Xstrata Coal identified the training and development of commercial black farmers, support for community health centres and education about the environment in schools as areas in which the company could make a significant long-term and sustainable impact on the well-being of communities living near its operations.
"The biggest value and benefit we can create is one of a project that is self-sustainable and self-sufficient, even when any of our operations near the project no longer exists. Our drive and goal is to create sustainable communities," says Nico Dooge, general manager: environment and community.
Three projects were considered for the award: the Xstrata Coal farmer training project, the Xstrata Coal health project and the Xstrata Coal ecoschools project.
Started in 2004 at the Ogies Mine, the farmer training project is a comprehensive training and development programme to establish successful commercial black farmers. Prospective farmers are taught skills, management and agricultural business, and they are mentored.
Run by a service provider commissioned by Xstrata, the project has led to the establishment of 15 commercial farmers in mainstream primary agriculture, the training of 27 commercial farmers and the employment of more than 55 full-time agricultural employees and more than 100 seasonal employees.
Its contribution to the local economy in 2012-2013 was calculated at about R20-million, and the number of fields planted increased by 92%, from 1 236 hectares in the 2011-2012 season to 2 368 hectares in the 2012-2013 season. Livestock numbers increased by 170%.
The health project, started in 2006, arose out of the recognition that people living in many parts of Mpumalanga had limited access to health care. Working with the non-governmental organisation, Re-action, and the Mpumalanga department of health and social development, Xstrata contributed R34.7-million between 2008 and 2011 for the establishment of community health centres in neglected communities.
The ecoschools project programme started in 2003 and Xstrata has been supporting it since 2008. It is an international project that is managed locally by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa.
Xstrata currently funds the teaching of sustainable development at 15 schools in eMalahleni and Ermelo, and pays the salary and budget of a provincial project manager, who oversees environmental education in about 120 schools.
Although each of these corporate social investment projects is run day to day by professionals, Xstrata's commitment to them runs deep, says Dooge.
"Many Xstrata employees participate in community initiatives as our involvement and care for local communities is what we want to achieve as a company. We are fully committed to work with the communities in the areas where we operate.
"Employees also initiate their own projects, and through the National Union of Mineworkers and our women in mining programme, employees and union officials participate together in social responsibility programmes."
The projects revolve not only around creating sustainable, self-driving futures but also holistic ones — taking into consideration the immediate goals and the way the projects fit into the surrounding social environment and the wider impact they will have, he says.
For example, the health project with Re-action focuses not only on healthcare provision and access but also on economic empowerment, gender equality and social cohesion, which all play a key role in enabling health.
Setting up a school food garden and composting facilities, the recycling of school waste and the beautification of school property are all an integral part of the ecoschools project, helping to boost food security for the children at participating schools as well as teaching them valuable environmental lessons.
"You need to look at the bigger picture and to ensure projects that can support each other are incorporated. This will also ensure a sustainable outcome," says Dooge.
Core company values are expressed in the choice and implementation of these initiatives, he says.
"We do what we say, we hold ourselves accountable and we act with care. These values govern our interaction with our stakeholders, be they community members, the government or our employees."
The Investing in the Future judges chose the Xstrata projects as winners from the 18 entries in the business award category this year because they demonstrate innovative ways in which companies can use core business strategies to improve the lives of people living in poverty.
"A holistic overview is part of its corporate social responsibility, and it is implementing this in a professional and caring way at a localised level to make a lasting impact," the judges said.