I am so proud to announce that drilling has commenced at our Lusso South concession site in the Republic of Guinea. As In-Country Manager of the Guinea head office based in Conakry, it’s incredibly fulfilling to see all this hard work and months of planning come to fruition.
I and the rest of the team here in Guinea, alongside the wider Seventy Ninth Group team, have been organising this drilling campaign for several months and have completed extensive development work, leveraging the wealth of resources and knowledge from the local communities. This marks a significant milestone in the Seventy Ninth Group’s natural resources journey and one in which I have been proud to be a part of.
The Seventy Ninth Group have always wanted to do this in a way that positively impacted the local communities and the wider country as a whole. Our mantra is, and always has been, to invest in the countries in which we operate, and this is something I have embraced. This has never been more relevant or crucial than it is with the work we’re conducting in Guinea. And so, the Guinea office was born, and I’m delighted to join this growing team at such a pivotal moment in the company’s history.
In the lead-up to the drilling commencement, I spent weeks engaging with the locals on the ground, visiting nearby villages, medical facilities and community sites to better understand their needs, to determine how we can create positive value in the lead-up to the next phase of our exploration process.
So far, the Seventy Ninth Group has committed 36 roles for local people, supported by myself and the team here at the Seventy Ninth Resources head office in Conakry, and in collaboration with local businesses and initiatives. As a responsible employer, we aim to provide comprehensive health and safety training to ensure all workers are safeguarded on-site, provide access to state-of-the-art machinery and safety equipment, and provide the opportunity to develop transferable skills and a reliable employment opportunity. A key part of my role is ensuring that all of this is carried out and in place before our drilling operations start, as well as organising and managing the day-to-day operations on site.
Due to the scope of the project, I kept daily reports on everything we were doing, the work we were undertaking and the deliverables we needed to measure. In this piece, I’m going to give you an inside look into the day-to-day operations in the lead-up to our drilling campaign, to detail the level of work and planning that goes into each and every operation we undertake.
Understanding the needs of the communities
A big part of my job here was to meet with people in the local communities to understand their needs. This would help us to form our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy here in Guinea, something which the company CEO, Natalie Bellis, has long been championing.[i]
We don’t want to simply dictate what they think they should have, and impose outside solutions upon them. We cannot decide what their priorities are, or act as though we know best for them. Instead, we need to listen to the communities and the people that live within them to understand their challenges and find out how we can truly support them.
To do this, we initially conducted a fact-finding mission last year[ii], with an aim to develop a better understanding of the lives of those living in and around the Seventy Ninth Group’s concessions. We built upon this initial work by dedicating a lot of time visiting nearby villages and community sites, speaking to the people that live there about our project, asking questions about their lives to understand their difficulties and how we could help them. We explained the Seventy Ninth Group’s approach to corporate social responsibility and emphasised the company’s family values and how this informs everything they do, which was well-received by the communities.
On day one, our main objective was to inform the local authorities and local forces of order of our upcoming exploration programme and our plans for community engagement, as well as assess the local facilities in Siguiri. We wanted to ensure that we were operating fairly and with complete transparency, so it was an important first step for us to meet with all the relevant individuals to formally introduce ourselves, outline the details of our operation and explain the plans we have in place to give back to the community.
After this, the main objectives for the next few days were to inform the local communities of our upcoming exploration programme and discuss community initiatives with them. We visited several sites over the 10 days before drilling began and spoke with leaders and officials within the communities to get a full idea of their community needs and ask how we could support them.
The communities we met with were satisfied with our approach, consultation and concerted decision-making. They appreciated the fact we’d consulted them and were happy to share their issues with us and offer local help for our operations. The communities shared common problems in relation to underdeveloped infrastructure, such as needing better access to clean drinking water and a reliable electricity supply, as well as limited access to quality education, and needing support for agriculture and mining activities.
Another thing that was prevalent across the different communities was their eagerness to get more employment for local youth and women. They stressed that they needed support for training and income-generating initiatives for youth and women’s groups.
These varied and complex needs have been taken into consideration and will help to form our ESG commitments in Guinea. Already, we have made some steps toward trying to assist these communities and tackle some of the issues they’re facing.
It’s clear we have only just begun our journey to give back to the community. But I am proud of the positive first steps we’ve made. We will continue to take a respectful and collaborative approach, responding to the needs and requirements of the local people to deliver real, positive change.
Being a responsible employer
Something we found from our site visits and speaking with the local people currently involved in mining in the region is that, oftentimes, the mines are very unsafe and even dangerous places to work, and the workers have little to no safety equipment in order to carry out their activities in a safe way. We found that among those exposed to these dangers were pregnant women, children and teenage girls. Without access to adequate equipment, health and safety training, and trade-specific education, problems will continue to occur, and the dangers will remain, and we must ensure that exploitation is removed completely from the process.
As a company that wants to do things differently, the Seventy Ninth Group made it a priority to ensure that those working on the drilling campaign received the highest-quality training prior to joining us on-site. Organising this was an essential part of my job in the weeks prior to work commencing, and I’m proud to say that a few weeks ago, all our employees received exceptional trade-specific and health and safety training, as well as first aid training provided by the Red Cross.
The training provided to each of the operational, construction and security employees will not only help to improve the quality of work carried out on site but will also leave each of the team with transferable skills for their careers.
It has been my number one priority to acknowledge and address diversity, by putting in place a scheme to recruit women in the Guinea team and to provide mentorship for them. We are proud to have recruited two colleagues already, Dansira Conde and Josephine Gamy, to join the established Guinea team and succeeded in building a culture of inclusion in line with the company’s core values, allowing all staff to have a say in designing workplace culture and to accommodate everyone. The industry is lacking female colleagues in the region and I hope we can help make small steps to change that, and I really value the opportunity that a diverse workforce brings to the office; learning from each other and adapting as we grow.
I am personally coaching Dansira to aid in her development with the intention of her progressing into senior management. She has a passion for gender equality and youth empowerment and has participated in NGO campaigns around this previously. With her local knowledge, passion and resources, she will be a huge help in drafting our ESG strategies for the future.
The Guinea team is currently made up of six people: four men and two women. As the company continues to grow, we hope to provide more employment and training opportunities for local women. It is also my goal, in line with the company values, to champion equal pay and a positive work-life balance.
Our employees are an asset to us, not only helping to deliver our extensive drilling programme but by sharing their much-needed local experience and valuable knowledge, they have already made a huge difference to our global campaign. We cannot thank them enough.
A large-scale operation
This has been a large-scale operation, many years in the making. This drilling campaign alone has required months of planning and development work from the global teams, collaborating across different continents and time zones. It’s not all been smooth sailing, but together we have overcome challenges and hurdles to deliver a large-scale operation in the right way that’s helped to achieve our shared vision.
I have over 14 years of experience in the mineral exploration industry, so I am well equipped and eager to take on this challenge and utilise my expertise, knowledge and connections to ensure this drilling operation runs smoothly and is a huge success for everyone involved.
Part of my duties included meeting with several local drilling companies and visiting their sites in Kolemboma and Bourenfe to assess which would be the best option for Seventy Ninth Group and arrange the most beneficial partnership for both sides. I also worked alongside the excellent SRK Exploration, the Seventy Ninth Group’s exploration partners, who have been a key part of this project since the beginning. We have also utilised local geologists who have been provided with high-quality equipment and a wealth of training to ensure best practices are carried out on-site.
Our long-term vision
This operation marks a significant milestone for the Seventy Ninth Group, as the first drilling campaign on one of their flagship concessions, but we don’t intend to stop there. The long-term plan is to continue this across all of our different concessions throughout the Republic of Guinea, and this as the model for how to do it right or even better the next time around.
As part of my outreach in Siguiri, the City Mayor expressed to us that there is often a lack of follow-up of projects by mining companies operating in Siguiri and challenged the Seventy Ninth Group to “stand out from the crowd”. We intend to do things differently, we’re not like others, and we’ll be proud to set the new standard for operations in this area, and hope that it inspires others to follow suit.
Off the back of our introductions, the Secretary-General in charge of administrative affairs even insisted that next time all mission orders for Siguiri must be endorsed by the Kankan government. Hopefully, this new rule is a positive step in the right direction that will lead to an improvement in mining operations in the area and is something which we’re proud to have helped bring about.
Similarly, when meeting with the local communities, they seemed satisfied with our approach, consultation and concerted decision-making. They appreciated the fact we’d consulted them and happily shared their issues and knowledge, and offered local help for our operations. And in return, they have provided us with a wealth of valuable local knowledge, for which we are extremely grateful.
This community-outreach aspect of our operation is hugely important and is something we will carry through and continue in each area we work in. The Websters have been operating in Guinea for over a decade, laying the groundwork and gaining local knowledge. This shows their dedication and has undoubtedly helped make this project a success.
I am incredibly proud to have been a part of the journey so far and start to witness the Seventy Ninth Group’s vision and plans unfold here in Guinea. Being a part of a company that really cares about what they do and how they can operate fairly and positively is incredibly rewarding, and I am excited to continue along this journey with them and help them to achieve their ambitious goals and even greater milestones.
[i] The importance of adding value: How ESG defines our activities in the Republic of Guinea, https://the79thgroup.co.uk/the-importance-of-adding-value-how-esg-defines-our-activities-in-the-republic-of-guinea/
[ii] Putting prosperity first: How we are supporting communities in the Republic of Guinea, https://the79thgroup.co.uk/putting-prosperity-first-how-we-are-supporting-communities-in-the-republic-of-guinea/