Mines have been experiencing a number of challenges since restarting their operations under the earlier easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The challenges that have been more widely aired and discussed include health and safety issues and decreases in production. However, one challenge that few are talking about is the impact that the pandemic is having on SLPs.

Mines are faced with significant declines in their SLP budgets, practical difficulties surrounding their engagement with stakeholder communities and, not least, the continued and effective delivery of various aspects of their SLP initiatives, including business development. These problems notwithstanding, SLP and B-BBEE Mining Charter regulatory requirements remain in force and mines are still expected to fulfil on their obligations and remain compliant.

Not only have SLP budgets been dramatically affected but mines are becoming increasingly concerned about committing funds to physical infrastructure from which to carry out their SLP programmes and initiatives. Infrastructure in itself is costly but is now also associated with very real healthy and safety concerns and responsibilities.

As a result, some SLP-related initiatives have ground to a complete standstill. Others have attempted to make the move to digital delivery with mixed results. Transitions from physical to digital delivery have been largely reactive and disjointed with a decline in programme outputs. Decreasing budgets are making it harder to rectify and improve the situation.

According to Dylan Baxter, head of sales at Raizcorp, there has been a sudden proliferation of online solutions. “While digital technology can definitely be leveraged effectively for business development, it has to be done in a constructive and meaningful way that delivers real value and real results,” said Baxter. He continues, “It’s really not as simple as putting a talking head in front of a Zoom meeting because that just boils down to ‘digital talk and chalk’ which is known to be an ineffective teaching and learning methodology.”

Mines that are considering transitioning from physical to virtual business development support programmes need to ensure that their offerings are comprehensive, programmatic and far more dynamic that the basic use of a digital meeting platform.

Baxter advises mines to engage with a reputable service provider who can tailor a solution that meets their specific needs and contexts, and one which also allows for personal interactions with and support of individual beneficiaries. Beneficiaries do not all operate in the same industries nor do they experience the same challenges and opportunities. For this reason, one-on-one mentorship is a critical component of any effective business development support strategy.

Finally, when investigating digital alternatives to physical programmes, mines must also take into account the data requirements of their beneficiaries, and whether or not they have internet-enabled devices that will allow them to participate fully and meaningfully. Funds that were previously earmarked for physical infrastructure might be usefully channelled into equipping beneficiaries appropriately, at a fraction of the cost.

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