Portraits of Nikki Duncan and Cristina Villegas

Living Room Session: The Intersection of Jewelry and International Development

asgm asm global communities international development living room sessions moyo gems pact zahabu safi Apr 08, 2022

During the March Living Room session, we welcomed guests Nikki Duncan, Chief of Party on the USAID’s Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project, and Cristina Villegas, Director of Responsible Sourcing and Minerals at Pact, who helped us understand the development strategies employed by their organizations and the role jewelry industry actors can play to support this work.

USAID’s Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project is focused in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Ituri, South Kivu, and Maniema provinces and Nikki described it in short as a responsible minerals trade facilitation program. There is, of course, much more complexity to it (which we will get into) but the focus is linking artisanal gold miners to international markets through responsible channels.

Pact operates the most ASM programs in the world, but Cristina highlighted Pact’s work in Tanzania as a focus for this session, as it is a major gemstone producing country among the 40 countries that the organization works in (her mining program operates in 13 countries) Importantly, Pact works together with other initiatives that may be taking place and defers to local leadership to have the greatest positive impact that they can have on the communities.



Over the years, development strategies have shifted from philanthropic aid to a practice of co-participation and involvement that specifically raises up Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) as a way to alleviate poverty and spur national level development. In Eastern DRC, where the USAID Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project is based, 80% of the population works in ASM. Here, it becomes clear that having an impact on the wellbeing of the population as a whole involves the artisanal mining sector.

“If we think about DRC, as a resource rich country, [where] a good portion of the eastern part of the country is affected by conflict and where there are over 500,000 people working in artisanal and small scale mining (80% of which are working in gold specifically), you can start to see very quickly how working on artisanal and small scale mining in that part of the country, can have impact. How improving the sector, formalizing the sector, will now be able to contribute to government revenue capture, for example, just to name one important reason why artisanal and small scale mining formalization and legalization is impactful.” - Nikki Duncan

The DRC, with a new government in place and currently weak institutions, can take advantage of tax revenue from ASM to establish and put in place social programs, infrastructure, schools, health facilities, and much more. So beyond having micro impacts on the mining community, ASM can contribute to benefit for people on a more macro level as well. Because of how many people are affected by this livelihood, the shift in development strategy to focus on empowering local, private sector actors (like the mining cooperatives) is really effective in increasing growth and job creation overall.

Worldwide, artisanal miners mine a variety of materials and comprise about 42 million people across 80 countries. Oftentimes, they are farmers who mine to supplement their livelihoods and increase their incomes. Cristina brings up the question, “how can we use the money for today to plan for tomorrow?” to highlight the fact that while mining is helpful to the economic sustainability of a community, the activity of mining in and of itself is inherently not sustainable. The extraction of nonrenewable resources has an end point. But for every one job on a mine site, there are also six to seven jobs created downstream, that if cultivated with and for the local population, can further benefit the local economy, increase social capital, and create public value. To support the whole economy that is created through ASM, the power of the private sector is significant. This is where the intersection of jewelry and development is found - we, even as small companies or individual jewelers, can have a role to play in purchasing the gold or gemstones mined artisanally.


But how do we measure the impacts that we are truly having? Both Nikki and Cristina shared with us some of the impact measurement tools that their organizations utilize. The work of Global Communities takes a market systems development approach, which means that they minimize activities and investments that result in a direct intervention into the artisanal gold market , instead focusing on facilitating the functioning of the market more smoothly and efficiently by helping to remove existing barriers for the gold mining cooperatives. So success for the Zahabu Safi program means gold flowing through the legal supply chains and continuing to do so once the program exits. The ultimate indicator of success of programs of this nature is for supply chain actors with whom they work to maintain the linkages facilitated by the program, having acquired the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to continue trading ASM gold responsibly without donor-funding.

“We [Global Communities] do not want to undercut local actors and their role in the market. Because once these programs end, we disappear, and we would cause more harm than good if we just gave out a whole bunch of subsidies, created cooperatives…and then the program goes and all of that falls apart.” - Nikki Duncan

But specifically, they utilize a tool called the Cooperative Performance Index, which looks at the baseline of the Cooperative’s operations at the start of the project and every six months, including factors such as governance, financial management, administration, production, membership management, and more. This then guides how Global Communities helps the co-ops learn, strengthen, and improve. This is especially significant because under DRC law, artisanal miners have to belong to a co-op to be considered legal mining operators. The project has engaged due diligence and traceability support service providers to support in the regular assessment of cooperatives and exporters and their sourcing practices against the OECD guidance for responsible sourcing of mineral supply chains from conflict-affected and high risk areas. The project actively embraces the concept of continuous improvement . Corrective action plans are put in place for both miners and exporters, as necessary to help them align with OECD guidance.

Pact has similar tools, but Cristina addressed this question by first explaining how Pact projects get off the ground and the relationship building, trust, and communication that is in place through their partner organizations on the ground. Cristina’s colleagues at Pact’s local office in Tanzania are able to create a better picture of the environment as far as potential stumbling blocks for a project than could be gauged from a more remote position. By involving the community throughout the process it increases the impact of the project in several ways: heightened sense of local ownership, less dependence on external resources and technical assistance, adequate considerations of broader environmental and social factors and better integration and coordination with existing local initiatives. In their work with local associations, Pact’s goal is to help them get their governance structures in order in such a way that the associations would then be able to receive more direct funding, without having Pact as an intermediary. This is one measure of success Cristina mentioned. The aim is to also see associations doing compelling research and advocating with local government. On the level of mine sites, Pact uses miner incomes and everyday things like their nutrition levels to gauge whether they are making a positive impact. They have seen positive results through the Moyo Gems initiative in this area. At the mine site level, Cristina also emphasized seeing progress, over expecting perfection.


Both of our guests emphasized the importance of helping to create something that would have longevity and sustainability after the NGOs step away. With this in mind, Christina Miller then posed the question of whether this NGO support of and involvement in certain mine to market projects is a good indicator of initiatives that jewelers could support. Cristina Villegas replied that while one option is indeed to support projects like Moyo Gems, which have been developed with Pact’s involvement, the other option is to start where you already are with your current suppliers. The bare minimum information you need to be able to meaningfully engage is the country of origin. With that, you can formulate other questions to ask based on the current political, economic, and social situations in the region. Starting with your current suppliers is a great idea because they may already be doing this work responsibly, just not telling anyone about it or they may be inspired to be more of a changemaker in this space. Overall, however, programs like Moyo Gems do need our support and those gems are easily accessible and available to jewelers.

Nikki echoed Cristina’s point that origin (provenance of the mineral) is the bare minimum expectation for information about our materials. She expanded on this saying that in coming together as a jewelry community, we can create change with our choices and purchasing power. If you are not getting the information you need from a supplier, you have the agency to not buy from them and these choices can add up to create change. The advantage of working with a project like USAID’s Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project, or rather of buying from project supported suppliers, is that Global Communities is helping facilitate the relationships that allow for that supply chain transparency that ideally would continue beyond life cycle of the project

Both Nikki and Cristina continued to highlight throughout the conversation the ways that listening to and working with local communities is helping shift engrained power dynamics and the legacy of colonization. However, there is still sometimes a desire or expectation among jewelers in the Global North to tell a purely positive story, based on their own values frameworks, which also needs to change to convey the complex reality of this space. If we disengage and refuse to purchase gold from miners in the DRC until it checks every single box, that is what will perpetuate the issue of 90% of gold currently being smuggled out of Congo. So what is important for jewelers is to shift to a collective acceptance of continuous improvement as well as to have solid risk mitigation strategies in place. Rather than disengaging until your particular standard is met, investing and working together to mitigate risk upstream is what can help topple the lasting power dynamic legacy of colonialism.

“Due diligence as a concept, depending on how we look at it, can be a facilitator, but it can also be a shackle, especially in the context of Congo and how it's applied there. Whenever a group of people or a country is subject to something that they do not contribute to in terms of rules and regulations, that is where the oppressive legacy of colonialism still rears its ugly head. Why are countries (former colonizing countries at that) and actors involved in the OECD the only ones who get to create “the rules of the game”? And then countries like the DRC, have to just follow. If they don’t they get shut out of the formal and responsible market, is that the impact we are seeking?” - Nikki Duncan

Cristina also noted that jewelers should just be prepared to answer questions about why they engage in this way and approach it with an understanding that customers make quick conclusions, so presenting this information clearly ahead of time can be helpful.

Related links:
- Monthly newsletter from USAID's Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project

- USAID Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project on Twitter

- Moyo Gems

- Pact on Twitter

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