The corner office of Rebecca Darling, the recently appointed corporate social responsibility director for Barrick U.S.A., preserves a patch of empty floor and wall for yoga practice. The world traveler with a master’s degree in public administration joined the Nevada mine operator Nov. 15 after more than 15 years of experience in social development and environmental policy work. Darling is originally from California, and most recently worked for Rio Tinto mining group in Arizona as the communities and social performance manager. About moving farther west into a community focused mining, she said, “I came here for the job, but I am excited to be living here as well.”
What is corporate social responsibility?
Historically in mining, companies didn’t do anything at all in “giving back.”
Companies like the Gap have very good corporate social responsibility. Nike has something. Walmart has a foundation. Those are industries and businesses that will go, if successful, in perpetuity. There is not an end date. With mining, it’s different because there is an end date. The resource will be exhausted and the mine will close.
We don’t pick were the ore is. Sometimes it’s in very remote areas. Sometimes it’s in conflict areas. Sometimes it’s in countries without a lot of infrastructure. Sometimes it’s right in someone’s backyard.
But we’re at a place in life, in society, where we drive cars, and we have gadgets, and there is a saying that if it is not grown, it’s mined. So everything from your toothpaste to our cellphones has something that is mined in it. We as a society need these resources, so how are we going to do it in the most responsible way possible?
It’s really, “How do we extract a resource and provide it for society in a way that shares as much of the pie as possible?” For us in particular — and I’ve worked all over the world — economic participation is really almost always right at the top of the list. The things that I have found with very little variation are environmental stewardship, economic participation, and then cultural heritage or preservation, and that can look different in each place.
For us, corporate social responsibility is economic development, workforce development, buying locally, education investments, those kinds of things.
That’s a win-win because it gives us what we call at Barrick “license to operate,” LTO, which is having your neighbors, your host community, say, “Yeah, we’re happy to have you here. We’re glad that you’re here.”
Why did you want to work in Nevada?
One of the things I appreciate about this company is they are striving to always do better. And that’s key for me.
This field, corporate social responsibility, is relatively young, and it’s messy because it’s human based. It’s the marriage of a highly technical industry, and then you layer on that people, and what they care about, what they’re worried about, and what they hope for, and how this is going to dramatically impact their lives.
The pieces of the puzzle of that are so interesting. That’s what got me interested in this field in general. What I liked about Barrick when they approached me about this position is, they are doing really well in Nevada and the U.S. as far as corporate social responsibility goes, but they said, “We can still improve, and we want you to lead that,” and that’s an awesome responsibility.
What are your priorities in this job for 2018?
For me, personally, there’s a lot to learn. It’s important in this arena to listen first to build trust and rapport and relationships. I made a presentation this week to the Nevada operations. I can’t just come in and say, “This is what we’re doing. This is what I need from you.” I need to spend time explaining in ways that make sense for them and to them so that I’m adding value to their job, and [I need to] build relationships so that they trust me so that we can work together. The team here is from the communities, so they have very high trust. But because we will be making some changes, I can’t come right out of the gate and do that. Plus I just need to know more. For me, the first part of the year will be learning and understanding the approach we have been taking, figuring out the “Why?” and the “What do we want?” and then probably making some adjustments around that.
How do social responsibility strategies in the U.S. compare to practices in other countries?
In other countries, particularly developing countries or emerging economies where the rule of law is weak, is where it looks a lot different. In the U.S. where the rule of law is strong, if we comply with permitting and the laws of the land, we are probably OK. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do more and do better, but we’re probably OK. We have a stable government system here, and in other places, an election can turn a country into a tailspin. When you have a long-term project, that tumultuousness is completely different. Elko in this region in Northern Nevada is so mining friendly because much of Nevada was built around that.
What has been the most rewarding project or moment of your career so far?
In international development, you work for these projects, all for maybe two, three, five years, and there’s funding that comes from USAID or World Bank, and then it ends. I was a manager for one of those projects. The thing that means so much to me is that every Mongolian who worked for me in Mongolia got at least one international experience, and the younger of them all got some educational experience outside and now all of them have gone on and have careers and still ask me for letters of reference. This was 2007. My ability to leverage that project and the funding we had to get them exposure and education and experience beyond their own country to bring back to their country and use — the impact that that had was so much longer than the project — is something I’m really, really proud of.