Creating self-sustainable community projects during the life of mine

Creating self-sustainable community projects during the life of mine

Livelihood resilience in mining communities is vital to ensure their sustainability after mine closure; to this end, mines are learning valuable lessons to help local projects and businesses become more self-reliant.

By Lisl Pullinger, Principal Consultant (Social Sciences), SRK Consulting

Turning ‘charity projects’ into self-sustaining enterprises, for example, can help mining communities continue to thrive after mines close; success stories are rare to find, but increased focus among sustainability practitioners on co-creating resilient communities do reflect valuable lessons on how to make this happen.

In recent years, the impact of environmental and health factors has highlighted the importance of supporting community resilience even more. Many mining communities are already systemically vulnerable and have a low ability to adapt to unexpected negative events. Large scale crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts, as well as climate change and its effect on livelihoods in rural communities, raise communities’ vulnerability and pose numerous obstacles on the road to self-sustainability.

These cumulative social impacts are particularly important to consider when a mine approaches closure. An important focus of good practice in mine closure today is on its social impact, and how a proactive process of social transitioning to closure can make communities more resilient and self-reliant. A key element of this is to move away from community dependence on the revenues flowing directly from the mining operation.

Most mines contribute significantly to local social development projects in one way or another – either through regulatory requirements or through corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives.

This is often done without upfront consultation with recipients, which results in the recipients being excluded from taking ownership throughout the entire development project life cycle. An example of this type of development strategy is when mines focus on developing infrastructure projects – like schools or water wells for communities – instead of developing these projects in collaboration with communities while having a clear community ownership and maintenance plan in place.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) pressures on mines – through regulations or responsible investors – increasingly requires that mines demonstrate their local procurement spend in the public domain. To respond to this requirement, mines are gradually forming enterprise and supplier development departments to engage with and build capacity in the local supply chain. While these developments are a step in the right direction, the need for long-term economic diversification in the area makes it vital that the mine actively supports suppliers to find other customers in the region. This will avoid a long-term dependency and help strengthen networks and partnerships.

Traditional approaches to community support do little for social transitioning. When the mine closes, the impact is devastating for those many organisations and individuals who are dependent. Hence the importance of recent practical efforts by mines to take a new approach to community projects – supporting them not just to survive but to build a sustainable foundation for a future beyond the life of the mine.

Leveraging supply chain

Such an approach was applied in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kamoa Copper SA – one of Ivanhoe Mines’ subsidiaries – in the Kolwezi district had a local brick-making cooperative in its supply chain. Working with the brick-makers to help diversify their market and broaden their customer base, the mine provided a loan for more equipment. This allowed the cooperative to expand production and start earning revenue from other sources.

From our experience at SRK Consulting, mines can achieve a great deal in terms of social transitioning in their closure planning if they start early in the mine life cycle. To foster this process, an innovative ‘Self-Sustainability Toolkit’ has been developed to help project teams consider self-sustainability right from the beginning of the project cycle. This toolkit is applied within a framework covering the project from the initial consultation phases for asset mapping and benchmarking through to project self-management and independence.

The instrument keeps evidence regarding self-sustainability interventions and guides the evaluation of existing projects against actions that promote sustainability. It also poses questions such as these: Did the beneficiaries initiate or request the proposed project – at least in broad concept? Did the project team involve the beneficiaries in the project planning and design? Do the project beneficiaries understand that the ultimate aim is for the project to be financially self-sustainable? Did the beneficiaries receive training in basic project and business management?

The practical lessons in social transitioning toward mine closure that have been learnt in the mining sector to date have been valuable. They should be shared, adapted, and emulated – where appropriate – as we continue to build good practice in this important field.

Creating self-sustainable community projects during the life of mine

Lisl Fair Principal Consultant and Social Sciences SRK Consulting. Image credit: Photography by Jeremy Glyn for SRK in December 2019.

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