Interacting with Local Populations

IAMGOLD’s Denis Miville-Deschênes is leading the mining company's push to create opportunities not only for revenue but also for community engagement 

Denis Miville-Deschênes started his career in gold, and with the help of his time-tested skills and some good fortune, he’s experienced 32 shining years in the mining sector. As senior vice president, in charge of project development and technical services since 2006, Miville-Deschênes helps lead IAMGOLD strategically through managerial oversight and exploration of innovative strategies and business opportunities. Once a major fixture of jobsites, Miville-Deschênes is a firm believer and driver of the company’s effect on its employees and communities.
Denis Miville-Deschênes started his career in gold, and with the help of his time-tested skills and some good fortune, he’s experienced 32 shining years in the mining sector. As senior vice president, in charge of project development and technical services since 2006, Miville-Deschênes helps lead IAMGOLD strategically through managerial oversight and exploration of innovative strategies and business opportunities. Once a major fixture of jobsites, Miville-Deschênes is a firm believer and driver of the company’s effect on its employees and communities.

Year after year, project after project, IAMGOLD is in the business of creating opportunity. A leading midtier gold-mining company, IAMGOLD goes beyond profit-generation, instead prizing the creation of win-win scenarios that benefit not only the company and its shareholders but also all the stakeholders and the communities, regions, and countries where it produces close to a million ounces of gold annually. In order to remain successful, IAMGOLD builds strong relationships by prizing the one resource that allows it continued success: the individuals who work in its mines and projects day in and day out.

One such program that exemplifies this idea was introduced in 2006: IAMGOLD’s Zero Harm policy. However, as IAMGOLD’s senior vice president, Denis Miville-Deschênes, explains, “Zero Harm isn’t unique anymore; the industry as a whole is taking that turn, and rightfully so.”

But that hasn’t stopped the organization from exploring other initiatives. For instance, the Mind Body Achievement (MBA) program, which brings together elements of leadership certification, safety training, and stretching,­ is helping set IAMGOLD apart from its competitors. Introduced in 2011, the MBA program is mandatory for employees and contractors, and it is available at each of the company’s construction sites. The program was designed to have the most profound impact in areas beyond North America, where skilled labour is more difficult to acquire. “When you go to South America or Africa—like we recently did in Burkina Faso—a large portion of your workforce does not have mining skills,” Miville-Deschênes says. “So, in those places, we must put more emphasis on training and education at the fore.”

The MBA program involves up to thousands of employees, and it forces improved communication with supervisors while featuring daily activities such as stretching, reviewing incidents, or discussing some of the day’s specific construction risks.

Miville-Deschênes emphasizes the importance of addressing Zero Harm as well as health and safety, environment, and community relations while designing the projects. The most impactful decisions are usually made at the drafting table and not while building in the field. Health and safety is specifically addressed to make sure that every employee is able to return home every night uninjured—a concern that the industry largely ignored in the past. “Now, when we design projects, we have specific sessions called Safety in Design, [which revolves] around identification of the potential risks for our future employees who will operate or maintain the facility being designed. Environmental concerns, which are obviously a growing concern in today’s society, are thoroughly addressed during the design process. We incorporate Canadian standards, monitoring programs and legal compliance with local legislation.”

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“I started in [my] position in November 2006, after the acquisition of Cambior by IAMGOLD. Before, I was typically attached to a project. Now, I have managers doing those projects, though I remain accountable for ensuring we deliver a quality product on time, on budget. It’s more overseeing and looking for opportunities for innovation and coaching and mentoring the people in the group, ensuring we have the proper governance in place and that we continue to maximize value for our shareholders.”

The last and most important aspect is the company’s policies as related to community. Twenty years ago, the company was always looking at what it could do to help a community in terms of health care and education. At first, it was the building of schools and health facilities. Today, though, it has added a focus on creating sustainable business opportunities.

Obviously, for each new project, a large number of employment opportunities are created for the duration of construction as well as for the exploitation of the mine. Ultimately, for Miville-Deschênes, it is the most satisfying part of the work. It’s about taking nonskilled persons and, through training and coaching, turning them into professional carpenters, mechanics, welders, or buyers, and giving those individuals the ability to continue in the mining field or to strike out on their own using their newly acquired training. The work conditions in the mining industry are excellent, and it is difficult to beat the satisfaction of giving deserving employees their place in the sun.

IAMGOLD also believes in investing in its supervision, having developed and deployed a training program for all frontline supervisors. In recent years, the mining industry has fought pressure to find and keep good employees, so these are both efforts to address those issues.

Similarly, IAMGOLD has introduced the idea of sustainability for its workforce as well as for the surrounding communities. For both employees and the communities, the company develops skills or projects that can thrive after the mine has shut down—because although it is very exciting and challenging as an industry, the sad reality is that mines do not last forever, so it is critical that the closure plans are developed early and well defined.

Thanks to this approach, employees learn skills, and communities inherit infrastructures and projects that help with daily life. In Suriname, IAMGOLD built a school, a brick factory, and a community garden that has been developed into a larger business. In Burkina Faso, it developed a health-care centre, a rice field, and a community garden. These initiatives provide the communities with resources such as vegetables, but they also helped those who worked on them to develop the skills to maintain those resources.

In the end, it’s about introducing values that help everybody. “Community, like employees, is critical to IAMGOLD, inside and out,” Miville-Deschênes says.