By Candice Jumwa
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 a career in mining engineering.
As part of my undergraduate course work, I was required to complete two external industrial placements so I ended up spending several weeks with gemstone and gold artisanal miners in Kenya.
At the time, and as is still the case in Kenya, mining engineering – a relatively new area of study in the country – offers few conventional opportunities. Working in the cement industry as an engineer in the coastal limestone quarries, where I spent my childhood, or in the oil fields of Turkana, all seemed like viable career options for me once. But fate had a different plan.
After my final exam at university, I aimed to find a company that would complement the knowledge I gained in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) community.
That is how I came across The Impact Facility. The organisation works with the same communities I had spent time with. It is actively seeking to provide economic and environmental empowerment to this often-stigmatised group.
MAKAL, a sustainable jewellery brand founded in 2018, stepped in to ensure that I could be paid as I made this transition. In a country that still debates the need to pay interns, given the prevailing economic condition caused by the pandemic, Makal’s help gave me the lifeline I needed to survive and build my career. The founder, Daniela Colaiacovo, has a history of working in mining, including with women’s mining groups. She jumped at the opportunity to support me financially in the key stage of my career.
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 also got the opportunity to reflect on the needs of the community. In my own capacity, I have helped The Impact Facility take the necessary steps to realise our projects.
Through The Impact Facility’s involvement in Project Access. This is about professionalising Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (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 to the inequality entrenched in the mining industry. Women, who comprise the majority of the workforce involved in gold processing, are the worst paid. They are the most vulnerable to mercury poisoning. In order to raise awareness of this issue, I have been responsible for the rollout of the company’s newsletter, of which I am very proud.
As a part of 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 is key for the implementation of our activities across East Africa.
We believe that essential to the transformation of the ASM sector is an increase in mine productivity. This can only be achieved by the provision of the right equipment. Increased production will not only lead to higher revenues for the miners, but it will also improve the operational health and safety of the work processes and reduce environmental degradation.
The Impact Facility works towards increasing 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 by incentivising the small and medium-scale mining enterprises (SMMEs) with increased access to investment.
The handbook aligns with the Code of Risk-Mitigation for ASMs 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 criteria that will be used 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 how important collaboration is for a business seeking successful 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 those involved in the Project Access consortium to decision makers in local and national government. My network has grown tremendously. In addition, I was given the chance 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 impacts in the world of sustainability, I am inclined to pursue a career in the strategic management of organisations.
The kind of field experience I will continue getting from working with miners will be invaluable to my career progression, and I am very excited about getting to a senior leadership role in due course.
Finally, the financial support MAKAL has given me has been the anchor for my career lift-off and for this I will be forever grateful. As I move forward, I am reminded to extend the same support to the women that succeed me. In whatever capacity, this industry needs the contribution and voices of more women.