Successful project delivery lies in the balancing act of community well-being

By Alex Pietralla | April 16, 2020

The Government of Canada issues a Community Well-Being (CWB) index, which measures socioeconomic well-being for individual communities across Canada over time.

The index has four components: education, labor force activity, income, and housing. It was first released in 2004–prior to that there was no systematic way of tracking the well-being of Indigenous communities.

The latest edition published in 2016 highlights the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population in Canada by:

  • Providing a systematic, reliable summary measure of socioeconomic well-being for individual communities in Canada
  • Illustrating variations in well-being across First Nations and Inuit communities and how they compare to non-Indigenous communities
  • Enabling the tracking of well-being over time

Indigenous communities with the highest well-being index across the country are generally tied to natural resource areas and projects. These provide long-term planning horizons and a commitment by the industry to diversify its supply chain to include Indigenous businesses as a general means to improve CWB for all the communities in which we operate.

A gap of 19.5 base points spread across all analyzed parameters was noted in 1981 between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. This gap remained virtually the same for 2016 at 19.1, meaning that an upward trend in CWB across all communities had no significant impact on narrowing the gap itself.

Looking at social risk management strategies

The balance between environmental protection and economic activity is a key determining factor for any activity in Indigenous communities. To successfully close the existing gap and increase well-being for all Canadians calls for a renewed focus on key success factors. Some of these should be underpinned with social risk management strategies. These strategies could include:

  • Initial open outcome assessment of community needs
  • Trust based inventory of community services and skillset
  • Establish community-focused design criteria
  • Integrate supply chain policies adaptable to the design criteria
  • Manage Indigenous engagement as holistic business development
  • Respect cultural differences and find ways to accommodate cultural differences
  • Advocate for lateral support from communities with high economic activity to low economic activity
  • Recognize community well-being as significant section in corporate diversity and inclusion policy frameworks

Honesty is the best policy: being unconditionally honest

We work closely with many project proponents to deliver socioeconomic and environmental assessments on large-scale projects. Indigenous communities play a critical role during the environmental assessment, providing traditional knowledge and working with Hatch to identify engineering solutions to limit or mitigate impact on traditional lifestyles. The Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road project is a great example. A 97-km all-weather access road from Yellowknife to the community of Whati, the project highlights our involvement with local communities as Hatch consulted with the Tłı̨chǫ government, Tłı̨chǫ communities, and Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation.

As reconciliation has many different forms, economic reconciliation is the one that seeks to engage an entire community in an inclusive process of developed shared understanding and agreed-upon values, where all sides are unconditionally honest and learn from each other to close the existing gap.

Community well-being during challenging times

This is and will be of even bigger importance as the current threat of COVID-19 passes. As the most vulnerable members of society are often the most impacted by events such as pandemics, the moral obligation calls for ever-increasing awareness of these gaps and a strict adherence to the aforementioned strategies to counter and close them, ultimately resulting in measurable and manageable social risk by advancing prosperity for all communities.