Canadian Mining Journal


The more the merrier: Cross-sector collaboration in mining

Carolyn Burns of the Devonshire Initiative discusses how cross-sector collaboration can help solve the ‘wicked problems’ of mining.

Cross-sector collaboration happens when representatives from more then one sector come together to achieve a ‘slightly common goal.’ There are two things that are important to note about this denition. First, the term collaboration speaks to a relationship that is action-oriented, or goal-based. This is different from engagement, which speaks to building a relationship. The two might be intertwined, but not all engagement is collaboration. Second, working together means you are not working against each other or working alone. Working towards a ‘slightly’ common goal doesn’t mean that organizations (or individuals for that matter) always agree with each other or are even totally aligned. More often than not, the best collaborations happen between groups and people that don’t align or agree on very much. But to collaborate you must have one shared vision or goal that directs the group and brings people together.

Cross-sector collaboration is particularly useful when we are trying to solve ‘wicked problems,’ and we all know the mining sector is full of these. In mining, we need to work across sectors in order to drive inclusive economic development; respect and protect human rights; address the climate crisis; build a low-carbon economy; and come out on the other side of Covid-19. Cross-sector collaboration can take many forms. There are three different ways CSC can help solve (or chip away at) these wicked problems.

Driving behavioural change

Cross-sector collaboration is an effective way to drive behaviour change. This can include changing physical actions and decisions, or the policies that influence those actions. Constructive advocacy is a good example of how cross-sector collaboration can change behaviour. This is a strategy that NGOs increasingly use in their relationship with mining companies and investors. To drive behaviour and policy change related to human rights and climate change, these organizations are co-creating policies, trainings, guidance or undergoing third-party assessments. This form of CSC is where the ‘shared vision’ becomes really important. Sometimes organizations agree on that shared vision and codify it in a formal agreement. But formal agreement isn’t always possible. In many cases, organizations focus on alignment, which requires less formal commitment or accountability. Alignment usually rests on a social contract between organizations to behave or participate in a specic way. It is common in CSC because organizations can be aligned around one issue but have different objectives and purposes.

Building relationships

Cross-sector collaboration is an excellent way to build relationships. As I mentioned earlier, it is distinct but very much intertwined with engagement. CSC can lead to stronger relationships between sectors which supports better decision making, community-led development, and it can help a company obtain and maintain a social licence to operate. Each sector offers its own convening power. Organizations can support each others’ objectives by bringing a different set of stakeholders together. Many companies participate in CSC in order to build stronger relationships and build trust with external stakeholder groups. NGOs can help companies build stronger relationships with community leaders as well as unrepresented group. Likewise, companies can help local NGOs build regional and national relationships with stakeholders they might not otherwise have access to.

Share and leverage resources

Cross-sector collaboration can help us share and leverage resources or expertise. When people think about cross-sector collaboration they often think about companies providing donations or nancing for specic development programs. This is an important form of cross-sector collaboration, but not the only way organizations share expertise and resources. In-kind contributions, such as space, transportation and time are also common in CSC. In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, donating PPE, supporting sanitation infrastructure and delivering Covid-19 awareness campaigns were a common in-kind contribution from companies and NGOs alike.

We often assume that CSC is about the mining company sharing resources with NGOs, but that idea neglects the very important contributions that NGOs provide. For example, if a mining company and NGO partner to scale a scholarship program that has been running for many years, the mining company may bring funding and access to employment opportunities to the table and the NGO may bring the relationships with community members and the established processes to administer the scholarship program. Both of these contributions have value and need to be acknowledged. Sharing expertise can focus on local dynamics, development or mining activity and can contribute to stronger relationships as highlighted above. It can also include sharing information about how to navigate certain systems. For example, a local NGO can help a mining company understand local history or local dynamics. Conversely, a mining company can help a local NGO navigate decision-making systems related to land use and regulation.

Despite the many benets and opportunities of cross-sector collaboration, it isn’t always a silver bullet. There are many instances where CSC isn’t the best path forward. Cross-sector collaboration is not always efcient or fast; it can take many months and sometimes years for organizations to be ready to work together. They might need to build a basic foundation of trust, or gather the resources and processes required to work together. Other times, historical tension or conflict can keep organizations (or the people that represent those organizations) from working together. Sometimes the best path forward is to work within our sector (our peers) or focus our energy within our own organization.

If you think that cross-sector collaboration could help your organization change behaviours, build relationships or share resources, there are few things you should think about.

1. Look at your current partners. What sectors are they in? What is the objective of the collaboration? What type of collaboration is it? What are the activities? What does that tell you about your current approach? Is CSC integrated into your organizations/departments strategy? Is it deliberate? Do you put resources behind it? Do you take a passive approach? You may participate in CSC because it happens naturally, but it wasn’t a formal strategy.

2. Are there other ways cross-sector collaboration could support your organizational objectives? Where could you work with another sector to change behaviour, build relationships or share resources in order to achieve your objectives?

3. What do you need to move that forward? Would your organizations culture support CSC? Do you have the time and resources to work with other sectors? Do you have the base level of trust and knowledge about the other sector? 

Carolyn Burns is Executive Director of the Devonshire Initiative, a multi-stakeholder forum that supports cross-sector collaboration to support sustained positive outcomes for mining-impacted communities.

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