Selecting a development project in times of pandemic

COVID-19 is having a great impact on our lives. However, it also presented Eight with major challenges for the launch of its first Congolese project. The lockdown and travel restrictions made it difficult to assess the situation on the spot.

After the first two villages in Uganda, founders Steven Janssens and Maarten Goethals are currently starting up a third action in the African country. Eight is now in the process of preparing its first development project in Congo. The aim of the project is to provide all the inhabitants with a basic income. In order to encourage as many people from the community as possible to engage in business in this way, the choice of village is a key criterion. In the case of Congo, the coronavirus is making this difficult, but not impossible. The effective launch of the new project remains scheduled for April 2021.

Careful selection process

For the choice of the Congolese village, a particular region of the country is defined. Due to the specific difficulties in the mining industry, additional information is indispensable. To this end, Eight uses a study by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) as a basis. This fully independent research agency provides tailored information to all those who are committed to sustainable development, respect for human rights and durable peace.

Eight has defined a number of key criteria to determine which villages qualify for its project. A strongly cohesive community is the most important criterion. In fact, Eight wants to involve everyone in the village. A second criterion is the number of inhabitants. The village should also lie within a reasonably accessible distance from a city. Ideally, mobile banking should also be possible.

Ores for smartphones: an important factor

For its first Congolese project, Eight is partnering with Proximus and Umicore. The joint action "Don’t Miss the Call", aims to reduce the negative impact of mining. Together with Eight, it should improve the living conditions of the local miners. In Congo, they extract ores that are used in smartphones.

Therefore, the selected village in Congo also had to have a direct relationship with a local mine. The shortlist of 10 villages was thus narrowed down to three potential projects, which are now being visited on site as part of a prospecting mission. The ore on which the project will focus is cassiterite. The tin from this ore is an important building material for mobile phones. It is used for soldering different components together in smartphones. Without tin, there would be no working smartphones.

However, the extraction of each ore has its own dynamic and issues, a full understanding of which is essential for the development project to succeed. That is why the founders of Eight also consulted experts on the matter, including Professor Sara Greenen of the University of Antwerp. It emerged that both the miners and the bosses of the specific mineshaft in Congo could have a reasonable income. For example, bosses would earn 56 dollars a week in the pre-production phase and up to 203 dollars a week in the production phase. For miners, this would be 21 and 51 dollars a week, respectively. The people living in the villages also include farmers, women and children, who do not work in the mines. They have a much lower income, comparable to that in Uganda’s rural areas. Moreover, the corona crisis has caused a fall in prices of various ores. This is also having a negative impact on miners’ earnings.

Based on the above conclusions, every villager will receive a monthly basic income of 19 dollars, or 16 euros, from Eight. This means, for example, that the miners and the bosses will see their income increase by 20% and 7% respectively. Above all, however, it provides all the villagers with social protection, which moreover gives miners the opportunity to set up a business. And to say goodbye to unhealthy work.

What is the impact of this development project?

Of course, providing a whole community with a basic income also raises questions. Will the villagers send their children to school more frequently? Will they make more healthy choices? And above all: will entrepreneurship be encouraged?

"Previous research shows that such cash transfers usually have a positive effect. However, this also of course depends on the context", Steven Janssens explains. "For a village located in the immediate vicinity of a cassiterite mine, we know, for example, that the so-called cooperatives are required to extract minerals artisanally. For other ores, we know of many cases where such cooperatives actually only exist to enable the local elites to misappropriate funds."

It is precisely to avoid this risk that Eight is working closely with IPIS. "Moreover, we make it clear to the local leaders that the project will be stopped immediately if the money does not reach the people it is intended to help. This, in turn, would ensure that the villagers would protest against the injustice done to them. Combined with our experiences in Uganda, we know that our project will also work in Congo", Steven Janssens concludes.

Want to have your old phone recycled to help reduce the extraction of cassiterite? Just pop along with your phone to your local Proximus Shop. There we'll give you a voucher with the value of your mobile phone. Together we make the difference.

Don’t Miss the Call


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