Small Company, Big Impact

Small Company, Big Impact

How Aureus is paving the way for long-term benefits through smart community investments in Liberia
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© Aureus

CEO,
Aureus

As a junior company operating in Liberia, Aureus faces many pressing challenges—from skill shortages to a fragile investment environment to the devastation wrought by the Ebola outbreak. Yet the company has remained resolute in emphasizing sustainability in its work. Aureus understands that building public support is just as important as obtaining a mining license or a mineral development agreement. Without the support of the community, argues CEO David Reading, the chances of establishing a thriving business are low to zero.

How do we translate the idea of sustainability into something meaningful? Well, without the kind of funds available to larger corporations, we need practical, cost-effective sustainability projects. To identify those, it is essential to work with the community to understand what they actually want.

That is why we initiated a Community Development Plan through which we consulted those affected by the resettlement. We did this in the construction phase before the mine was active. This is important because once you are operational, it is too late to build the right relationships and consensus.

Empowering the local community

One unusual feature of our plan is that we have purchased land for the relocation and created deeds so everyone eligible for relocation gets a new property along with land rights. And rather than bring in outside contractors, we involved the community in all aspects of the design and construction of the new village.

We know we cannot provide jobs for everyone. So we have also developed small enterprises to help people create sustainable sources of income. There is a woodworking co-operative (run by a local youth leader), as well as sewing and agricultural co-operatives. We have also set up a marketplace for local products and produce.

I love watching the changes take place. This village once had no source of income and relied on illegal gold mining and logging activities. Today, hundreds of people have been trained in brick making, carpentry and construction and are working in our agricultural cooperative. And when the community made me an honorary chief and gave me the local name Borkai Dablo, which means “Strong One,” I knew it was a reflection of how they increasingly felt about themselves.

Improving our business

At the same time, the company wins, too. The co-operatives will produce supplies such as food and clothing for mining workers, while using local labor and materials lowers construction costs. Building skills allows us to identify potential employees, which means we do not have to keep importing skills. And we are going to use high-tech simulators to train women to operate heavy mining equipment like dump trucks, dozers and excavators (it turns out having women drivers is safer, more cost effective, and empowers the women themselves).

One thing to remember, however, is that it is critical not to bite off more than you can chew. Doing what you say you will do goes a long way towards building trust—and that means breaking projects up into small, concrete stages you can actually deliver on.

True, this approach is not always easy and can take longer than conventional mine development and village relocation. But we know what we are doing costs less than bringing in external contractors to undertake construction and relocation.

Most importantly, when you establish trust, give the community a stake in the project, and help people develop new sources of income, they start to take on responsibility and ownership. The benefits are clear: we minimize our risks and, ultimately, establish a business that is much more sustainable.

About Aureus and IFC:
Aureus is a relatively new investment client for IFC, through IFC's investment of $11 million in equity in July 2014. IFC also plans to support some of the company's community initiatives on entrepreneurship training.

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