Since joining the Seventy Ninth Group as their Liaison Officer for the Republic of Guinea earlier this year, I’ve had the privilege of supporting the Group’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts in West Africa.
By helping the Group to better understand the needs of those living in the region, I’ve been able to ensure that our initiatives are truly attuned to what would benefit local people the most. And it is this commitment to working with local communities that makes for truly sustainable development projects.
In many respects, my work for the Group has been the culmination of a long-term effort to support sustainable and equitable development for rural communities across Africa. It has been a challenging and rewarding journey to reach this point, but I believe that the people of Guinea have a bright future – one that I’m proud to say I am helping to build.
My background in development work
Throughout my career, I’ve been driven by humanitarian goals. In everything I’ve done, from my education to my work with the United Nations, my aim has been to help bring prosperity to West Africa.
Of course, this is dreaming big and something that nobody can achieve on their own, but there are many ways to add to it. I believe that if you want to contribute to a worthy cause, you should focus on your own strengths, and ask yourself where you’re able to make the best, most impactful contribution. For me, this meant focusing on project management.
I had always felt most comfortable in organisational roles, keeping my eye on the big picture, and helping to guide people toward achieving their goals. This led me to pursue a Master’s degree in Project and Programme Management, alongside degrees in Analytical Accounting and Interpersonal Communication. I have also undertaken training courses focused on quality assurance and broader management techniques.
Through my studies, I learned how large-scale projects can be successfully and efficiently managed, emphasising not only efficiency and assurance but also the human level – how people interact, and the ways that they collaborate best.
This background helped me to secure roles with two United Nations agencies that are helping to drive the ongoing development of West Africa. The Industrial Development Organisation (IDO) is dedicated to advancing economic competitiveness across the developing world, with a focus on leveraging industrial growth to build shared prosperity. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), meanwhile, helps to encourage sustainable migration to boost skills and improve the lives of communities.
I was able to use my strategic focus and project management skills to contribute to the laudable aspirations of these agencies, alongside working with various international humanitarian organisations in Guinea and several other African countries.
Joining the Seventy Ninth Group
My journey to working with the Seventy Ninth Group was partly driven by a desire to further benefit the communities of Guinea and work towards fair and sustainable development for all. But, as with so many things in life, it was also partly down to good luck.
My first encounter with the Seventy Ninth Group came through Amad Kollie, a long-time colleague and friend of mine. In 2012, Amad created the Union of Communities for Development (UCD), an NGO dedicated to improving the lives of the people of Guinea. Over the subsequent years, I supported the UCD in setting up a number of projects, working closely with Amad himself.
In September 2021, Amad got in touch to tell me about a friend of his, someone he had been collaborating with over the past few years. His friend’s name, he told me, was Dave Webster. This was the first I had heard of Dave and his company, the Seventy Ninth Group, who Amad told me had, through the Seventy Ninth Resources arm of the business, acquired three natural resource concessions in Guinea.
From my very first conversation with Amad, it became apparent that the Seventy Ninth Group shared many of my values. It was clear that the Group had ambitions to materially improve the lives of Guineans in a variety of ways. And it was equally clear that this was something I wanted to be a part of. Thanks to my experience working with development projects in the region, I was certain that I could help the Seventy Ninth Group to realise their aims. Thankfully, they agreed. In early 2022, after several months of initial planning, I committed to a twelve-month contract and became an official member of the Seventy Ninth Group’s team. Little did I know that I was about to embark on one of the most exciting – and challenging – projects of my career so far.
Fact-finding in the Republic of Guinea
Having been appointed as Liaison Officer for the Seventy Ninth Group’s activities in the Republic of Guinea, it quickly became clear that my first impressions of the Group weren’t mistaken. The Group’s value-led approach comes from the top down, as you can see from CEO Natalie Bellis’ recent post for the Seventy Ninth Journal.[i] Under Natalie’s leadership, the Group has put ESG commitments at the forefront of its projects.
I’m proud to say that my work for the Seventy Ninth Group has been dedicated to making these commitments a reality. In July and August 2022, I took part in a fact-finding mission in the prefectures of Siguiri and Mandiana, where the Seventy Ninth Group’s natural resource concessions are located. The aim of the mission was to develop a better understanding of the lives of those living on the concessions. Based on what we learned, we will be able to support the development of the Group’s ESG initiatives, ensuring a targeted and strategic approach tailored to the needs of these communities is implemented across all projects we undertake.
During the mission, we visited 12 villages in the region – my background in project management certainly came in handy here! From these visits, we identified areas where significant improvements could be made to the lives of those people living there. We found that, alongside relatively high levels of poverty, there was a lack of healthcare facilities, limited access to quality education, and underdeveloped infrastructure, especially roads, electricity and water.
It was clear that the communities living on the Seventy Ninth Group’s concessions had varied and complex needs. But thanks to my experience in project management and development work, I felt confident that the Seventy Ninth Group would be well-placed to help fulfil those needs.
Finding the path forward
Both I, and everybody else at the Seventy Ninth Group, believe that if we are to truly support communities like those in Siguiri and Mandiana, we need to work in partnership with them rather than simply imposing our own solutions from outside. Our goal is always to secure the long-term, sustainable growth and help the regions in which we work to flourish through collaborative and mutually beneficial processes. This was why it was so important to begin with learning about the real challenges that people face.
Following our fact-finding mission, the next step is to sign partnership agreements with each of the villages. These agreements will help the Seventy Ninth Group to support development projects in a range of sectors, from education and health to water access and agriculture, as well as various other micro-projects.
Through its activities in the region, the Seventy Ninth Group will also support various development policies, programs and projects initiated by the Guinean government. This includes providing funding for Local Development Plans (PDL) and Annual Investment Plans (PAI). These participatory initiatives have been implemented by local councils to ensure the communities themselves play a guiding role in the development of the region, but, as the World Bank has noted, they require stronger and more systematic funding.[ii]
In helping the Seventy Ninth Group to pursue their ESG commitments in Guinea, I feel that my long-term efforts to encourage prosperity in the region have begun to pay off. It has been a wonderful experience to help highlight the challenges and concerns of those living and working in the Siguiri and Mandiana regions, and I am looking forward to seeing how the efforts of the Seventy Ninth Group translate into real, measurable changes. I find myself coming back to the goals of the UN’s Industrial Development Organisation, with whom I worked earlier in my career. The IDO aims for shared and sustainable prosperity by recognising that investment and industrial development can be mutually beneficial for both outside investors and those living in the region. When it comes to global development, the saying holds true: a rising tide lifts all boats.