When mining giant Assmang partnered with Zutari to create a new housing policy for workers, it was clear that conventional approaches were not going to cut it.
Instead, Zutari applied its innovative Impact Framework to co-create a desirable and viable solution built on trust and empathy among all stakeholders.
Homeownership and accommodation among mineworkers, historically sensitive and controversial, has often resulted in opposing parties locking horns and paralysing production. New South African legislation requires holders of mining rights to assist their employees in facilitating home ownership. A good idea in principle, this has proven remarkably complex in practice.
In 2017, Assmang established the iKhaya Working Committee, a formal platform mandated to collaboratively find a solution to the housing challenge at Assmang. The committee consisted of the three trade unions represented at the mine: Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) , National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidariteit, Assmang senior management and representatives from Assmang’s major shareholder, African Rainbow Minerals. Working with this diverse team of stakeholders, Zutari’s multi-disciplinary project team would create an opportunity for every Assmang employee to become a homeowner through an inclusive, sustainable, and fair new housing policy.
To unravel the complexity of the problem, Zutari applied practical tools from the fields of Design Thinking, Systems Thinking and Lean Thinking. This dynamic solution-finding process is known at Zutari as the Impact Framework and guides a human-centred, solutions-focused approach to solving complex problems.
The first step was to properly contextualise the problem. To co-create a solution that would satisfy mineworkers and mine owners, the problem had to be understood from multiple perspectives. There was a lot of listening to do; a lot of authentic dialogue to be facilitated. Using a combination of research approaches, Zutari successfully engaged an unprecedented number of stakeholders. These engagements built the trust and empathy needed to collaborate productively, and developed a nuanced understanding of stakeholders needs, hopes, and fears. Engagements included site visits by senior company representatives and the Assmang CEO, a survey that was completed by an impressive 77% of staff and in-depth focus groups and workshops with employee representatives and trade unions.
“Housing does not only provide security… it also brings dignity.”
The next step culminated in a sparring of options. A crucial component of the Impact Framework methodology is the iterative process of testing multiple potential solutions. “If there was a solution out there, we would have found it by now. We are here to make a custom plan,” said a member of the iKhaya Working Committee.
This empowering process significantly de-risks projects by allowing all parties to give input during the design phase – avoiding huge potential financial losses. Stakeholders are no longer bystanders when solutions are created by others, but rather co-creators of their own solutions — a radical shift from the traditional approach in mining.
From the initial 18 housing policy prototypes that were tested and workshopped in-depth, six housing options were identified as most desirable for mineworkers while still being legally feasible and financially viable for mine owners.
Working with stakeholders, Zutari Solutionists further refined these options, skilfully communicating the multiple benefits to mineworkers and trade unions, and in doing so overcoming misunderstandings and preconceived ideas. Because of the trust and empathy established among all parties, Assmang was willing to make additional concessions and approve revised benefits to create a final six-option plan with buy-in from all stakeholders – no small feat. “Tomorrow we all need to own and take responsibility and say ‘I was part of this process’ because it is something that affects people’s lives,” said a trade union member of the iKhaya Working Committee of the buy-in the collaborative design process created.
After successfully updating the housing policy, Zutari was extensively involved in the implementation and roll-out of the policy’s innovative communication campaign – testament to the trust the team earned as co-creators of this impactful solution.
Rowan Albertyn, Zutari Client Manager for Assmang, says: “The client saw Zutari’s approach as a fresh way to bring opposing parties together. It enabled people, irrespective of their role or level, to have an equal opportunity to provide input and be heard, creating a safe environment for potential conflict to be resolved”.
The project outcome continues to benefit all 5,200 employees at Assmang’s mining operations in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, including Black Rock, Khumani and Beeshoek Mines, as well as their families. “Housing is an emotional thing for me,” said a trade union member of the iKhaya Working Committee. “Housing does not only provide security… it also brings dignity.”
As trusted advisors to clients who are inspired to connect differently with the world, Zutari Solutionists helped resolve a key business risk. The human-centred design approach continues to influence the way Assmang approaches projects, and has set a new benchmark for the broader mining community. Now that is impact – engineered.
“This was a fresh way to bring opposing parties together, creating a safe environment for potential conflict to be resolved.”
*This project was recognised as a winner in the International Association of Facilitators’ (IAF) 2021 Facilitation Impact Awards.
Zutari Solutionists are committed to delivering enduring infrastructure solutions.