Four Worlds

Four Worlds


The four key functions are carried out in the following sectors:


1. Community Development

2. Community Health

3. Education and Training

4. Social & Economic Development Planning

5. Governance and Civil Society

6. Community Economic Development

7. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)



“It’s hard to walk softly when you're big and in a hurry.”
Ferdinand the Bull

Building Bridges Between
Business Operations and Sustainable Development Processes


It has become increasingly clear in recent years, to many thoughtful corporate leaders, based on a wide range of corporate experiences across North America and around the world, that the social and environmental concerns of the people who live in a region where business operations are ongoing need to be very carefully considered and effectively addressed as a part of normal business operations. While this is true of all kinds of business, it is particularly true about resource extraction industries such as oil and gas, mining, timber, agriculture and fishing.

Three current examples highlight the challenge.

Case One: Africa – A major oil company is losing millions of dollars a year due to pilfering, sabotage, slowdowns, intentional obstruction by local officials, violent labour conflicts and a law-and-order crisis in the area that confines expatriate employees to guarded compounds.

Case Two: Asia-Pacific – One of the largest and most profitable mines in the world was shut down because mine owners and their government partners were unable to clean up their environmental practices and share more benefits with the local population. The tragic aftermath of this conflict left thousands dead and a region’s infrastructure in ruins.

Case Three: North America – A major oil company worked closely with government partners to secure rights to do exploratory drilling in a pristine wilderness area, while ignoring concerns of local Aboriginal and environmental groups. These groups rallied local landowners and mounted an effective counter-campaign, which included legal action that stopped the project in its tracks.

In all three cases, corporations and governments have lost millions of dollars in revenue, and all three cases were largely predictable and preventable if the corporations had received sound advice and effective technical support.


The only honest way to prevent the kinds of backlash responses described above involves the following:

1. developing an adequate “map” of the socio-ecological system within which the work is to take place, a process which requires extensive stakeholder consultation combined with rigorous scientific analysis;
2. developing a comprehensive plan that harmonizes: (a) resource extraction, (b) social and economic development of the region, and (c) environmental safety and protection;
3. undertaking social and economic development partnerships with the local population; and
4. building resource management capacity, mechanisms and processes with regional stakeholders, and working within agreed-upon guidelines.

It is easiest, of course, to prevent problems before they happen. Nevertheless, it is also possible, in a high percentage of cases, to turn around a situation that has gone bad by acknowledging mistakes and beginning to do things right.


Essentially two things are needed.

1. Trust between local people, local leaders and outsiders who come to do business - The way trust is built is by telling the truth, keeping promises, listening compassionately, respecting the people and being sensitive and careful regarding environmental protection, cultural protocol and norms, and local development realities.
2. A bridge must be built between the needs of the people and those of the corporation - The reason this step is so critical is that, in reality, both sides of the bridge are interdependent, and to think otherwise can lead to a serious breakdown in trust, cooperation and eventually of the entire context upon which business success depends. The process of building and maintaining that bridge usually requires skilled arms-length facilitation that continues for the life of the business venture.

People everywhere want variations on the same things. They want wellbeing and prosperity for themselves and future generations. Now a necessary cost of doing business in most parts of the world is helping them to develop their own capacity to ensure the wellbeing.

Tying together the business of development with the business of doing business is a major key to long-term success, one which can best be achieved by applying community development principles to business operations.


The challenge of promoting the sustainable development of human societies in relationship to the ecological systems upon which they depend is at least as complicated and technically difficult as the most advanced forms of resource extraction.

There are thousands of examples worldwide of “development” initiatives which have either failed to bring real improvements to the lives of people, or which have actually worsened their condition. Among these examples are many situations in which “development” programs have actually contributed significantly to the widening of inequalities within regions and to the perpetuation of serious conflicts.

Indeed, a naively conceived and poorly executed community development program can (inadvertently) raise expectations, inflame local rivalries, and tip the power balance within local populations to such an extent that a company that set out to help local people may find itself bitterly resented and the target of retaliatory attacks.

Our point is this: no well-managed resource company would even consider placing untrained and under-experienced people in charge of complex exploration, extraction or refinement processes. The financial stakes are just too high and human lives would be at risk. Similarly, the work of guiding and managing development initiatives is complex and (in some regions) potentially dangerous. It requires people who can read and understand the depth and range of complexity within a wide variety of contexts, who are knowledgeable and experienced in the work of engaging local populations in processes of constructive development and, in this case, who can serve as a bridge between local populations and the company in the work of building effective partnerships.


Four Worlds has worked with indigenous populations throughout the world for more than twenty years (Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, and North America).

Our business is building the capacity of both local populations and international institutions to promote human wellbeing and prosperity. Until recently we have worked largely with government and non-governmental groups without attempting to bring in the business community. We have gradually come to the following conclusions.

1. In most places in the world, government is not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only promoter of development and protector of the environment.
2. Meaningful progress in social and environmental wellbeing can only come about through effective partnerships between local people, local organizations working with the people (non-governmental organizations, churches, etc.), government and business.

In many cases an arms-length facilitation and mediation mechanism is needed to bridge the gap between diverse stakeholders in such a way that honest confrontation of issues and resolution of problems actually takes place. It is imperative that the mediating agency be free to work openly and honestly without being constrained or controlled by any of the various players (much like a law firm does in trust negotiations).


Four Worlds brings more than twenty-five years of experience and a worldwide network of experts to this bridge-building work. Some of this experience includes the following:

  • working from the top down with management and policy development;
  • working from the bottom up to build the capacity of front-line workers and people’s organizations;
  • working in situations where no known technical solutions were solving the problems and where new solutions have to be invented through adaptive work that requires new kinds of partnerships and collaborative ventures; and
  • working in difficult circumstances, including regions experiencing political instability, a law-and-order crisis, communal violence and war. (e.g., Rwanda, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea).





The following outlines the components of an integrated program of social and environmental impact protection:

1. Situation assessment and crisis intervention
2. Social and environment planning across cultures
3. Management and delivery of mitigation, prevention and partnership programs
4. Monitoring and evaluation of performance relative to social and environmental impact
5. Cross cultural employee training and technical support
6. Executive mentoring
7. Management coaching
8. Ongoing consultation and program support as required

Each of these eight areas constitutes a discrete activity which we are prepared to facilitate and support. Taken as a whole, the package represents a comprehensive and cost-effective strategy for effectively addressing a challenging problem in a way that will lead to win-win outcomes for corporations, the environment, and local populations.


Our purpose in this brief introduction has been to open a dialogue. A next step would be for you to become much more familiar with our team, our competencies and our track record, and for us to very carefully listen to you in order to understand how we might best serve your needs while honoring the fundamental principles of sustainable development.