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 reasons for this are because the projects:
- Were chosen by the mining company people and/or the local elites
- Were built or run by outsiders, with little management involvement from local community members
- Were only accessible by the more affluent members of the community and not by the poorer members
- Required technology or knowledge not locally available to maintain them
- Or because the capacity of local people to manage the programs was not built up to a sufficient level.
The sum of these factors is that, with the best of intentions, the projects were imposed upon local communities and they therefore did not feel any particular ownership of them nor did they have the needed capabilities to sustain them, resulting in a progressive decline once external support was withdrawn.
Further, if local communities and government agencies become accustomed to mining companies taking charge of the provision of infrastructure and services, an unhealthy dependency relationship can evolve, which works against sustainability.
Mining companies should take a strategic and intelligent perspective and focus upon their own areas of expertise to determine where those intersect with community needs. In that way there is a reduced chance of companies filling roles that should be the responsibility of others. For example, schools and clinics are the areas of expertise of educational and medical experts and the responsibility of governments and are not core business skills for mining companies. Certainly, companies have building expertise, but the buildings are only the skeleton of the health and education systems, and are not much use without teachers, nurses, course materials, and medicines, none of which are mining business specialties. Even where mining companies are willing and able to put in place such health and education services, there remains the inherent risk that when the mining company ceases its activities and departs, these services will collapse.
By contrast, mining operations do have skills to share with communities, for instance, in trade, administration, management, finance, operating, and maintaining mobile and fixed machinery, and in improving local supplier and contractor capability.
Partnership programs for local apprentices in these areas of capacity building will be more beneficial in the long term than the traditional list of buildings. The challenge, however, is to not only build the skills but also facilitate the growth of other activities in parallel to mining.