Corporate community engagement professionals in the renewable energy industry: Dilemmas and agency at the frontline of South Africa's energy transition

Mikkel Funder*, Holle Wlokas, Tasneem Jhetam, Karen Holm Olsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Renewable energy companies increasingly employ community engagement professionals tasked with facilitating dialogue and collaborative activities with communities in project areas. Situated at the interface between corporate renewable energy production and community needs and grievances, these practitioners occupy a potentially significant position in the everyday implementation of socially just energy transitions. In this article we contribute to the understanding of corporate community engagement professionals in the renewable energy sector, with a focus on their challenges and agency inside the companies that employ them. Through an in-depth qualitative study of community engagement professionals in the South African wind- and solar industries we identify three key dilemmas faced by the involved practitioners, namely (i) how to pursue personal ideals in a corporate context, (ii) how to make a difference from a marginalised position inside the company, and (iii) how to deliver results without practice frameworks. We further find that they actively seek to address these dilemmas through a range of measures, such as embedding personal ideals in their everyday work, mobilising their position at the interface between company and community, and creatively piecing together their own approaches to community engagement. Our findings thereby indicate that corporate community engagement professionals should be understood and analysed as actors in their own right, rather than mere extensions of the company leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102249
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Danish Consultative Research Committee for Development Research ; the National Research Foundation of South Africa ; the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town ; and the Volkswagen Foundation through the Climate Change Mitigation and Poverty Reduction project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Community development
  • Community engagement professionals
  • Private sector
  • Renewable energy transition
  • South Africa


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