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Associate Spotlight: Kathleen Charles (Part One)

October 6, 2015, by Anna Barker


Levin Sources associate Kathleen Charles, tells Anna Barker about being sept-lingual, road trips with Estelle Levin, and where Cameroon’s got it right

Meet Kathleen Charles: Levin Sources associate, senior investment and financial services advisor, and innovator in the developing world. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Kathleen, as she interrupted her well-earned break in the South of France to talk to me.

Kathleen belongs to the school of impressive high-achievers who are helping change the world for the better. Exhibit A: she’s fluent in English, French and Spanish; AND able to converse confidently in German, Russian and Portuguese (and even basic Swahili).

Kathleen, an American, started out as a journalist. She thought her path would be with the US State Department. “For some reason or other…it didn’t work out” Kathleen recalled with a wry grin, “They gave rejection lines like ‘all positions are currently frozen’. On determination and spirit, Kathleen continued to pursue work in international development. ‘I just worked my way up and here I am’, says Kathleen with her disarmingly approachable style.

The subtext is there: work hard.

And her hard work has paid off. Having worked all over the world, and for a variety of organisations, Kathleen’s résumé makes for a fascinating read. She has worked in the USA, Egypt, Ethiopia, Botswana, Tanzania, Italy, Burkina Faso, and France, for the likes of the Lehman Brothers (before the crash!), USAID, FAO, the World Bank and the UN.

In Cameroon the government and the micro finance sector are working out how to finance ASM – a rare occurrence.

Micro-Finance and ASM?

Lately, Kathleen is putting her banking background to use focusing on the ASM sector. This means scoping the financial environment for investment, providing advice, and helping improve access to credit for SME. ‘Cameroon is starting to shape up into something special’, says Kathleen. There, the government and the micro finance sector are working out how to finance ASM – a rare occurrence. The project is evolving to involve more of the private sector and financial institutions, who are looking to launch programmes that are all-inclusive, across all sectors.

Could Cameroon serve as a positive model for the rest of Africa?

‘It could be a model’, she says. ‘CAPAM[1] is an intermediary most countries don’t have. It’s rare to have that kind of institution in the mining industry’. Kathleen highlights the significance of CAPAM, adding that it could serve as an example ‘in terms of trying to figure out ways to design financial products that could be suited to the needs of the small mining sector.

This project is just one of the things Kathleen is working on and she’s eager to feature others. ‘I’m at the point where it’s really an exciting time’, Kathleen says, ‘my career took a while to materialise, which is OK’, she assures me with a knowing look. “But now, it’s nice to be in demand’, she comments, adding ‘I’m really looking forward to building this relationship with Levin Sources.’

Origin Story

Kathleen met Estelle Levin-Nally in 2007. Estelle was doing a scoping study for Fairtrade/Fairmined gold for ARM (Alliance for Responsible Mining) and Kathleen was working for a privately held bank. Kathleen’s bank was the local partner for Estelle’s scoping trip, since they had pioneered a number of ‘Fair Trade’ Buying Centres across northern Tanzania, and were scoping the South also. The two embarked on a huge field trip: ‘It was such a success,’ Kathleen remembers fondly, ‘we really bonded, out in the bush and stuff’. They’ve kept in contact ever since, with Kathleen acting as a financial services advisor on an ad hoc basis for Levin Sources.

As Kathleen’s focus has increasingly been on mining, she laments how little is being done for miners. ‘No one is looking at it’, she says, adding how for those who are looking at mineral resources, it is from an upstream level: how many goods –like raw gold – can be accrued to be exported. “There is a gaping hole of understanding of what the miners really need’ which is why Kathleen insists Levin Sources plays such a critical role.

[1] Footnote: Cellule d'Appui et de Promoaon de l'Arasanat Minier/Cadre d'Appui pour la Promoaon de l'Arasanat Minier

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