Working together to support community response efforts

Communities across the world are continuing to grapple with the many challenges associated with COVID-19. ICMM’s members are in a unique position to support these local response efforts, working with community members and organisations in often remote locations to identify and help meet specific needs, writes ICMM Director, Social and Economic Development, Nicky Black.

And while each community is unique, with their experience of the pandemic shaped by specific local context, there is much that can be shared across companies and geographies to help the industry provide the most effective support possible. In ICMM’s social and economic development programme, which I lead, we’ve brought company and association members together virtually over the past six weeks to share resources and information around two main themes: 1) how companies are providing immediate assistance to local communities impacted by the virus; and 2) the groundwork required for longer-term economic recovery in communities. The answer is, in part, building additional resilience so that we are all better prepared next time.  

Assistance comes in many forms

Over the last few weeks, significant donations made by ICMM members have caught headlines worldwide. However, these donations only scratch the surface of the support and resources being delivered at a local level. This includes working closely with local authorities in areas close to member’s operations and helping them prepare and respond to specific critical infrastructure needs. We have also seen donations of company facilities for use as field hospitals and testing centres, provision of access to clean water and sanitation facilities, provision of food and care packages, investment in online education programmes, supply of medical transport vehicles and the donation of ventilators, personal protective equipment and face masks.  And some members are reviewing their terms for local businesses, for example reducing the time to pay invoices, or extending loan schemes to cushion the economic impact.

Many of our members have been present in communities for several years (if not decades) and have well established connections with those who are hardest to reach, developed through structured assessment and engagement processes. This allows them to work with local NGOs and governments to quickly identify vulnerable individuals and deliver vital resources and care packages to those who need it most. Members are drawing on these community networks to share knowledge and deliver solutions to a range of critical issues arising from COVID-19.

But members’ engagement stretches well beyond material support.

Communicating accurate information

Mining companies (including our members) often have well established communications channels within the surrounding areas to mine sites.  This is especially the case where community members make up the majority of a mine’s employees. We are seeing companies use these channels to help disseminate public health information to those hard to reach, and to dispel any misinformation and misunderstanding of the virus. This helps to ease the fear and anxiety felt by some communities who, owing to geographic location or socio-economic position, struggle to access reliable information. While this is dependent on the community context, we have seen the use of WhatsApp, local radio stations, mail drops and cartoons,  and even megaphones to provide accessible information on how the virus spreads, how to minimise transmission risk, and the latest governmental advice. With face-to-face meetings not currently possible we are now seeing members moving to virtual platforms in order to continue an open dialogue with communities. This provides an opportunity to understand priorities, determine how best to deliver support, and communicate how best to access government support.  

Working together to accelerate learning

ICMM has a key role to play in supporting members and member associations as they work together to share ideas, tools and guidance to accelerate learning. My specific focus has been on bringing social performance leads, community practitioners and others together to help our members do this and share solutions on specific community issues.

What has become clear through these conversations is the importance of three key, interconnected resources in helping assess risks and deliver effective community responses quickly:

  1. the knowledge and insight built up through deep engagement with communities over the years has proved invaluable.
  2. the existing levels of trust and strong relationships between a mine and the local community, and the strength of communication – even if engagement is now virtual.
  3. the commitment, resources and skills of the front-line community practitioners who are working on the ground to support communities through this crisis.

ICMM’s response is built on strong foundations. As a condition of membership, ICMM’s members are required to implement our Mining Principles which aim to foster strong relationships with communities built on trust and mutual respect. They are uniquely placed to help support and work with mining communities through this time of unprecedented uncertainty. What I have learned is that whilst the headline grabbing donations go a long way to demonstrate the contribution our members make, what matters even more is the importance of engagement, listening, and reacting to immediate community needs.

***

Nicky Black is Director, Social and Economic Development Programme at the International Council on Mining and Metals.