Graduate trainee experience

Gold 15 Sep , 2021

Inspired by South Africa’s Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, a self-made manganese tycoon dubbed “the mining iron lady” by Forbes Africa in 2014, I made the decision to pursue mining engineering. As part of my undergraduate course work, I was required to complete two external industrial placements and, in both cases, I ended up spending several weeks with gemstone and gold artisanal miners in Kenya.

At the time, as is still the case in Kenya, mining engineering, being a relatively new area of study in the country, means that the conventional opportunities that were foreseen to exist by the time of my graduation were slim to none. Working in the cement industry as an engineer in the limestone quarries of the coast, where I spent my childhood, or in the oil fields of Turkana, close to the magnificent Lake Turkana all seemed like viable career options for my younger self, but fate had a different idea in store.

Upon taking my final exam at university, I aimed to find a company that would complement the knowledge I had encountered in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) community and that is how I came across The Impact Facility. The organisation works with the same communities I had spent time with and is actively seeking to provide economic and environmental empowerment to this often-stigmatized group.

To bridge the pay gap, Makal, a sustainable jewellery brand founded in 2018, stepped in to ensure that I could be paid. In a country that still debates on the need to pay interns, given the prevailing economic condition caused by the pandemic, this provided me the lifeline I needed to survive and build my career. The founder, Daniela Colaiacovo, who has a history working with organised women’s mining groups, jumped at the opportunity to ensure that not only would I have the support I need to start my career, but that I was compensated while doing so.

With this support, I have been able to get a clearer picture of the ASM sector in East Africa. Not only have I been able to visit mine sites and personally interact with miners, I have also gotten the opportunity to reflect on the needs of the community and in my own capacity, help The Impact Facility make the necessary steps needed in the actualisation of our current projects.

Through The Impact Facility’s involvement in Project Access: Professionalising ASGM in Kenya and Uganda, I have been able to write and publish several blogs highlighting the realities of gold miners, particularly the women that often get the short end of the stick due of the inequality that so starkly exists in the mining industry. Women, who comprise the majority of the work force involved in gold processing, are the worst paid and the population most vulnerable to mercury poisoning, the harmful neurotoxin used in processing gold. In order to raise awareness on this issue, I have been responsible for the rollout of the company’s newsletter, a feat I am very proud of.

As I exist within a small team, getting the opportunity to accompany investment pitches to local investors has been the most exciting part of my internship. Raising the necessary finance to make equipment provision to ASM communities work is key for the implementation of our activities across East Africa. We believe that key to the transformation of the ASM sector is an increase in mine productivity which can only be achieved by the provision of the right equipment. The ripple effect of increased production will not only be increased revenue for the miners, but also the increased operational health and safety of the work processes and reduced environmental degradation.

The Impact Facility works towards increasing mine environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance in all the mines we partner with. We do this using The Impact Escalator, a set of tiered criteria that gradually improves a mining organisation’s practices towards industry best practice by incentivising the small and medium-scale mining enterprises with increased access to investment. The ESG handbook aligns with the Code of Risk-mitigation for ASM Engaging in Formal Trade (CRAFT Code) and the well-known OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Trade (OECD DD Guidance). Miners partnering with us will have increased access to the formal supply trade increasing the amount of sustainably produced and sourced minerals in the international market.

My work has given me the opportunity to improve the ESG Handbook, adding to it the justification for criteria that will be able to address the inequality that women in the sector face, including the need to have women managing mining groups and the need to provide childcare facilities for new mothers. I have also been able to appreciate the need for collaboration for a business to undertake successful and viable implementation of its projects.

My work has enabled me to network and meet different actors in the mining sector and across the supply chain. This has ranged from the different actors in the Project Access consortium to decision makers in local and national government, my network has grown tremendously. In addition, I was given the responsibility to moderate a webinar organised by the OECD, highlighting the fact that my time at the Impact Facility has been nothing short of a dream.

As my internship comes to an end, I can truly reflect on the type of career path I want to undertake. Having been in close contact with colleagues who have made tremendous impact in the world of sustainability, I am inclined to pursue a career in strategic management of organisations. Granted, the kind of field experience I will continue getting from working with miners will be invaluable to my career progression, I am very excited about being at the head of the table in due time.