SHUT UP and LISTEN

 

 Souvenirs from the 2009 SME Annual Meeting and Exhibit and CMA 111th National Western Mining Conference

 

The Society of Mining, Metallurgical and Exploration (SME) and the Colorado Mining Association (CMA) held their annual meeting on February 22 - 25, 2009 at the Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colorado. Despite the economic downturn, participants of the meeting increased as mentioned by the President of SME at the opening of the conference.

 

The main theme of this year’s conference is “Stewardship and Sustainability: Getting It Done in the 21st Century”. It is interesting that the main theme for a mining conference is sustainability because many people still see the mining industry as the opposite side of sustainable development.

 

The keynote session kept my attention because it was so interesting. That session was moderated by Barbara Filas. Barbara Filas had just appointed by GEOVIC to be their Senior Vice President of Corporate Development. The panels included Bill Scoggins (the President of Colorado School of Mines), Gary Goldberg (President and CEO of Rio Tinto Minerals), Harry M. Conger IV (President of Freeport McMorran Copper and Gold Inc. in America) and Ernesto Sirolli from the Sirolli Institute.

 

Ernesto Sirolli mentioned some things that I have never heard in any mining conference that I attended before. Listening to Sirolli’s speech, we can tell that he has had many experiences in the community development project or at least has had a lot of contacts in that area, especially in Africa. He also criticized the approach that most people did in the community development. It seems that the main reason that many community development projects fail to achieve sustainability is because those projects are not appropriate for the local community.

 

Those projects are about us, he mentioned. “Us” are people from the developed world that always think that they know better what the locals want and what is best for them. This approach can lead to unintended consequences of the community project. He mentioned that about 1 trillion American dollars has been donated to Africa over the last 40 years but, still Africa is poorer now than 40 years ago. What have they actually done with that amount of money? Is it really huge amount of money that counts for community development projects? Or is it about who and how they are doing that counts?

 

Sirolli had visited many remote areas. He saw the best regional hospital and other infrastructures that were built by foreigners or aid institutions left to crumble after those institutions such as mining companies had gone. The local community doesn’t want infrastructure that is very expensive to maintain.

 

Sirolli suggested that we should “shut up and listen”. That’s right. Institutions/individuals who want to do community development have to shut their mouths up and listen to what local people want and help them to achieve their dreams. Sirolli gave a good example about this listening matter. He mentioned one company that employed one African to sweep the floor without knowing that that African guy used to be a helicopter pilot. The company did not know because they had never asked for information. There has to be a fundamental change in the community development approach. Institutions/individuals should not use the “big brother” approach to help the local community. They are not big brothers who can solve all the problems. That approach will only make the locals think and feel like spectators. The approach should make community development projects belong to the locals. However, community projects will still be done professionally. Professional assistance is still provided for the locals.

 

Furthermore, Sirolli proposed a new vision and approach that is based on two main ideas. First, if we want to help we only go and help people where we are invited, and the second one is to help people to do what they love to do beautifully. We will be invited if we have a good reputation and create our own success first. Once that happen, invitation will come to us automatically.

 

Another important thing is that we should not think like a billionaire when we deal with community development projects. There is no success too small to be significant for the community. One small success story may lead to many bigger successes because like a disease, successes are contagious. It may be beneficial to try Sirolli’s approach for community development effort in Indonesia. The partnership approach that starts by responding to what a local community wants and needs can lead to more independent and self-sustained community.

 

This idea to help the locals to reach their dreams is similar to the idea from Muhammad Yunus wrote in his book, “Creating a world without poverty”. Yunus is the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006 from Bangladesh. Yunus pointed out that the failure in reducing poverty is because the poor are always viewed as an object in those poverty reduction programs. The poor are also humans with needs and wants and the desire for self-fulfillment. If we want to help a local community, we have to believe that there is always a desire for a better life in that community and they have the capability to reach their dreams. We must not underestimate the local community. We have to respect to the local community. Respect is the foundation of Sirolli’s idea.  The local community only needs someone to help them to remove the obstacles and see opportunities. It is not their choice to live with those obstacles and disabilities.

 

Sirolli’s approach is not only beneficial for the local community. It will also benefit the institutions that do this community development approach. We should not underestimate the loyalty that comes from people that we help to reach their dreams. Companies can gain economic benefits as well as become a hero for the local community.

 

As for people from developing countries like me, we should realize that any foreign institutions are only partners. They are not big brothers who can solve all our problems. We are the one who have to work hard if we want to reach our dreams. We must be independent and help ourselves. We must know what our needs and wants are. We know what is appropriate for us. We who have had privileges of education are also the best people available to help the less fortunate people of our country. We speak the same language, live in the same neighborhood, eat the same food; even some of us were born in the same area. We just need to remind ourselves to ask those less fortunate people what they want and help them to reach their dreams. The educated, rich and decision makers in Indonesia have to remember that they are not better than those less fortunate people. We are part of this nation, a developing country with many problems. Do not make ourselves as part of those problems.

 

As the general election approaches, I think it is also a good time for me to encourage people in my beloved country to speak up about what they want. I would tell them not to speak for short term benefit but, speak for our country sustainability and our next generations. This is the best time to tell politicians to SHUT UP and LISTEN to us.

 

 

 

 

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