Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

How miners can be part of a collaborative response to COVID-19

Carolyn Burns of the Devonshire Initiative outlines the different ways miners can be part of a collaborative response to the pandemic that will benefit communities



Managing the spread, treatment and long-term impacts of the novel coronavirus is a global issue. National, regional and local governments are at the forefront of the response. But NGOs and mining companies are uniquely positioned to work with governments and take a leadership role in addressing COVID-19 in the countries where they work.

The Devonshire Initiative (DI) is a multi-stakeholder forum of non-prot organizations and mining companies. We believe that cross-sector collaboration is an important part of driving positive development outcomes in the mining context. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, DI members shared their response plans through a survey and series of discussions.

For most members the immediate response focused on the health and safety of employees and following government requirements and action. This included shutting operations, repatriating staff, encouraging physical distancing, or following quarantine requirements.

Best practice with previous pandemics and emergency response clearly indicates that a collaborative approach is essential to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and to treating people who have become infected. A collaborative approach will also be required to rebuild social and economic systems when COVID-19 has been brought under control globally. Following their initial response, both mining companies and NGOs are nding opportunities to collaborate to promote prevention, support treatment, and contribute to rebuilding social and economic systems impacted by COVID-19. Collaboration can take different forms and focus on concurrent activities such as data and information sharing, collaborative response planning, and formal partnerships and joint ventures to implement responses.

Internal collaboration

Internal collaboration includes all functions/departments in an organization’s COVID-19 response. Some examples include a multi-disciplinary task force where department heads are represented and daily communications flow down to employees and external stakeholders. Department heads are responsible for working within their department and across regions to feed back information and implement the response plan.

Peer-to-peer collaboration

Peer-to-peer collaboration is between organizations in a similar sector or industry. At this point, most examples of peer-to-peer collaboration in the mining sector are based on learning and sharing ideas. In some cases, this collaboration has been facilitated by industry associations and established peer networks, or spearheaded by individuals. For example, in March, the independent Synergy Global Consulting, the Wits Mining Institute and Global Compact South Africa began hosting regular webinars for social performance practitioners to share lessons learned and concerns. Industry associations have also helped with in-kind support to government health authorities. Companies in South Africa are also considering how they can co-ordinate in specic communities and provinces where they operate.

Community-led collaboration

Community-led collaboration is guided and directed by community leaders and priorities. Where relationships with communities are well-established, companies and NGOs should prioritize community-led responses, which are more likely to be effective as communities better understand their own needs and challenges.

Many mining companies and NGOs have experience with community-led initiatives. Community-led collaboration is specically important when designing relevant approaches for:

  • Social distancing requirements, sensitization and education;
  • Developing plans to ensure communities have food security, shelter and access to sanitation;
  • Sharing information, developing community databases to identify vulnerable groups and tracking experiences with the virus;
  • Managing treatment and access to care; and
  • Planning for appropriate and safe burial and funerary services.

The collaborative effort from the Tahltan Nation and Newcrest Mining in British Columbia is a good example of community-led collaboration. Together, the Tahltan Nation (Tahltan Central Government, Iskut Band and Tahltan Band) and Newcrest made plans related to medical support for three communities, mining operations at the Red Chris joint venture and employee rosters, access to groceries and health supplies for the Tahltan communities, and a joint working group for future decisions. (Read more at Tahltan.org).

Both mining companies and NGOs have established engagement practices with mining-impacted communities. However, most dialogue and discussion mechanisms rely on in-person connections. Both mining companies and NGOs are looking for innovative ways to engage with community stakeholders while respecting physical distance and quarantine requirements. Where communities have access to social media, Facebook and WhatsApp have become central tools for both sharing information and driving dialogue with the community.

Cross-sector collaboration

Cross-sector collaboration is between organizations from different sectors. This can include collaboration between mining companies, NGOs, local governments and community organizations, regional and national governments and international organizations (for example, the World Health Organization or UN agencies). This can also include collaboration with other industries, including other natural resource development companies, as well as health providers (pharmaceutical companies, medical supplies etc.) and mineral end users.

At the time of writing, most cross-sector collaboration related to COVID-19 is based on information sharing and nancial donations in order to support the local organizations that are best placed to drive the response. For example, Kinross Gold has donated approximately $1 million across all sites to facilitate improved testing, provide medical supplies, improve health infrastructure, support local businesses and help vulnerable groups. Kinross has partnered directly with government health authorities, with mining industry associations, community partners, local businesses, schools and individuals. The company is actively working on a longer-term strategy looking at continued response plus eventual recovery, with lines of action likely to focus on health and local economic reactivation.

However, many Canadian mining companies and NGOs are interested in methods to drive a more coordinated cross-sector collaborative approach in order to:

1. Follow a joint plan or road map that can inform an organization’s response. A regional plan would ideally be led by government bodies, including health authorities. It would clearly identify the resources needed and co-ordinate private and NGO responses. It would also establish hubs for organizations to share and receive information and data.

2. Leverage resources and limit overlap. Organizations are looking for direction and opportunities to utilize their supply chains, transportation networks, and warehouses to deliver health and medical supplies as well as other essential services; utilize under-used resources such as empty mine camps and spaces for hospital services; re-tool operations to develop health and medical supplies (sanitizer, PPE etc.); and share prototypes for required health and medical supplies.

A co-ordinated and transparent response is required to prevent and treat COVID-19 and rebuild our social and economic systems once we have contained the virus. Both mining companies and NGOs have many resources and assets that can be used and should seek out collaborative methods for their COVID-19 responses in order to deploy those resources effectively and to be able to support both employees and communities. 

Carolyn Burns is the executive director of the Devonshire Initiative (www.devonshireinitiative.org), a multi-stakeholder forum for non-profit organizations and mining companies who are committed to cross-sector collaboration.