Dialogue – the building blocks to trustworthy development partnerships in mining – The Intelligent Miner

“The reality today is that we are all interdependent and…

“The reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue.” ~ Dalai Lama

Today, extractive industries supply chains globally are dealing with the same three forces, at differing levels and nuanced by local circumstances:

  • Increasing demand for mined and processed metals and minerals – leading to increasing pressure on the environment as mines go deeper and to more remote locations.
  • Community and national prosperity – bookmarked by regional political tensions, punitive fiscal regimes, and an insufficient talent pool to undertake the work.
  • Transparent environmental and social governance (ESG) action – costing time and money, but necessary for companies facing investor uncertainty, societal demand, and regulatory requirements.
Florence Drummond is Executive Director at the Development Partner Institute

Readers of The Intelligent Miner understand the confluence of these forces over the next few decades, and their impacts on a just energy transition. 

So, what is the way forward to harness and benefit from these forces? Dialogue. 

It’s an obvious reflection, but the concept is the foundation on which to build trust and consensus between mining and society. The minerals value chain, with its roots (literally) in small communities world-wide and its branches reaching into every aspect of modern life, has a unique opportunity to achieve an extraordinary, accelerated just transition with the transformative power of dialogue.

Harnessing the power of first principles in minerals value chain dialogue

To ensure truly fruitful dialogue in the dynamic and complex minerals value chain, we must transcend superficial opinions and delve into the underlying fundamental principles that shape our industry.

First principles thinking creates the space for all participants to challenge assumptions, ask fundamental questions, and build common ground from the very roots of the issue.

It fosters mutual respect, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to learn from each other. This is not to say that technical expertise or experience is irrelevant. Instead, first principles provide a foundation upon which diverse expertise can be synergistically applied.

Imagine a negotiation around just one aspect of a new mining project. Instead of simply arguing positions, what if all parties engaged in a dialogue grounded in first principles?

All actors in the minerals value chain can move beyond entrenched positions and collaboratively explore innovative solutions that are respectful of diverse values to meet everyone’s needs. Actively incorporating first principles into dialogue unlocks a new level of collaboration, innovation, and progress.

Collaboration doesn’t happen without conversation

Successfully having difficult conversations with the stakeholders who don’t want to be in the same room encapsulates the art and science of dialogue. Mercer-Mapstone et al observe in their article about ‘Who Gets a Seat at the Table’:

“If the mining industry really would like to make changes toward successful dialogue processes, beyond policy frameworks external to companies, the implementation of dialogue will imply important and conscientious internal changes. This means that we not only need to take on the development of community capacities for dialogue, but also the sector must acknowledge the new challenges in the relationships with stakeholders, and to make internal changes that will probably be required for this to be achieved.

The purpose of using dialogue to build a development partnership is not to get all players to the point of a forced or artificial agreement, a temporary solution, or a reluctant concession. 

As Peter Bryant, co-founder of DPI, explains:

“In the context of community engagement, mining as an industry must change from individual, company-focused wealth creation to collective investments with shared purpose and vision. The concept of shared purpose is not incompatible with achieving economic returns, it simply reflects a need to engage and collaborate with stakeholders to help create a broader-based and longer lasting prosperity.” 

To achieve true progress through respectful and open communication, I’ve learned the importance of approaching every conversation with a willingness to listen and an eagerness to learn.

By creating a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, constructive conversations can take place that lead to trusting stakeholder relationships, deep understanding of complex issues, informed decisions and sustainable change, in an accepting social license to operate (SLO) environment.

One key is recognising that it’s not about convincing others to adopt a particular point of view, but rather about giving everyone a chance to truly be heard in a neutral, respectful environment.

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is becoming a key criterion in development negotiations, and elements of an excellent dialogue framework must essentially reinforce FPIC in real terms. It’s rarely a fast process, but the payoff is trust that can go the distance, ultimately accelerating the pace of transformation and development. 

A principles-based approach

The three pillars of the Development Partner Framework can be used as a common starting point; a safe place to begin the conversation. These are:

  1. A shared purpose

Shared purpose is a clear understanding of a potential project’s long-term vision, risks, opportunities and approaches. Miners, employees, communities, governments, NGOs, and others – every stakeholder in a mining project has at least one thing in common. They are all concerned about what will happen at the mine and in the region. While overall agendas may never fully align, for the sake of each project a shared purpose must be collaboratively developed and diligently enacted.

  1. Flourishing ecosystems

A flourishing ecosystem is one in which the environment is robust and resilient, supporting a healthy community and thriving business. Mining companies work not only to minimise environmental impact but also to actively contribute to making the ecosystem richer and more vibrant than before the mine was built by reversing prior degradation and preserving biodiversity.

  1. Competitive communities, companies and countries

The minerals value chain will be at its best when the value created by its activities contributes to long-term sustainable prosperity, beyond the life of mine, for all stakeholders. In turn, high-performing, capable and successful communities mean high-performing, capable and successful mining companies.

A better-trained local workforce will reduce reliance on costlier regional or international expatriates. A thriving local supplier base will reduce the costs and risks associated with having to import goods and services from abroad. The result – a more competitive national economy.

I strongly believe in humanity’s ability to co-inspire, collaborate and co-innovate, given the space, setting and framing principles that allow for the establishment of trusted relationships, brave conversation and wholehearted acceptance. And there are plenty more dialogues to be had.

Florence is the Executive Director of the Development Partner Institute (DPI), a global non-profit which aims to unlock transformative potential and accelerate mining’s contribution to a better future. With a background in mining and a global perspective, Florence joined DPI after building an influential advocacy and networking organisation for Indigenous women, IWIMRA. To continue the conversation, follow the DPI on LinkedIn

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