Community development is the process of increasing the strength and effectiveness of communities, improving people's quality of life, and enabling people to participate in decision making to achieve greater long-term control over their lives. Sustainable community development programs are those that contribute to the long-term strengthening of community viability.
Often, the most sustainable beneficial legacies that community development programs around a mining operation may leave are in the skills and capacities that training, employment, and education programs for local people provide. The essential element of a sustainable community development program is that it can survive without input from a mining company, especially after the mining project is finished. Thus, community sustainability can be supported by mining practices that help convert one local asset, nonrenewable natural resource capital, into another local asset, sustainable human and social capital.
The most effective and sustainable community development activities reflect some basic principles:
Mining operations support for community development is always determined by local conditions; that is, by the nature and scale of the operation, local government resources, and local peoples' specific needs and priorities.
Conventionally, mining companies have wanted to take immediate measures to alleviate poverty they observed in the neighborhood of their mining projects. Typically this has been by building schools, clinics, or hospitals and by sponsoring external health and education service providers to create new programs.
Often these efforts, although appreciated as generous gifts to local communities, have not lasted beyond the life of the mine, and sometimes not even beyond the tenure of the particular company staff that instigated the projects.
The mining industry can play a central role in community development by acting as a catalyst for positive change in areas that may otherwise have little if any opportunities for economic and social development. This is especially true in situations where mining can be a catalyst to help to build up other (non-mining) sustainable income sources in the areas where the mines are located so that communities are able to develop independently of the mine and are thus able to survive the exhaustion of the ore reserves and the departure of the mining operation. An important means of achieving this is to foster dynamic linkages between communities and external support agencies.
During the mine life, there can be tensions involving the distribution of mining revenues in a country, between local and national levels. This is because mineral wealth is usually vested in national governments rather than owned by people living in the mining area, and national governments may have priorities for development that differ from those of the communities neighboring the mine.
Community development needs clearly defined roles and responsibilities of government, companies, NGOs/community-based organizations (CBOs), and communities (table), and shared commitment from all levels within an organization.
The precise roles of the various participants depend on local circumstances and change during the course of both the mine and the community development process. However, some broad principles are clear: