Reflections from the Interfaces of Global Change Graduate Seminar

The engagement of diverse stakeholders is crucial, essential, and inevitable for resolving global crises. Stakeholder engagement refers to the process of establishing and maintaining relationships with individuals, groups, and organizations affected by or interested in a specific project, initiative, or organization [1]. Customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, local communities, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are examples of stakeholders [2].

The engagement of stakeholders is crucial for a variety of reasons. First, it enables organizations to comprehend the requirements, concerns, and expectations of their stakeholders, which can aid in decision-making and enhance organizational performance. Second, it can aid in establishing credibility and trust with stakeholders, which are essential for nurturing long-term relationships and a positive reputation. Thirdly, engaging with stakeholders can assist in identifying opportunities for collaboration and partnership, which can result in mutually beneficial outcomes. Lastly, organizations seeking to demonstrate their social responsibility and sustainability credentials frequently require stakeholder engagement [3]. Organizations that wish to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner and establish long-term relationships with their stakeholders must engage their stakeholders effectively [4]. Focusing on global issues such as overfishing and deforestation, I will discuss how engaging stakeholders could aid in resolving these issues.

Graphic: A school of fish
Figure 2: A school of fish

The issue of overfishing and fisheries management involves a vast array of actors who are impacted by and can influence the fishing industry. The effects of overfishing extend to the marine ecosystem, the livelihoods of fishers and fishing communities, the food security of coastal populations, and the economy as a whole [5]. Effective stakeholder engagement can help to ensure that all of these impacts are considered, and inclusive and equitable solutions are developed. Fishers and fishing communities, seafood processors and distributors, consumers, conservation groups, government agencies, and international organizations are among the main stakeholders in overfishing [6]. Each of these parties has a unique perspective on the problem, and their input is essential to the development of effective solutions. For instance, fishers and fishing communities may have insightful knowledge regarding the causes of overfishing and the effects of management measures on their livelihoods. Seafood processors and distributors may be able to provide information on market trends and consumer preferences, which can inform certification schemes for sustainable seafood. Consumers can play a significant role in generating demand for sustainable seafood and can influence the actions of seafood retailers and restaurants. Conservation organizations can provide scientific expertise and advocacy for marine ecosystems, as well as collaborate with fishers and other stakeholders to establish sustainable fishing practices [7,8,9,10]. Government agencies and international organizations have the authority to regulate the fishing industry, establish quotas, and formulate policies to promote sustainable fishing practices [9,10]. Overall, stakeholder engagement is essential in addressing issues of overfishing because it can help ensure that different stakeholders are included in the development of inclusive and equitable solutions. By collaborating, stakeholders can develop strategies that protect the marine ecosystem and promote the social and economic well-being of fishing communities and the larger society.

Figure 3: Deforestation
Figure 3: Deforestation

Deforestation can have significant effects on the environment, including biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and carbon emissions, as well as on forest-dependent communities, indigenous peoples, and the economy as a whole [14]. Effective stakeholder engagement can ensure that all deforestation impacts are considered and that solutions are developed in an inclusive and equitable manner. Included among the major participants in deforestation are forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples, landowners, timber companies, agricultural producers, consumers, conservation groups, government agencies, and international organizations. Each of these stakeholders has a unique perspective on the issue, and their input is necessary for developing effective solutions. For instance, forest-dependent communities and indigenous populations may possess valuable traditional knowledge regarding sustainable land use practices and biodiversity conservation. Landowners and timber companies may have expertise in sustainable forest management practices, which can help reduce deforestation. Agriculturists may be able to provide insight into alternative land uses that can reduce forest pressure. Consumers can play a significant role in fueling the demand for sustainably sourced products and influencing the behavior of retailers and manufacturers. Conservation groups can provide scientific expertise and advocate on behalf of the environment, and they can collaborate with communities and other stakeholders to develop sustainable land use practices [11,12,13]. Government agencies and international organizations are able to regulate land use, enforce laws, and create policies to promote sustainable land use practices. By collaborating, stakeholders can develop strategies that safeguard the environment while also promoting the social and economic welfare of forest-dependent communities and the greater society.

Evidently, the engagement of stakeholders should be prioritized when resolving global crises, as this could facilitate agreement on a solution that is acceptable to all parties. Stakeholder engagement can be a challenging process, as there are often many different interests and perspectives involved. Stakeholder groups can be diverse in terms of their interests, values, and goals. This can make it difficult to find common ground and reach a consensus. Communication barriers such as language differences, cultural differences, and technical jargon can make it difficult to convey information and ideas. Power imbalances can exist between stakeholders, with some groups having more influence or resources than others. This can lead to unequal participation in the stakeholder engagement process. Stakeholder engagement requires time, money, and other resources. Limited resources can make it difficult to engage with all stakeholders or to implement their suggestions. Some stakeholders may be resistant to change, particularly if they feel that their interests are not being adequately represented or that they will be negatively impacted. Building trust among stakeholders is essential for successful engagement. However, past experiences, conflicting interests, or lack of transparency can make it difficult to establish trust. External factors such as political or economic conditions, or changes in laws or regulations, can impact stakeholder engagement efforts. Lastly, the identification of stakeholders and the extent to which we engage them could be an issue [15,16,17,18,19]. For effective stakeholder engagement in resolving global issues, it is essential to consider each of the enumerated obstacles.

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Idowu Kayode Okeshola
Author: Idowu Kayode Okeshola
Idowu is a doctoral student in the lab of Dr. Peter Vikesland in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Virginia Tech. Before joining Dr. Vikesland's lab, he earned a master's degree in environmental engineering and hydrogeology from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. His main areas of interest are antimicrobial resistance, pathogen surveillance in surface and wastewater, and environmental policy. He is currently a graduate research assistant for Dr. Vikesland, using metagenomics for environmental antimicrobial resistance surveillance.