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Barrick Gold Founder Reveals the Secrets of CSR

What does it take to run a successful mining operation? While many qualities have been identified over the years, one of the most important these days i...

|May 5|magazine10 min read

What does it take to run a successful mining operation? While many qualities have been identified over the years, one of the most important these days is a sense of corporate responsibility to your employees and the local communities surrounding your mine sites – but since this concept is relatively new, it can be hard to get it right.

Canadian gold mining company Barrick has been a pioneer of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for decades, thanks to founder Peter Munk who has made it a priority from the beginning:

“To give is part of Barrick’s DNA,” says Munk. “It’s part of who we are.”

In April, Munk retired from his role as chairman of the board at Barrick. But even now, we can still learn from his legacy of giving back and how to make following in his footsteps work for us.

Caring For Your Employees Creates Employees Who Care

In Barrick’s retrospective of the company’s CSR programs, a major focus has been on caring for its employees and their families. Those employees, who would stay with Barrick throughout their career, would look back on programs like scholarships and health care initiatives with fondness and pride:

While he has never met Peter Munk, [scholarship recipient Eric Pelletier] says that, given the opportunity, he would thank him. “Peter Munk, Bob Smith and Barrick cared about their employees,” he says. “Employees weren’t just people who did a job, they were individuals with families, and Barrick helped those families give their children a better future.”

That kind of care, that commitment to treating employees like valued individuals, creates fierce loyalty and can drastically reduce turnover. If you want your employees to stand by you for life, treat them like it.  

Invest in the Future

According to Barrick, one of its first and most consistent forms of CSR has been its scholarship program – in the last five years, the company reports to have invested $24.6 million into scholarships for over 20,000 students.

Why scholarships? For one thing, it’s a very powerful gesture toward your employees, relieving some financial burden while helping their children reach their full academic potential. But there’s another deeper lesson that can also be learned from this action. The key lies in the example given of Gratien Pelletier, a mechanic at Barrick’s Holt-McDermott mine who put two sons through college with help from Barrick’s scholarship fund – both of those sons worked at Barrick for a time after graduation, and one is still in the mining industry to this day.

It can be easy to get caught up in the here and now, but the future generations are what will keep your business growing strong in the years (and, hopefully, decades) to come. By encouraging education in your field through scholarships, you’re not just providing students with new opportunities – you’re also building a bigger pool of qualified and educated talent to draw from, and putting yourself on that talent’s radar years before they enter the job market. When the time comes to grow your business, these two assets are invaluable. Once you look at your company’s growth through this broader lens, the importance of investing in those future generations becomes crystal clear.

Go All In

When it comes to corporate responsibility, many can talk the talk – but those who walk the walk as well are the ones who really make a difference for their communities and for the company. As Barrick shows, corporate responsibility doesn’t come cheap – according to the company’s own data, Barrick has reportedly spent $234 million on CSR activities just between 2007 and 2012. But Munk leads his company in truly believing that those investments, put toward everything from infrastructure to stewardship to scholarships, are well worth the effort:

“It’s important,” Munk says. “It helps the community. It helps everything.”

If you aren’t going in with that attitude, it will be much more difficult to fully commit to such an investment – and if you aren’t committed to an investment in CSR, it’s much more difficult to make a true impact. So when you make the commitment to CSR, go all in.