The exploration phase of mining involves the search for rare, commercially viable concentrations of ore, often over vast tracts of land. This highly competitive activity also involves contact with communities that can have many questions about mining. Relationships with these communities can begin years, sometimes decades, before a decision is ever made to build a mine. getting it right during that early engagement stage is critically important. It can set the tone for the entire mine development process, from permitting and approval to construction and operation and ultimately to mine closure.
“There isn’t a prescribed one-size-fits-all approach for engaging with a community,” says Jordon Kuschminder, Barrick’s Senior Manager, Community Relations Exploration. “However, we always want to develop relationships in ways that are respectful to communities and representative of Barrick and the kind of company we are.”
Kuschminder recently developed a new field guide that establishes standardized best practices for engaging with communities throughout the exploration process. The five-volume guide draws on Barrick’s global exploration community relations teams’ experiences in the field and sets out minimum requirements at each stage of exploration. For example, in the earliest “grassroots” phase, team members are required to engage with the community, develop social profiles and begin considering the political and socio-economic impacts that exploration activity may have on the community. Sentiment toward mining in these communities can be diverse, with some groups welcoming the opportunity for jobs and economic activity and others fearful or distrustful of what they believe to be the impacts of future mining activity.
It all adds up to identifying risk and proactively mitigating it, Kuschminder says. “When you’re working reactively and not proactively, you’re only responding to community concerns or problems,” he says. “You’re putting out fires.” The focus is to shift from reactivity to strategic planning and create a more continuous relationship with communities. “In this business, you generally don’t find out for many years whether you have a viable mine, so you need a continuous license to operate. It’s not just about getting permission to explore, it’s about being able to stay.”