With less than 20 years since the UN declared Cambodia a safe zone in 1998, this bustling southeast Asian nation is rebuilding. Starting over since the genocide by the Khmer Rouge, this country of 15 million has turned a new corner.
However, Cambodia continues to play catch-up in the extractives and value-added industries within the country. Social license, sustainability, and long term vision, albeit rather unique in Cambodia, have implications for forward thinking resource companies and their opportunities. Initiation of a true, royalty generating mineral sector has emerged and is attracting more global attention.
Last month, I addressed the UN’s Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) about how our Albertan mineral exploration firm, Angkor Gold, helps implements the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (17SDGs) into local communities. Having fostered a very different approach to ethical mineral exploration, and persisted in local economic development through a variety of initiatives, this small company from northern Canada shared the possibilities with 300 delegates from 58 nations in Geneva.
A model of collaboration with local communities, government, industry, and civil society sounds attractive. However, emerging nations require time to evolve, and thousands of NGOs who specialize in not being profitable have impacts on sustainable development. Members of civil society, many with competing, unclear agendas, struggle to work with private sector industry especially the extractive sector, fostering confusion among many ordinary Cambodians.
Angkor’s team arrived in Cambodia in 2009, saw great mineral prospects but came to understand the challenges of aid giveaways and a lack of profitable social development. Angkor Gold’s response strove to set small, sustainable, replicable examples that met community needs. Economic benefits for the small rural communities are vital for change, especially as Angkor, like many explorers, operates in a remote region where resources, infrastructure and meaningful economic opportunities are few and far between.
Strong companies think beyond their sector, into agriculture, energy solutions, natural resource management, simply because it is part of working with communities so they advance and share the value. Angkor’s associated bamboo related business, its small enterprise start-ups, and agriculture tests represent an entirely different model in exploration.
As the only public Canadian company in the extractive sector of Cambodia, we need to lead by example to strive for best practices, in doing our part to mitigate climate change, reduce poverty, improve access to education and promote ethical business.
Despite our efforts, distrust remains high among a non-profit sector here wedded to the stereotype that mining firms can do no good – despite our clear evidence to the contrary. This reflects an attitude the world over when it comes to the mining business. Indeed, the world needs energy and minerals, so we best advance the most sustainable and ethical practices to secure both, if we want any legacy for our future generations.
Therefore, for the third year running at the Palais de Nations overlooking Lake Geneva, we delivered a message about sustainable goals and sharing the value of development with the people that need it most. People, planet, profits, and peace … necessary components of any good business, of social license, and of integrity to investors, ourselves and, indeed, humanity.
Delayne Weeks is the vice-president for social development at Angkor Gold Corp. of Sexsmith, AB.