De Beers conservation agenda
Two significant De Beers Group gatherings were held this month, highlighting the Group’s role in setting the agenda on sustainability and hearing from researchers on topics that are critical to our commitment to protecting the natural world. First, there was the Sustainability Conference and then, two weeks later, came the 9th Oppenheimer-De Beers Group Research Conference, both held at the Group’s Johannesburg campus.
The Sustainability Conference’s theme was building De Beers Group to be fit for the future. It provided the opportunity for delegates to share, engage and network, and raised awareness on the link between sustainability and the company’s strategy, including our brand, people and approach to innovation. Delegates were able to gain an understanding of the Group’s sustainability priorities and key programmes to drive zero harm and increase positive contributions to society.
More than 180 delegates, including business executives and sustainability practitioners from across safety, environmental, social and health disciplines, gathered to share the latest thinking in the field of sustainability.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver said he hoped there would be constructive engagements on developing an integrated, systems approach to sustainability.
“For me, sustainability is not a ‘nice-to-have’,” he said. “It is absolutely mission-critical for De Beers Group. I don’t think there is any business out there that feels that sustainability is not important – and for us, as an industry leader, it is even more important. Consumers are telling us, quite rightly, that it is important to them that diamonds are sourced responsibly and sustainably.”
Delivering the keynote address under the theme ‘Setting the global context for the need to build a future fit business’, Dr Gary Kendall, Strategy and Sustainability Specialist at Nedbank, highlighted the fast-evolving global context related to sustainability challenges and changing expectations of stakeholders on the role of the private sector to assist in addressing these challenges.
The first panel discussion of the day covered ways in which De Beers Group is planning to utilise technology and innovation to support its strategy, and how the business plans to empower people to embrace this.
This was followed by an overview presentation on the importance of having a corporate social purpose and how ‘Building Forever’ encapsulates our approach to sustainable business and to ‘living our purpose’.
As David Prager, Executive Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, said: “Great brands are a shortcut to trust. They reflect the values of their consumers, they have clear social purpose and they embed this authentically throughout their business.”
Delving into our two core Building Forever pillars – Standing with Women and Girls, and Protecting the Natural World – representatives from UN Women, WomEng and Fauna & Flora International joined De Beers Group panellists to discuss the importance of these two areas to the future sustainability of the business.
This exciting and packed first day of the conference was followed by a further day and half of in-depth parallel sessions for all the safety, health, social and environmental discipline participants to discuss a wide range of topics and look to improve sustainability performance.
In recognition of the participation of all conference speakers and delegates, De Beers Group made a donation to the South African College for Tourism. The college is run by Peace Parks Foundation, one of the Group’s valued partners and guardians of the elephants in the ‘Moving Giants’ initiative, which has seen the translocation of 200 of these amazing creatures from De Beers Group’s Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in South Africa to Mozambique.
The college shares the priority of standing with women and girls, and, since opening, has trained more than 1,000 young women in hospitality services. Ninety-two per cent of these women have successfully secured employment. While the Sustainability Conference provided a holistic view of sustainability and its many facets, the Research Conference focused specifically on biodiversity conservation.
This two-day annual event is hosted jointly by De Beers Group and Oppenheimer Generations, a long-term association that highlights our joint interest in investing in conservation research. More than 220 attendees had the opportunity to discuss the latest research and findings from various projects that took place on Oppenheimer Generations and De Beers Group conservation properties, helping to guide future research and postgraduate opportunities.
Mpumi Zikalala, Deputy CEO of De Beers Consolidated Mines, opened the conference by emphasising the importance of conservation to De Beers Group and diamonds. Two excellent keynote speakers helped set the global context for conservation, with Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, touching on the role of his organisation on the continent and the importance placed on the more than 10 million hectares of protected land African Parks manages across nine countries.
With a focus on the future, Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership University, spoke passionately about developing problem-solving leaders who are able to address systemic challenges such as wildlife conservation, climate change, infrastructure development and education in Africa.
Presentations and posters over the course of the two days covered a diverse range of topics. From De Beers Group, these included marine biodiversity, Botswana’s beetles and spiders, a broad-scoped project on giraffe at our Rooipoort Nature Reserve in South Africa and palaeontology in Namibia.
Nicky Oppenheimer, from Oppenheimer Generations, closed the event by remarking on the uniqueness of the conference in the research world due to the diversity of exciting research by a variety of researchers (both well-established researchers and young researchers/postgraduate students) from a wide range of institutions.
Organisations represented in the presentations included NGOs, private companies and individuals, government agencies and 45 universities from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, DRC, Swaziland, France, UK, Portugal, Australia, Canada and the US.
He awarded the prize for the best presentation to Professor Andre Ganswindt, Director Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, for his talk on non-invasive monitoring of stressors in wildlife. He also handed over the best poster prize to Saeed Mohammadi, a PhD student at the University of Pretoria, for his poster on DNA barcoding in ants.
De Beers Group is committed to being fit for the future and investing in protecting the natural world through its conservation efforts. At the sustainability conference, Group executives emphasised the criticality of operating sustainably and the role we all play in that. At the research conference, we valued the chance to hear from a range of partners about the research they conduct towards achieving improved conservation outcomes.