“Where are you from?” is one of those questions we ask when getting to know someone or something. It’s an essential query of understanding origin and background.
Yet when we receive or purchase jewelry, it is a question that we rarely ask. Maybe we’re so seduced by the brilliance of design, the blinding sparkle, that we forget to ask the question.
For jewelry, particularly diamond jewelry, it can be a very important question. A number of diamonds are mined not from deep within the earth using major industrial processes to extract them, but are found by individuals, families and entire communities of people, finding and digging for the gems close to the surface.
For these miners—diggers, they are called—life is not so easy. Alluvial, or surface, mining takes place mainly in areas of Africa that have little to no infrastructure. There is scant government intervention or support. Children work in the mines instead of going to school. If you are an artisanal miner, you work ferociously hard to find diamonds, then sell them as quickly as you can to feed your family. For more than one million miners that are known (and many are not documented), this is their life.
But now, there is a glimmer of hope in places like Sierra Leone: increasing numbers of children are going to school. Safer working conditions exist for miners. Miners have an understanding of a fair price for the diamonds they work so hard to procure.
Important changes like these have been achieved through the work of the Diamond Development Initiative. The DDI was born in 2008 to go beyond the legal certification system of the Kimberley Process, and address the specific human issues that artisanal diamond miners face. The DDI involves NGOs, the governments in the countries where they operate, and the private sector to ensure that diamonds are an instrument for development. Their goal is for Development Diamonds™ to be sold in the marketplace, and to stand for stones that are sourced safely, responsibly, from areas free from human conflict, and mutually beneficial to miners and the industry.
It is difficult to fully measure the impact of the programs of the DDI using traditional benchmarking such as the number of miners impacted, or a dollar figure of Development Diamonds™ sold. Many donor agencies want to see results for taxpayer’s dollars in a single fiscal year. Measurable success in such messy areas that fits a neat timetable is just not realistic: it takes several years to see growth and progress. It’s important to look at the larger picture and see the positive impacts on the actual lives of the miners.
Dorothée Gizenga, the extraordinary Executive Director of the DDI, has a vision about what the DDI can do for miners and the industry. I spoke to her recently, in between her numerous trips to Africa (four so far in 2013). This is a follow up to Vicente Agor’s conversation with Dorothée in 2012 about where the DDI is at now, realizing some success with pilot programs in Africa and Brazil.
CJDG Editor Monica Stephenson: How does the DDI measure success with their policies or projects (better prices paid for their diamonds, less children working the mine, more children in school, better health for the community, more autonomy for the miners, etc.)?
Dorothée Gizenga: The reality is that our standards of success are broader than policies or projects.
First, it’s engaging the right stakeholders who are genuinely invested and can enable us to make the right systemic changes.
Second, our bottom line is that we work for artisanal diamond miners. Getting them to understand what we want to do for them and reflecting their needs back to them through the projects we provide; it’s the reason we exist.
Third, when we actually get funds for our programs, the programs we have designed based on the needs miners have explained to us, we can provide a real force for change.
Within all of the above are of course more specific outcomes; no children working in mines, safer working conditions, better health, more autonomy, community development. They occur when we succeed at engaging the right stakeholders, partner with artisanal miners and get the funds we need to put it all together.
CJDG: Is there a specific community of miners that you monitor that meets these or other more intangible measures of success?
DG: Yes. In Sierra Leone, we work with specific communities and mining sites through the Development Diamond Standards program. There, we have been able to see more specific measures of success through the application of standards and by producing Development Diamonds™. What is particularly compelling about these communities is that what we thought was doable, is in fact doable! Despite the perception that the artisanal diamond mining sector is chaotic, disorganized and just too difficult to deal with, we’ve managed to succeed in these communities, by overcoming stereotypes and expectations of failure and by producing ethical diamonds.
CJDG: Success in Sierra Leone is quite an accomplishment! Do you have a story that you can share of a particular community that is better now because of the DDI’s involvement?
DG: Yes! One of our standards or requirements for artisanal miners is NO child labor. It’s important to understand why miners would bring their children to the mines to work. The first reason is that although school is technically free, the uniforms, lunches and all the incidentals that children need for school are not free, and represent a significant expense for these families. Another reason to bring your children to the mine to work is that they are additional labor, and by extension, additional income. But the DDI’s requirement is NO CHILD LABOR. So, in Sierra Leone, the miners saw the promise of better working conditions and better pay, so they figured out a way to put their children into a part-time school program. Although the parents feel the need for money to support the family, the community has pulled together to find a solution: these children are now getting an education. It has become a community monitoring system, as the miners themselves now say to the children “we don’t want you in the mine, we want you to go to school!” This is a real shift in thinking, and is giving structure to the community of miners.
CJDG: Obviously this takes a lot of capital to try and implement change at this level. Who are your donors? Where do they come from?
DG: For many non-profits, you look for donor agencies from countries with a specific area of interest. That pool that you go to, mainly government organizations, are project-oriented. We want to be very long term and sustainable, so those organizations are valuable, but you have to go beyond that. So we work with the jewelry industry, to represent artisanal miners as part of their family and industry. There are retailers and manufacturers who conduct themselves as ethical and responsible. Together, we work to change the reputation of the industry so that the public thinks of the diamond and jewelry industry as being ethical, sustainable, and making sure that those who actually find the diamonds are a valuable part of the supply chain. And then there is the general public, conscious consumers who want to do something that helps people, through their purchase. While diamonds represent a luxury for some, for others it provides their means of living.
CJDG: I was impressed that the DDI works less in bureaucratic offices, and more on the ground where these communities are. The artisanal miner’s trust is a critical component to making any real progress. How does DDI gain the trust of these miners, who after many years of mistreatment, have so little reason to trust any kind of authority?
DG: We start with a dialogue and make sure that we listen more than we talk. Then we show miners that we’re there for them and that we do programs with them, not to them. It takes one small step of this sort, and then there is an opening for action and the building of trust. It’s also important to say that there is development fatigue in many of these places and people have come with programs and promises many times in the past. We are cognizant of that fact and careful that there is continuity in what we do and no over-promising. We make sure that at the end of the day the responsibility is on miners, because if miners are not part of the solution as the ones responsible to themselves and for their own futures, the project won’t be sustainable.
CJDG: What would you like to see DDI accomplish ultimately? In other words, is there a pinnacle goal when after you achieve it, you would retire? =)
DG: Ultimately I would like to see the formalization of the sector. We would like all artisanal miners to be legal; to work in safe environments and increase their productivity, to use better equipment and new technologies, have access to good credit, credit that allows them to grow out of poverty and that gives them the opportunity to plan for their children’s future.
CJDG: What do you think is the most exciting thing that DDI has accomplished? What is the most exciting thing that DDI is working towards right now?
DG: The accomplishment isn’t a single project; rather, it’s putting development of the artisanal diamond mining sector on the radar of governments, institutions and the broader development community. It’s demonstrating that change is possible with the right policies and practices. We’re showing the global community we can do this.
We know it works. Now the important part is to sustain it. If one fails, then valuable lessons are learned. You incorporate the lessons, change the programs and move forward. Success is even harder. If you succeed, the pressure is to sustain that success.
When we started the Diamond Development Initiative and put together the standards, we wanted to be sure that if customers came into a store and asked retailers, “Where does this diamond come from?” the answer could mean something. We feel that the importance of ethical sourcing will continue to grow. This is a viable business proposition: If Development Diamonds™ sell at a slight premium, that premium could ensure that the entire supply chain is sustainable, without a human cost. Part of that premium should go back to the miner, to show them the benefits of working with ethical standards. And part of it should go to the industry partners who support the system that make Development Diamonds™ a reality. Everyone wins.
Thank you, Dorothée , for sharing your vision with us. The successes of the DDI prove that the demand for a luxury product like diamonds can co-exist with a sustainable livelihood for the individuals who find them.
“Where are you from?” often begins a dialogue of knowledge and understanding. We need to know the answer to that to know where we are going.