Finding the Common Denominator
As a first blog post, I would like to pay tribute to the late Mayor Phil Vinet of Red Lake, Ontario. He was a forward-thinking mayor and his wisdom should be shared. He hosted myself and a group of Colombian and Peruvian mayors in his home town of Red Lake, ON to show how under the right leadership and with solid partnerships, mining activity can contribute to community development.
His advice to his guests was "Know your community's needs. Know the company's priorities. Find the common denominator." In the case of Red Lake, the common denominator was health. Red Lake is a small, remote community about 6 hours from Winnipeg, MB. It is a mining town with a hundred-year history of gold mining. At the time Mayor Vinet was elected, the community lacked doctors and health care facilities. Mayor Vinet knew he would have to make the community attractive to doctors and find the right investments. He examined the policies of the mining company operating there, Goldcorps, and found that one of its priorities was the health and safety of its employees. Using this as the basis of the discussion, the Mayor was able to garner the support of the company, as well as the provincial government and others, to establish a regional health facility. The municipality also contributed by designated prime waterfront land for the residence of any doctor who chose to settle in Red Lake. The result is the establishment of the Goldcorps Red Lake Regional Medical Health Facility, which continues to provide quality health services to residents, mine employees and their families in the region.
While this is a specific case in a small Canadian community, the advice extends far beyond this context. In any country, making progress on the Sustainable Development Goals will require collaboration, partnerships, and a greater involvement of the private sector. However, it is challenging to find the intersection between profit-maximizing and impact-maximizing entities. They will not often see the problem or its solution in the same way. In the Red Lake case, a few of the key success factors that are relevant to other contexts are:
An extensive consultation process was carried out with community members to create a sustainability plan that identified the community's priorities.
The company was approached as a potential partner to work towards a common goal, rather than to give a hand out.
The company was one of several partners and each one contributed resources in some way.
There was a basis of trust established between the local government and company and a high level of transparency throughout the process.
There was strong leadership from the Mayor who acted in the interests of the community and had a long-term vision of development beyond his term.
These conditions will not be present in all contexts, whether Canadian or other. However, any partnership will have a greater chance of success if you are able to find the common denominator.