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Associate Spotlight: Kathleen Charles (Part Two)

November 6, 2015, by Anna Barker


Levin Sources associate Kathleen Charles tells Anna Barker about her work commuting to Africa from Paris, how no miner is an island to herself, and dinner with Nelson Mandela.

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 South of France to talk to me.

Kathleen is currently based in Paris, France where she works as a senior investment and financial services advisor, with expertise on SMEs and business in the developing world, agriculture and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM).Her work is focused on Africa, and includes assessing the performance of enterprises in key sectors, identifying companies with high potential value, designing strategies for investment and facilitating business growth through training, finance and exposure to markets.

Kathleen’s work in Tanzania shows the benefits of cross-pollinating experience. There, she worked in the ASM sector as well as with small-scale farmers to set up the Agribusiness Innovation Center (AIC)[1]. The initiative scoped value addition to production in Tanzania, such as in sunflower oil, palm oil and tomatoes production.

Could an initiative like the AIC work in the mining sector too? “Potentially”, Kathleen says. “It could be a solution when partners are willing to provide seed finance’, she describes. “It would then be necessary for the private sector to play a role, normally a local producer. But this takes time, and there is a lack of seed finance, again highlighting the frustrations in the ASM sector that arise from missing investment.

Mining, Kathleen insists, is not an isolated activity.
It’s integrated and needs to be dealt with
in an integrated fashion.

Kathleen’s outlook is shaped by optimism: SME’s in Africa, as a broader sector, are attracting more and more impact investment. ‘I still think mining has a long way to go, in terms of sensitising both sides, for the miners themselves and through the lens of the value chain. But people are beginning to improve their understanding [of mining].

Mining, Kathleen insists, is not an isolated activity; it needs to be integrated and ‘dealt with in an integrated fashion’. Mining may be a faster process than agriculture, but for Kathleen, the two sectors should be integrated. The issue of finance has always been a problem, as so few institutions are willing to take the risk. Ever rising to the challenge, Kathleen is pioneering models to encourage financial investments.

And the future for Kathleen herself? Having lived in so many countries, she feels that she is settled in Paris for now, and definitely Europe. ‘It’s just so much easier to travel to Africa from here’, she explains, ‘so for the moment I’m not planning on going anywhere.

And finally, her ideal dinner guests?

That’s a tough question.’ Nelson Mandela inspired her ‘to go to Africa in one minute’. Bishop Desmond TuTu would certainly be invited, as well as her close friends Sherry and Vera – both high fliers and dear friends, sure to make the conversation lively.

[1] To read about this project, see: https://www.infodev.org/infodev-files/tanzania1_aic_business_plan_mp_edits_0515.pdf (accessed 26-08-2015)

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