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Women in Mining Spotlight: Jennifer Prospero  

Eldorado Gold’s senior director of sustainability Jennifer Prospero. Submitted image.

Women in Mining UK this week published its list of the top 100 inspirational women in mining around the globe. The publication highlights women’s talent, celebrates their “above and beyond” contributions, and identifies role models for future generations.

Named to the list, Eldorado Gold’s senior director of sustainability Jennifer Prospero is developing and implementing sustainability management systems in Greece, Turkey and Canada. She has also led social and environmental programs in the Arctic, Madagascar, and Cuba.

With a background in social sciences and community consultation, Prospero began working in the mining industry in 2010 as part of a permitting team for a large, greenfield, open-pit iron ore operation in Nunavut, Canada. There, she was responsible for reporting and stakeholder engagement, and worked with local communities. 

Next, she managed sustainability strategy at Sherritt International with a joint-venture mining operation in Cuba, a refinery in Canada and, at the time, the Ambatovy project in Madagascar.

In 2017, she was named one of Corporate Knights’ Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders in Canada. Her work over the last five years directly resulted in both Sherritt and Eldorado being named to Corporate Knights’ Future 40 Responsible Corporate Leaders and Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada for the first time, respectively.

Prospero holds a BA (Honours) from the University of Victoria with a major in Geography and an MSc in Planning from the University of Toronto. She is a guest lecturer for universities on topics of sustainability and mining including York University Schulich School of Business MBA in Global Mining Management and the University of Toronto’s MSc in Sustainability Management.

She shared some career highlights and industry insights in this exclusive interview with MINING.COM. 

MDC: How did you arrive at a career in mining?

Prospero: I grew up on a small hobby farm in Kelowna, British Columbia and had an interest in the natural environment. Sustainable living was really fostered in me from an early age from my parents, so I always knew it was something that I was interested in. During my undergrad degree in geography at UVIC, I learned about sustainable business and the idea of being able to help businesses do better was attractive to me.

I had a bit of community consultation on my CV and I was given an opportunity to join a really exciting mining project in the Canadian Arctic. That was the Baffinland project for the original purpose – back in 2010. I was immediately hooked. The mining industry really combined my interest in social sciences, communications strategy and, really, a deep desire to leave a lasting positive legacy. Now I’m the senior director of sustainability at Eldorado Gold and we’re really making some great strides, but there’s always more to do and better ways of doing things than before. So I don’t think my job will ever be finished and it’s not something that really feels daunting to me. It’s been something that’s really sort of motivated me from the start of my career.

MDC: What did sustainability look like growing up on the farm?

Prospero: For my family, it was really more just about not leaving a bigger impact than you needed to. It was a really small hobby farm, we produced our own meat, and it was really about learning the life cycle of understanding what you put in your body and where things come from. I think the connection to mining is that there’s a deep understanding of knowing or trying to understand the root of everything that we have in modern life, knowing where things come from. Understanding the inputs into manufacturing and the goods and services that we use. And maybe it’s partly because a lot of us who grew up in rural or small town areas – mining’s always a really feasible career option. But for me it’s a sustainability lens, and I’m not a not a geologist or an engineer. I’m a social scientist. So I broke the mold a little bit.

MDC: What sustainability initiatives are you working on at Eldorado?

Prospero: Sustainability is core to our overall corporate strategy and that obviously includes the safety of our people and the communities around us. We have a sustainability framework that is a commitment to safe, inclusive and innovative operations, engaged and prosperous communities, responsibly produced products and a healthy environment now and for the future.

What I’ve really been focused on for the last few years has been developing and rolling out our global sustainability management system. This sets minimum performance standards across our operations and projects and it covers material sub topic areas like climate, energy, water, health and safety, human rights, community investment. In early 2022, we announced our first greenhouse gas target. So we’re committed to mitigating our scope. 

MDC: What challenges and opportunities do you see for women in the industry?

Prospero: There’s no secret to any of us that the mining industry is facing a talent shortage in general. And I truly believe the industry is an enormous opportunity to anyone who wants to join it. And we need the best and brightest to help evolve, which is one of the oldest industries in the world, into one that will support the climate transition sustainably. And it’s not to say that there’s no challenges  for women in the industry, but many companies are looking inwardly now at inclusivity, and although we don’t always talk about this, the mining industry can be very competitive for top talent. 

At the same time, I do think that mining companies need to think outside the traditional geologist and mining engineer background. These people are still critically important to industry, but we need diversity of thought.

To support this I set up a small scholarship for women and at the University of Victoria. UVic is not a mining school by any means. It is a leading institution on sustainability,  environmental science, indigenous law, and computer science. By defining the scholarship as one that would support sustainable mining or an interest in sustainable mining, I’m hoping to signal to people who are in their undergrad and not sure what they could do with their degree, that there is opportunity in the mining industry. It’s called the J. Prospero Scholarship for Sustainable Mining.

MDC: What do you think are some misconceptions about the industry? 

Prospero: The challenges we’re facing globally, they feel enormous. We’ve got climate change, water stewardship, shifting socio political situations. As an industry, we’re not immune to those challenges. But we’re also part of the solution and maybe that’s one of the misconceptions. I feel now the role of an experienced sustainability professional has never been more relevant and necessary in terms of changing that misconception.

MDC: How do you think we can mine our way to a greener future? 

Prospero: There are many ways that mining can help us in the green transition, including just the materials itself [that] are going to be critical. And I think that’s becoming more well understood. But overall, it’s still not a well understood industry and that can be really polarizing.  To make the sweeping societal change that’s going to be required to survive our climate future – and I use the word survive pretty pointedly – we’re going to need engagement from people everywhere. I mean, the average person is going to need to be interested in mining, and they’re going to need to be informed and engaged in the process. They’re going to need to care about outcomes, and they’re going to need to hold miners accountable.