Mining can be a blessing for foreign aid: UN

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) head Helen Clark is focused on making mining "a blessing, not a curse, for [developing] countries."

At a conference held jointly by the Canadian Government and the World Economic Forum this past weekend, Clark spoke about the positive role that Canadian mining companies can play in international development. Partnering mining with foreign aid is part of a broader Canadian foreign policy shift towards private-sector development.

But the policy shift has not been smooth.

In 2011, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) supported partnerships between three NGOs and Canadian mining companies operating in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Peru. One of the NGOs working in Burkina Faso, Plan Canada, claimed that its financing dried up as a result of donors who disapproved of its association with mining.

Opposition to mining in the province of Quebec has intensified recently and the province is taking initial steps to build a foreign aid agency that would run parallel to the Government of Canada's.

Private-sector development projects, however, are on trend.

International outfits from the World Bank and the OECD to the smallest of NGOs have increasingly focused on private-sector development as way to grow and sustain local business and industry.

This recent nod from UNDP's chief, who realizes Canada's competitive advantage in mining, cannot hurt Canada's private-sector push.

Clark highlighted that Canada has "very big companies in the extractive industries, and they’re out there around the world. Now what Canada can be is a leader in companies which are environmentally and socially responsible."

Given that the companies are already out there, Clark said that the focus should be on training local people and conducting business with local companies.

“Make it work for development. Give these small companies in countries a chance to enter the value chain as suppliers to the big multi-national companies, if the multi-national skills will invest in the local skills of people, that’s very, very powerful for the whole economy…[a] private sector actively engaged in thinking about the development spinoffs from its activity can be very, very helpful.”