Our Expertise


Social investment and public participation
Over the past 20 years, international companies and development institutions have found that they must play new and unaccustomed roles in many parts of the world. Public expectations and prudent business practice demand a broader understanding of the social, political and economic contexts surrounding their operations or projects.

In many cases, for example, companies can no longer settle just for being “good neighbors”: they must design and carry out sophisticated strategies for local development involving nearby communities and other stakeholders. Such strategies often require difficult judgments with long-term consequences for company operations. How do companies avoid creating “winners” and “losers” or intensifying older conflicts? What happens when indigenous people or other protected groups are involved? Where does public participation fit in designing sustainable initiatives and which participation strategies work best? (Sustainable Social Investment)

Effective social investment usually requires patience and good management. Companies and development agencies often find that they must strike a difficult balance between short-term results and longer-term, sustainable benefits. In most cases, this balance may only be possible with help from credible third-party experts – say, local business people, NGOs or academics. Identifying such allies and building their capacity to assume broader roles becomes a “critical success factor” in many areas. (Forming Effective Partnerships)

Taking advantage of our world-wide network of NGO experts, the Terra Group provides capacity building and management experience. We have also developed a process of “structured participation” for all key stakeholders that leads to consensus around common objectives while minimizing potential conflict.

Public policy: social impact, communities and vulnerable peoples

Managing the impacts of development on communities remains a challenge all over the world. For developing countries that receive bilateral or multilateral funding, international safeguards have been developed to protect the rights and safety of indigenous and other vulnerable people. We have advised the International Finance Corporation on several key safeguard policies: free, prior and informed consent; broad community support; and community participation. In the United States, we have prepared public comments for the National Research Council regarding the social risks and impact of shale development.

Stakeholder partnerships and initiatives

From 1995-1998, Terra Group and the Program on Non-Violent Sanctions at Harvard University co-organized the “Harvard Dialogues” on oil development in the Western Amazon Basin. Participants included major international companies, indigenous organizations and environmental groups. The Dialogues provided a “private but not secret” forum to resolve differences among these key stakeholders and design non-conventional approaches to resource extraction.

In 2003, we organized negotiations between major environmental groups in Ecuador and five oil companies that were building the Heavy Oil Pipeline. As a result, the companies agreed to invest $20 million in EcoFund, Latin America’s largest private environmental conservation fund.


Scientific and technical research

Electric power: Since the mid-1990s, we have published a series of technical papers on facility siting and regulatory issues. In 2010, we co-organized a national-level conference with the University of Texas Center for Energy Economics in Washington, D.C. on the pros and cons of high-voltage transmission for renewable energy.

International oil development: We have worked with academic researchers at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Quito, Ecuador, and Ohio State University to conduct long-term research on resource extraction in the Amazon Basin. Over the past 15 years, we have also contributed to the business and academic literature on oil development and social impact in Africa and Latin America.

Domestic shale gas: In 2013, we completed a major review of social science data on the community impacts of energy development, particularly shale gas. Results of this work have been presented at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Society of Petroleum Engineers, American Anthropological Association and other conferences.

Publications and Presentations

Academic contributions

Dr. Robert Wasserstrom has served as a Visiting Faculty Member in the Certificate Program for Latin American Energy Officials, sponsored by the Organización Latinoamericana de Energía in Quito, Ecuador. He is a regular guest lecturer in the Graduate Program on Energy Governance, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, (Ecuador.) He is also Senior Energy Researcher at the Center for Energy Economics, University of Texas.

Susan Reider has lectured at the New Era Program for Energy Governance offered by the University of Texas. This program was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development for African and Latin American ministries and state oil companies.

We believe that it is essential to present the results of our energy-related research to key academic audiences, who play a significant role in advising public officials and shaping public opinion. In recent years, we have focused on social scientists who work in the Amazon Basin. These audiences include:

  • American Anthropological Association
  • Latin American Studies Association
  • Society for Applied Anthropology
  • Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America