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‘Empowerment Without Good Governance is Precarious’: a Conversation with Leapfrog International’s Tim Grice

Tim Grice is a social researcher, development generalist and the founding director of Leapfrog International, a Brisbane-based consultancy that focuses on resource governance and inclusive growth. He is also an honorary senior fellow at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute.

In January, Grice participated as an instructor in Advancing Accountable Resource Governance in Asia Pacific, an annual course that brings together experts from across the region to discuss pressing issues in oil, gas and mining.

Tim Grice is outfitted with AV gear to document the field trip at the regional hub in Belitung, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of RegINA.

In Belitung, Indonesia, where this year’s hub course took place, I spoke with Grice about a formative early work experience in Papua New Guinea as a sustainable development group manager with Newcrest Mining, his more recent work with Leapfrog International and quantifying the unquantifiable.

Max Brett: What drew you to work for Newcrest? Was it the project they were working on?

Tim Grice: What drew me to Newcrest was the island, actually. I lived on Lihir Island with my family for six years. Lihir has an incredibly interesting development story. In the mid-1900s, there was a movement called the Tutukuvul Isakul Association, which prophesized that Lihir would become a city. People engaged in rituals with the expectation that material goods would arrive on the island.

It was basically a “cargo cult,” a millenarian movement to explain how Europeans, or more technologically advanced societies, got their “cargo.” Fast-forward half a century and Lihir is home to the world’s third-largest gold mine.

What were you able to achieve at Lihir and in Papua New Guinea?

I took a trip to a hospital in Namatanai in New Ireland. The hospital had no power and no running water, and to drive to the next hospital was a three- or four-hour trip. The day before we arrived, a woman died after walking down to the local river to wash after childbirth. The mining company worked with stakeholders on hundreds of corporate social responsibility projects during my time on the island, but the predicament at Namatanai hospital was particularly desperate.

Through the government of Papua New Guinea’s tax credit scheme, we worked with the New Ireland Provincial Government to install new power and water infrastructure at the hospital. The management of the power and water supply is now under the provincial authorities. We also set up a collaborative governance structure where health and education infrastructure projects were aligned to local development plans.

From your experience on Lihir, what are your takeaways on a mining company’s responsibilities to the community where it works?

It’s critical that local institutions have the opportunity to set the direction for their development plans, whether that’s local or regional level governments, landowner groups or civil society organizations—usually a combination of all stakeholders. That’s critical.

But there’s also a balance to be found ensuring that stakeholders have governance structures that can handle an influx of mine-derived funds. Empowerment without good governance is precarious.

Why did you transition out of the private sector?

Because the pay is better working for civil society and governments.

I’m kidding! I wanted to work with governments, civil society organizations and groups like NRGI to have more of an impact on extractives governance at the national and global levels.

Tell me about Leapfrog International.

I started Leapfrog International about 18 months ago. We focus on extractives governance and tend to work with aid donors and multilaterals, as well as the private sector and civil society.

One recent project was on the mining sector in Africa and countering violent extremism. We went to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Kenya to think through the role that the mining sector in Africa could and should be playing to prevent and counter violent extremism. Another project was with the World Bank in Solomon Islands, looking at establishing an independent center to advise landowners and local communities on the extractives process. We’ve also been involved with Transparency International’s Mining for Sustainable Development Program.

One focus area for Leapfrog is the use of digital storytelling in the research process. Through our work with clients like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative on subnational payments and the International Finance Corporation on mobile banking, we’re finding that people have different insights when they are telling stories to a camera, and documenting their circumstances and particular entanglements. Short documentary reports also become an effective way to share the outcomes of a project.

You’re also working with NRGI. Tell me about the non-fiscal costs and benefits project.

We tend to do a fairly good job measuring and forecasting fiscal revenues from extractive projects. What we don’t measure and value particularly well are the “non-fiscal” costs and benefits of extraction, including the depletion of ecological assets like air, water and land, and the often profound social impacts of extractive projects, such as job creation, resettlement and social conflict. Together with NRGI, we’ve been surveying the methods and tools that can measure and value these non-fiscal impacts.

How would different stakeholders use this?

Unlike their fiscal counterparts, the non-fiscal impacts of the extractive sector tend to be underestimated, under-measured and under-reported by industry, governments and markets. When we look at a mining project in Chile, or an oil and gas project in Indonesia, we don’t really know what the total net impact of that project is. Many extractive projects might no longer be profitable with full accounting for financial and non-financial externalities and liabilities.

So, if we do a better job measuring and valuing all of the costs and benefits of extractive projects, governments and communities will be more informed when making the decision whether to extract. Better measurement and valuation of social and environmental impacts can also inform social and environmental management programs.

What are your thoughts about the course that brought us here?

I really like that the course is on Belitung, where BHP Billiton took its name. Belitung has a rich history of tin mining going back to the discovery of tin in the early 1700s, and the exploitation of tin by NV Billiton Maatschappij in the Dutch colonial period, and more recently the state-owned mining company PT Timah, as well as artisanal and small-scale miners. We have a live case study to think though, and lots to learn from local people.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Max Brett is a communications officer with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).