Collaborating for Impact: The Impact Catalyst

This panel discussion was hosted by Minah Koela, CEO of Beautiful Gate. Panel members included Charl Harding of CSIR, Mzila Mthenjane of Exxaro and Dr Matthew Chadwick of Anglo American Mining. They discussed the Impact Catalyst, an initiative founded by Anglo American, the CSIR, Exxaro, World Vision South Africa and Zutari to create mechanisms that drive large scale socio-economic development initiations through public/private partnerships.

Minah asked Dr Matthew Chadwick why Anglo American had chosen to take a developmental approach, changing people’s lives while also benefiting mining enterprises. He replied that Anglo re-examined their approach to mining and saw the need to operate smarter, do business better, to examine their reason for mining and to re-imagine mining to improve the lives of the communities with whom they interact. They become an integral part of the local community for an extended period so they feel it incumbent upon them to contribute to local development. Mining areas are often poverty stricken with a high unemployment rate, enduring water scarcity and health issues.

It would be impossible for any single organisation, even the government, to solve all the issues overnight. But by collaborating with other stakeholders, as well as listening to the voice of the community, it is possible to make great improvements to the quality of life of those living in mining areas. Partnerships allow the pooling of resources (human, intellectual and financial) to bring about meaningful improvements. Innovation is a buzzword with Anglo and their partners, in mining as well as in the field of social and economic development. Developing new technologies to solve problems leads to improved partnerships, greater trust and better projects which at the end of the day will improve people’s lives.

Minah asked Mzila Mthenjane to expound on the dos and don’ts of engaging with communities, the government, and other stakeholders in developing strategies for sustainable development. He explained that there is no easy answer; no quick-fix to the problems they face. As one problem is solved, so others appear because the environment in which they find themselves is constantly evolving and changing. It is usually positive change and therein lies the sustainability. Achieving sustainability also hinges on the kind of stakeholder relationships which are built. “At Exxaro, we have put in a lot of effort in recent years to achieve an environment of harmony and working together with our communities through a concept we refer to as intentional engagement,” Mzila explained.

Intentional engagement comprises listening to communities to ensure that what Exxaro do is what the community wants from them. It is necessary to understand the communities’ needs and not make decisions for them. This need evolves on an ongoing basis so frequent dialogue is required which should include the other stakeholders like local government, traditional healers and in many cases the youth, women and children or any other demographic that might be involved. It is necessary to constantly keep a finger on the pulse of what the community expectations are; keeping in touch with communities, having dialogues, hearing grievances and dealing with them. Responding to grievances does not necessarily need to be immediate. It is important to listen carefully and then to develop a suitable response.

Minah asked Charl Harding to talk about the Impact Catalyst concept. He said that Impact Catalyst was born out of the need to make a logical impact through corporate social investment, socio economic development and the state working collectively rather than individually. In order to deal with the type of problems being experienced in South Africa, they felt all stakeholders should join in a partnership which would be able to impact on those communities where help is most needed. “We need to catalyse change through collective partnership; partnerships between different organisations in different sectors, between industry, the government and civil society, so pooling our resources to really make a difference,” Charl explained. This cannot happen overnight but takes much research to design specific solutions to unique problems. They studied many models of change being used globally to see which offered the greatest impact and so Impact Catalyst was born.

Minah asked Dr Harding and Mthenjane how their companies have worked out collaborations between themselves and their various partners and what they learned along the way. Matthew said one can never become complacent; just when relative harmony is achieved in a partnership an unexpected event or situation, not necessarily related to the partnership, can derail it. The mining industry retains high levels of control in order to maintain safety and security but when collaborating with other companies and communities one has to relinquish some of that control which does not come easily to a mining company. They know the value of collaborating with others; a new dynamic, a different perspective, yet it is not an easy thing to do.

Mthenjane agreed with Dr Harding, saying that one must start with a basic understanding of the landscape of stakeholders within that environment, also taking into account the nature of the activity to be embarked upon. However, it is important to give jurisdiction where it is due. The role of local government must be acknowledged. Companies and partnerships should become conversant with the jurisdictions of local, provincial and national government and be aware that there are links between them. When implementing a project, one should make sure which area of the government will be involved. The need to engage community members directly, outside of government should be carefully handled. Must one engage with the whole community or merely their representative? Make known the agenda and content of the discussion as well as whom the various role players are. This is a dynamic environment, constantly changing, so the subsequent engagements may turn out to be very different from the initial one. This is where ongoing dialogue and stakeholder management is important.

Minah invited Dr Harding to outline the benefits of partnering with other stakeholders. He explained that it is always helpful to be able to tap into the expertise, experience and dynamics of other organisations in order to make a real difference. All stakeholders bring some unique knowledge to the table. Many corporations forget about the people, but throwing money at a problem will not make it go away. “You have to build those personal relationships in the communities; you have to build relationships in the government and with other corporates. Take people on the journey and appreciate what they are bringing to the table,” he concluded.

This panel discussion took place at Nation Builder’s 6th annual In Good Company conference (September 2020), which looked at “building back better”.