Guest Article: Its about Development (Not Non-Governmental Organizations vs. Mining Companies)

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I have been listening to the debate regarding CIDA’s partnership with some Canadian mining companies and felt compelled to put forward some thoughts based on over two decades of experience working at the interface where the interests of communities, global private sector, governments, development agencies, environment, NGOs and others meet.  There have been some spectacular successes and abysmal failures at that interface.  Impoverished people and communities have been uplifted, or they have been pushed further down, environmental miracles and disasters have occurred.  It has been far less about the types of partners involved than it has been about the right partner, plan and approach, based on the specific situation.

The recent discussion over CIDA's collaboration with Canadian mining interests in support of international development has been framed in terms of the interests of Canadian NGOs vs the interests of Canadian mining companies.  The discussion is more properly framed in relation to the interests of the people and communities that should be the beneficiaries of Canada's development assistance.  It’s about the world’s poor and how CIDA can best support education, health and other development issues.

CIDA does not have an easy role.  Its budget comes from Canadian taxpayers and it has a responsibility to ensure that the money it invests in development produces results.  CIDA often works with and through Canadian partners including NGOs, educational institutions, private sector (including mining) and other partners.  There are successful examples for all types of partners, just as there are unsuccessful examples.  No single group holds a monopoly on success, or failure.

I was one of the first to facilitate a large, developmental partnership project between CIDA and a Canadian mining company.  Canadian mining company Placer Dome wanted to go far beyond normal practices and assist the families of 2,500 retrenched mineworkers to establish alternative income streams.  The company committed $5,000,000, CIDA contributed $2,000,000, a number of local NGOs and organizations were involved and the direct impact was felt by thousands of families in hundreds of communities across Southern Africa.  The indirect impact changed the social face of the South African mining industry and led directly to the industry’s progressive (and economically self-interested) HIV/AIDS programming and the project was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (link) and used as a case study by the Stanford Business School.

After the success of work in South Africa the World Bank asked Placer Dome to help develop a strategic approach to HIV/AIDS programming in Papua New Guinea that would engage all stakeholders.   We put together a plan and CIDA contributed $200,0000, Placer Dome about the same amount and other partners including Australian Aid, World Bank, World Health Organization, PNG AIDS, Chamber of Mines and others contributed cash and resources.  The end result was a Public Private Partnership Strategy and programming for HIV/AIDS in PNG that was enthusiastically endorsed by a broad cross section of the HIV/AIDS constituency.

In Turkey Eldorado Gold was in the process of developing a gold mine and their work with local communities identified agricultural development as a key local priority.  CIDA partnered with Eldorado (CIDA $200,000 cash, Eldorado ~$750,000 cash and in-kind) and strategies and programs were developed that helped to increase income and productivity of the farmers.

In all of these cases a development impact was achieved because CIDA picked the right partner for the situation.  The mining companies, by virtue of their presence in the area and understanding of the situation, were uniquely positioned to produce results in these cases. In other cases it may well be an NGO or others that would be the best partner.  Experiences like these should help to guide the current debate.

Canada has a global responsibility to support development around the world.  The execution of that responsibility should not be about one Canadian group or another, but rather about the impact on development.  It isn’t a mining company vs NGO issue.  The mining sector has done terrible things to people and communities, in Canada and globally.  But, so have churches, NGOs, governments and others.  All these groups have positive accomplishments too.  CIDA cannot, and should not exclude entire sectors from its partnership programs.  CIDA must find the partners that enable it to be the most efficient at supporting development for the world’s poor.

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Wayne Dunn has worked with private sector, governments, NGOs, civil society and others on over 60 social responsibility/development projects in over 30 countries.  He can be reached at +1.250.743.7619 or wayne@waynedunn.com