overlap with government and administrative structures and it is vital to ensure that all stakeholders are on board with the consultation and assessment process. Any omissions can lead to delays in project work and present unnecessary tensions. In many of our projects we have demonstrated that we have the skills and abilities to help clients manage and navigate through these diverse interests to avoid risks to the project.