1.4 Community development in the context of mining

It is not always easy for mining companies to know the boundaries of their social responsibility and what role they should play in local community development. In the new millennium, the mining industry has seriously engaged with the sustainable development agenda and has come to understand that local communities, in particular people who are affected by mining activities, have the ability to influence the industry’s ability to gain access to resources. In response to the sustainable development agenda, a growing number of companies are now focusing on how they can contribute to development of communities beyond the life of a mine.

The corporate sector, including the mining industry, is increasingly using the terminology of community development to communicate an approach that goes beyond one-off grants and philanthropy to one that is focused on long-term outcomes and is more collaborative and partnership driven. In this emerging model, companies work with governments and communities on initiatives that help strengthen the social, human, economic and cultural capital of an area.

1.4.1 Dynamic linkages

Community development includes helping people to link up and support each other through organisations and networks. It can also involve industry working with, or influencing, governments, other institutions and agencies to contribute to, for example:

  • improving public health and other services
  • enhancing the local environment and building community pride
  • strengthening local institutions
  • working with marginalised groups to help them participate more fully in the development of their community.

The focus of community development programs varies, based on the location of the community; the capabilities, needs and aspirations of its members; community priorities; the economic base of the community and the wider region; and the strength and capacity of other institutions, such as regional organisations and state, territory or local governments, which often have direct responsibility for providing services and infrastructure. In the Australian context, it is usually not necessary or even desirable for a company to be the lead player in community development. Rather, the focus should primarily be on partnering with other organisations and government agencies that have expertise in the area, aligning activities with established community planning processes and augmenting successful existing programs and initiatives. Community development is fundamentally about contributing to communities so they are better able to meet their needs and aspirations themselves, both now and into the future, not doing it for them.

Where practical, companies should avoid filling roles that are the responsibility of others, particularly governments. Mining companies in remote parts of Australia have often responded to an obvious local need, such as for improved local health and education infrastructure, particularly when the company is partly responsible for stretching community resources. However, companies need to be careful that they do not indefinitely fund the maintenance, upkeep and running costs of services that are the responsibility of government or, at least, are shared with government. Direct involvement in services that are not part of their core business skills does not always make sense for mining operations or help local communities develop their own capacity and secure government services. Independently providing services without government involvement, or without a plan for transferring responsibility, may inadvertently create community dependency upon the mining operation in the long term.

One of the best ways a company can contribute to community development is by acting as a catalyst for economic and social development opportunities. One way of achieving this is to foster dynamic links between communities and external support agencies, such as non-government organisations, service providers, training organisations and employment agencies. Working with state, territory and local governments on local development programs is equally essential, particularly as most governments have their own regional and local development plans. In other words, a mining operation can play a key role bridging communications and planning gaps between its stakeholders by building strong relationships with each and encouraging increased cooperation for the benefit of the local community.

1.4.2 Going too far?

A cautionary note has been sounded recently about mining operations seeking to support community development programs outside of and unconnected to their core business. Mining companies are not development agencies and have no expertise in such work, however much they may want local economic and social development in the interests of long-run societal stability. Recognising this, many seek to partner with those who have community development expertise, or hire the expertise into their own specialist community development divisions. Either way, they could be inadvertently quarantining themselves from meaningful community relationships and from making sustainable contributions. Harvey has used the terms ‘outreach’ and ‘inreach’ to describe his view of how mining community interaction should best be organised

‘Bad outreach’ involves the unilateral delivery of programmes that have no connection to the ‘business of the business’, managed by third parties or company people who are isolated from the rest of the business. ‘Good outreach’ is done with the decision-making involvement of local people at all stages of lateral programme delivery, involving mainstream company employees leveraging the comparative advantage of the business itself. 1η-reach’ involves community people and company people from across the business, tapping their respective skills and experience to draw business and community activities together for mutually beneficial outcomes. (Harvey 2013:9)

Mining companies and their contractors have expertise to share with communities in a range of areas, such as trades training, administration, management, finance, catering and logistics, operating and maintaining machinery, and improving local supplier and contractor capability. In addressing community development challenges, mining companies should focus on where their comparative advantage and expertise intersect with community interests.

Mining companies already contribute to the regions in which they operate in many ways, including through their tax and royalty streams, direct employment, fostering business opportunities, and by contributing donations and sponsorships. Some companies seek to contribute further by fostering employment and business opportunities outside of the mining industry, and by supporting the development of people’s skills and capacity to find employment in other industries and after mine closure. Some companies in specific contexts have focused much energy and effort on employment and business opportunities for indigenous people, consistent with government policies directed to transitioning Indigenous people from welfare to work. Whatever the motivation, Harvey argues that the greatest outcomes will come from a real’ business case and the use of existing expertise across the whole business, not from setting up buffering scenarios.

Case study: Waihi Community Vision, New Zealand-Working towards community sustainability

With the closure of Newmont Waihi Gold’s Martha open-pit mine in Waihi, New Zealand, scheduled for 2007, local regulators Hauraki District Council (HDC) passed a resolution in November 2002 requesting that Newmont establish a community consultation group to examine any issues, plans and proposals in readiness for the closure, make recommendations to HDC, and make information available to the public.

After a series of well-attended public meetings, in June 2003 the Waihi Community Consultation Committee was established and set guidelines for how meetings would proceed and how decisions would be made. Newmont agreed to pay for the facilitation costs and related expenses of the committee, which evolved into Waihi Community Vision (WCV), and the formation of the Vision Waihi Trust to action viable projects ratified by the community at a public meeting in May 2004.

With the opening of Newmont’s Favona underground mine and extensions to the Martha open pit, the planned 2007 closure did not eventuate.

For a number of years, WCV provided a significant forum for two-way communication, and a mature and productive relationship developed between company and community. WCV allowed Newmont to gauge community thinking and views on aspects related to mining in an open and independently facilitated forum. WCV has resulted in Newmont changing some of its views, practices and processes to better accommodate the community of Waihi. The forum provided Newmont with a ‘litmus test’ on operations and a guide to projects for community support.

The next date for closure was set at December 2011. With this change in closure date came a restating of the aims and objectives of the group. Newmont funded a comprehensive independent review of the function and structure of WCV in 2008. This provided a useful ‘audit’ of WCV’s aims, objectives and current direction. In 2010, WCV reviewed its projects with the aim of validating its values and vision and identifying ideas for the future.

Mining in Waihi did not end in 2011. The current closure date is either 2016 or 2017, and might be extended. As the prospect of closure is regularly ‘pushed out’, the original purpose of WCV has been adapted and modified. The group now meets every quarter, but it is in the success of its subgroups that the legacy thrives. They continue to be successful in identifying, funding and actioning a broad range of community-based projects using external funding.

In 2014, Vision Waihi Trust is engaged in many activities, including the following:

  • the construction of the Waihi Gold Discovery Centre (a tourist attraction)
  • mine tours using a minibus provided by Newmont Waihi Gold
  • the Waihi Community Resource Centre, which delivers a number of state-funded programs for the local community
  • a sports hub that runs international-standard multisport events, school holiday programs and more
  • Waihi Heritage Vision, which is involved in a number of projects, including a local oral history project and the construction of a memorial to mine workers who left to tunnel under enemy lines in World War I.

The tunnellers memorial project has received $100,000 in funding from central government. Completion was scheduled for early 2016.

Newmont’s experience in helping to set up and partner WCV has proved most valuable as the company moves towards the construction and operation of its Correnso underground mine, which is situated below residential properties in Waihi.

The Waihi Community Forum was set up in 2012 with five elected members. Newmont and HDC each appoint two members. The forum receives Newmont and HDC monitoring results, reports to the community, administers community betterment projects with funding provided by Newmont, and appoints members of an independent review panel responsible for administering a property purchase fund and mediating any damage claims.

Source: Newmont Asia Pacific

Vision Waihi Trust trustees signing the Vision Waihi Trust deed
Vision Waihi Trust trustees signing the Vision Waihi Trust deed.

Share this Page