Partnerships – The Key To Sustainable Mining In Africa

Antoinette Pietersen

Stakeholder Engagement Lead and Trainer

African communities with rich mining resources are at the forefront of social change.

The relationship between the companies mining the earth’s precious resources and the people who have made their homes upon these treasured lands for time immemorial, is evolving into productive partnerships that benefit communities and mining operations.

Mining companies are at the foundation of the global resource supply chain, providing natural resources including metals and minerals to satisfy the world’s appetite for progress. With this huge task comes the social responsibility to be a functional partner in the communities in which they operate, and the recognition that sustainable practices are critical to corporate success.

People are part of that resource supply chain as well, supplying the social license to operate in a community. The concept of social license evolved from the more established notion of Corporate Social Responsibility and is based on the idea that mining companies need not only government permission [or permits] but also “social permission” to conduct their business.

Managing Expectations

Successful management of stakeholder expectations begins with thorough and effective communication, and acceptance of accountability as a participant in the community.

While mines are frequently expected to bring benefits to a community — such as infrastructure improvements, education, and job opportunities — it is essential for the mining company to collaborate with legitimate structures within the community to assess the options best suited to their livelihoods. When expectations aren’t met, it can often be traced back to a lack of respect of local customs and values, collaboration within established structures within the community and communication with a community. In return, both the government and communities need to understand what the mine can and intends to deliver to the community. Companies that want to be truly successful are tasked with being honest and open from the start. For example, if a company knows its goal is to establish the mine and make use of mechanised equipment to limit employment, this must be communicated to all stakeholders and a skills development plan put in place to afford locals an opportunity to enter into the job market. This is prudent for the mine, as it helps to grow the community sustainably.

The Challenge

Mining companies that are not yet onboard with creating partnerships within the community need to start thinking differently, and many are. The old way of doing business was to look only at what the law requires and check off those boxes without looking at the broader picture, which is that they are operating within a community of people who have social concerns, values and needs that include the environment and infrastructure of their community. Time and again we have seen how poor relationships cause social outrage that could have been avoided.

Big Change

Communities today have so much more power because of access to the internet, social media and smart phones, even in remote areas. People are educating themselves about their human rights and environmental rights, and they are seeing what other communities have done, so they know what they can and should be asking for in return from mining companies.

This trend is leading to a higher level of accountability, and as attention toward sustainable practices grows, companies are better understanding their valuable position as partners in the community. Collaboration alleviates some of the responsibility the mines carry and the perception that the mines are responsible for everything local governments can’t provide. When relationships are managed correctly, a mutually beneficial relationship is created based on trust, honesty and transparency. As a result, citizens are likely to be friendly, open and willing to listen.

Tools for Success

The ICMM offers a free Community Development Toolkit. This set of 20 tools is intended for use throughout the mining project cycle. The tools are aimed at fostering constructive relationships, building capacity and improving opportunities for the sustainable development of communities around mining and metals operations.

Golder has also developed software tools that facilitate the decision-making and management processes around sustainable mining, with respect to community issues and concerns, geographic project requirements, and project planning and design.

Measuring Success Along the Way

As mines and developers move to a higher level of collaboration with communities, the communities too are stepping up to engage in positive ways. People are proud of their towns and villages and want to be part of the solution, part of the project, and are eager to work in partnership with developers. When a community contributes meaningfully to a project a sense of ownership and allegiance can grow. Companies that give residents the opportunity to contribute their local knowledge and to participate will have the best relationship throughout the project.

This means holding community meetings that educate the public in a way that targets various demographics (age, gender, socio-economic level) so everyone will understand. Measuring the success of these meetings goes beyond counting the number of people who show up, it’s about getting a broad spectrum of the population to participate.

As each project milestone is achieved, stakeholder engagement managers do an evaluation with all of the stakeholders and base the assessment of success on the feedback received.

Essentially, it’s about helping people understand each other. The long-term goal is to manage expectations and the effect the mine has on a community, so that the work we do today will impact positively on the community long past the life of the mine.

The good news is many companies do get it right. They go the extra mile to do what’s right for the community — environmentally, economically and socially. Sometimes doing the right thing takes a little longer, due to the education process and the collaborative meetings, but at the end of the day it saves time and money and creates a strong foundation of mutual respect and productivity which is valuable to the community and the mine. Everyone wins.

Antoinette Pietersen

Stakeholder Engagement Lead and Trainer

About the Author

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