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What has COVID-19 meant for Levin Sources? A year in review.

What has COVID-19 meant for Levin Sources? A year in review.

December 16, 2020, by Estelle Levin-Nally


I can’t imagine any person or institution is coming out of 2020 the same as they were when this extraordinary year began. It has been a slog of undoing and remaking, stalling and accelerating, anxiety and grief combined with hope and relief for billions of us. Levin Sources is no different. In this blog, I want to share some reflections on what we’ve learned about ourselves, our industry and our priorities.

When the reality of COVID-19 concretised from being ‘a concerning dot to keep an eye on in a faraway place’ to being a tidal wave to ride and hopefully survive, Levin Sources had been facing in to what had looked likely to be our most successful year ever. On a personal level, I had just lived a dream of going to South Africa for the first time, moderating the first ever panel on ASM at the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town and visiting the penguins at Elizabethtown, all in the midst of a wonderful sabbatical year working part-time from my childhood home in Guernsey. We were feeling strong and positive for the year ahead.

My passion for penguins was sealed back in 1996 when I had to write a paper on their evolutionary biology as part of my undergraduate degree

Our team have experienced COVID-19 very differently, and not all of us has escaped succumbing to the virus or its indirect impacts, but we have managed to support each other, adapt together, and find new ways of working that I believe has strengthened our company’s culture and the team’s commitment to the business and each other. I learned that if the company is going to take a hit, I have a team who will face it together with patience, compassion and ingenuity. This makes me exceedingly proud, because something I strongly believe is that society progresses when we approach problems from a #wetogether rather than #mefirst position. Thank you, you lovely lot.

Live caricature by Sheba and Simon Cassini of Bitter and Twisted

Our industry has been diversely affected by COVID-19. We have had the opportunity to lead research on how it has impacted on artisanal miners in the DRC, Mozambique, Niger, and Zimbabwe, and to share this research in various global (online) platforms. COVID-19 has also surfaced supply chains’ weak resilience, potentially exposing downstream actors further away from the source to unexpected ESG risks.

In March 2020, we were hunkering down to start a 3-year strategic review. We quickly realised that the only thing we could anticipate in the coming months was uncertainty and disruption, so we instead focused our efforts on emergency management. As verbally-agreed projects fell by the wayside and contracted work required restructuring, we dared to imagine what opportunities might be hidden in the chaos of COVID. We have come to realise the following:

  • If you’re going to ride in a storm, make sure you have a good boat and an excellent crew. Whilst we are so proud of the extraordinary people in our team, including our talented associates and board, it is clear that we would benefit from more diverse voices and perspectives within the company. This year we published our commitment to gender equality and I had the honour of being named as one of the “100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining” by WIM UK. Levin Sources is keen to build upon this to achieve even greater diversity into our team and partnerships, and so we have established a diversity & inclusion committee, drafted a D&I policy and roadmap, and consulted our staff on their impressions of our performance in this regard. In 2021 we will be broadening this consultation to our associates and eventually clients. We welcome all feedback and ideas on how we can live our values and become a more diverse and inclusive organisation.
  • As the state of emergency gives governments extraordinary powers, the risk of human rights violations increases and progress towards achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is hindered or, worse, reversed. Our focus on integrity, good governance and responsible business conduct is more important now than ever and we are redoubling our efforts to advance these in the minerals sector.
  • Even on long term strategic assignments like the USAID-funded Commercially Viable Conflict Free Gold project, locally known as "Zahabu Safi" we have had to be nimble to react to the changing realities on the ground. The project is led by US-based Global Communities; we are an implementing partner and it has project partners on three continents. But we realised that, with a bit of innovation (and plenty of video calls), keeping it on track was possible. We have used our local partners, worked with the government of DRC and built on huge amounts of existing knowledge to move the project forward. 2021 will see us pivot from learning and planning to delivering and adjusting. And we hope to see our first exports of gold supported by CVCFG.
  • Our work on responsible mining and especially LSM-ASM relations has expanded this year. Despite the difficulties that COVID-19 has brought to mining companies and the sector in general, the challenges of engagement with and management of ASM stakeholders have gained increasing attention from mining companies and others. This year we have been able to support three clients on this and have started sharing some of our insights and lessons learned in a blog series. The idea of convening a community of practice around LSM-ASM relationships has found widespread interest following an initial brainstorm in the margins of Indaba and we are exploring more concrete actions on this with IRMA, ARM and other partners in the coming year.
  • Coronavirus has laid bare the relationship between planetary health and social and economic wellbeing; society is now alive to the fact we can no longer afford to put nature last. Hello Jonny come lately. This awakening is increasingly evident in the rhetoric, and fortunately also commitments that governments across the economic and geopolitical spectrum are making to tackle the climate crisis and 6th mass extinction. Levin Sources has deepened our work on forest-smart mining this year and will be launching a new service on carbon management for SMEs and purpose-led organisations early next year; watch this space! We also made a series of commitments to environmental protection, targeting net zero for carbon by 2021 and tightening our own environmental management systems; why don’t you do the same?
  • In support of our commitment to carbon neutrality COVID-19 has forced us to accelerate a greater proportion of work to be done by local associates and partners, whilst we manage, coordinate, and quality control these projects remotely. This is a great thing. From remote trainings and data collection across three continents, remote audits in Honduras and Cote d’Ivoire, to the extension of WASH programming at ASM sites in Niger, we are excited by this opportunity to enhance ‘local content’ for our clients and empower local talent in mining nations.
  • Our ability to adapt and innovate so quickly has left us asking ourselves – why didn’t we do this before? One answer of course is that the technological revolution that has made home working and remote project implementation possible – and this has really ramped up in recent years. We are growing our digital4development services in recognition of the revolutionary possibilities for human rights protection. We are especially excited at the potential of harnessing remote observation technologies for ASM and land-use monitoring. What seemed like an obscure technical field with limited potential to mining and minerals policy and supply chain risk management has been catapulted to the fore by the exponential growth in satellite data and the possibilities that machine learning afford. We have developed a formidable partnership with dida, an AI innovation firm and together we have launched ASMSpotter, which was awarded the Microsoft AI for Earth prize in October. Watch this space.

Whilst COVID-19 has allowed us to surface new priorities and accelerate pre-existing commitments, it has also forced us to decelerate others. We turned 10 in February 2020 and had been planning a year of celebrations including our annual social in Paris at the OECD Responsible Minerals Forum, a surprise foray into ecosystem restoration for our staff in May and for Estelle in September (who was booked to devote a week to replanting the Caledonian forest with Trees for Life in Scotland). We put the party hats and streamers back in the cupboard, meekly popped an adapted logo into our signatures, and concentrated on rolling up our sleeves. We’ll be celebrating Levin turns Eleven next year and hope you will join us in our celebrations when we can eventually do something together, in person.

Last, but by no means least, 2020 has had us welcome new team member Rebecca McDowall and new family members, with four baby boys being born to Fabiana, Blanca, Adam, and Cyril! This has brought light into an otherwise tempestuous year as little bald heads and big eyes occasionally feature in our team Zoom calls. But 2020 has also had us say adieu to highly valued team members Victoria Gronwald, Chloe Jacot and Ioana Belu, who we will miss but passionately support as they set forth into new adventures. We are also saying goodbye to board member, Vik Anderson, and thank her sincerely for her service to the business. This means we are hiring two roles right now and will be recruiting for the board early next year – do you want to join us?

With 2020 behind us, one can only be hopeful that 2021 will bring more joy, prosperity and meaning to the world at large. We will be starting the new year with aplomb as we finalise our B Corp certification, launch Levin Sources Europe and commence a series of workshops and conferences on ecosystem restoration and responsible sourcing with new collaborators such as Responsible Raw Materials and CSR Europe.

We sincerely thank each of you for everything you have done to promote, improve, and support Levin Sources this year, and to advance our mission – helping the mining and minerals sector be part of the solution to global challenges like climate change, sustainability and peace and stability. I would like to wish you all the happiest of holidays, with much good cheer and merriment, and perhaps some penguins featured somehow.

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