Re-imagining mining to improve people’s lives

I have dedicated more than 40 years of my life to a wonderful industry that has helped lift countries out of poverty, providing the raw materials which make modern life possible and playing a significant role in the world’s economic activity.

But mining is also an industry at a crossroads as society’s expectations of business rightly grow. For us in mining, we must never think that the status quo is enough. We must strive for step changes in how we mine, how we can enable the full benefits and how we engage with society as a whole.

Put simply, we are the custodians of many of the world’s precious resources. It is with that great responsibility that we must lead our industry with the expectation that mining should be a trailblazer in social and community developments. In our industry, sustainability is not a luxury, it is a business imperative.

At Anglo American, we have recently set out an ambitious sustainability strategy, to transform how our stakeholders experience our business, both locally and globally. Our approach goes far beyond compliance with mining law or regulatory requirements. It is about making a more strategic, holistic, positive and lasting impact – sustainable business in its full and proper sense.

Partnership and engagement are at the heart of this transformative approach. Our efforts to realise long-term and truly sustainable development opportunities are centred on what we call collaborative regional development.

This innovative approach identifies socio-economic development opportunities with the greatest potential in a region, through spatial planning and analysis, and was originally inspired by the Kellogg Innovation Network’s Development Partner Framework.

Spatial planning enables us to start addressing issues in space and context. We can gather, collate, clean, improve and analyse large quantities of spatially referenced data from across a single region. This integrated approach supports us to answer such questions as what and where are the economic opportunities or social challenges? And how are they inter-related?

This work creates the catalyst for partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders, from business to government, researchers to practitioners, and from community representatives to faith groups. By working through partnerships, we are better able to deliver on our commitment to help catalyse and facilitate long-term, sustainable development in our host regions, far beyond the life of the mine.

We began this approach in 2016 at Mogalakwena, our largest platinum operation in the Limpopo province of South Africa. And we are now considering ways to extend it to other countries, including Botswana, Peru and Colombia.

At Mogalakwena, we work with a broad range of stakeholders, including the charity World Vision, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, planning firm Dobbin International, mining company Exxaro Resources and the Office of the Premier in Limpopo Province. A dedicated support organisation staffed by representatives from these partners ensures we all pursue a co-ordinated agenda, measure impact consistently and communicate openly.

It is early days, but we have a chance to work towards the long-term socio-economic development of this region in South Africa. We have already begun pilots in supplier development, agro-processing, the biodiversity economy and access to information technology. And we are exploring other opportunities.

The upside is clear as such a strategy could create substantial economic benefit and employment across Limpopo province. Collaboration isn’t just the right thing to do; it makes good business sense for everyone.

As with any new approach, we have learnt a great deal. Firstly, we’ve recognised that focusing solely on development closest to the mine is not a recipe for success. There is a much wider area of impact that we have a responsibility to consider, which also has a bearing on the local infrastructure and our own.

Secondly, as collaboration evolves, our partners are discovering that the timeframes of different parties can be restrictive. For many organisations, it is tempting to think in short-term cycles. But in reality, we cannot be particularly strategic in short timespans or deliver the most effective outcomes. We need to look at socio-economic development in a different way, where we try to lead developments over a much longer timeframe.

Of course, the realities of collaborating with disparate partners can be challenging. Global organisations are usually not geared up for working in a truly collaborative way at the regional level. However, we are already seeing the situation shift in a positive direction within our industry.

Other businesses, including those from the tourism, pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors, are also recognising the intrinsic value of this approach. We need to be working together across industrial sectors, which share a physical space, to maximise the benefits that can be achieved.

In collaborative regional development, the various parties involved are all accountable to their own constituents, which will inevitably mean different organisations have particular motivations. But having different motivational drivers does not mean you cannot collaborate on a shared vision.

Many governments, when they think about development, look to the local mine. This is evidence of a history of tangible benefit. But we also need to encourage people to look at all the communities and opportunities around them, to see the potential of the region, both as a whole and in its constituent parts.

The industry of more than 40 years ago is similar in many ways to the mining industry today. My hope is that it will be unrecognisable 40 years from now and that mining will be world leading in technical sophistication, the quality of products, environmental footprint, and in relationships with host governments, communities and society more broadly.

Mining must transform in the decades ahead – we must re-imagine it. Success is being built upon collaboration and partnership between many obvious and not-so-obvious partners. In our world, the future really can be something we shape together.


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