Dints international: Part 2

Monday, 23 February, 2015

This is Part 2 of our three-part interview with Geoff de Mowbray, CEO of Dints International. Read part 1 here and watch this space for part 3 tomorrow.

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...The long game

There’s a wider development perspective to this argument though. De Mowbray makes a further interesting point on jobs, which while probably correct is certainly a harder sell: “while people are very pleased to have jobs,” he says, “if the jobs don’t get them somewhere, they don’t do them any favours.” Raising intractable questions about the quality of life is something that the human race is going to have to do at some point, and it’s refreshing to hear them raised in a business environment; but there is also a harder more pragmatic edge to the question. “Look at the capacity curing the ebola outbreak,” de Mowbray points out. “The lack of doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia is astronomical. There’s no investment in training them; instead they’re being paid 300 dollars a month to do something that should be done by a computer.”

But how could this be addressed within the confines of business and the profit/loss drivers that make decisions? If they’re not being trained up already, market forces aren’t making it happen and governments haven’t got the vision or the capacity to get it done, then what could change? 

The answer’s intriguing. If a company, say a mine, starts to run a platform that saves it 15% on wages, “then at least 1.5% should go into a pot that would equal the net wages lost, which could then go into developing the people into something more.” Despite the chorus of voices at Mining Indaba singing our song of sustainability and the attractive symmetry to that notion, it would be foolish to deny that resistance to change is multifaceted, both from theoretical people losing the original jobs and from the operations reluctant to relinquish that putative 1.5%. But the core message, says de Mowbray, isn’t that people are replaced; rather that they’re complemented. 

How’s it done in reality?

At this point, whilst the theoretical change is highly engaging, we want to understand how it is that it’s done in reality: how does Dints incorporate the mission to drive positive change into its practical, day-to-day work?  

“It’s not something you can do from the outset. To drive change effectively you have to do it from the inside out; and it’s a long game for us.” Pragmatic measures Dints has applied to date have included joining and adhering to the UN Global Compact, and investing in training local workforces to run particular projects where typically expats would do the job. “But first and foremost,” de Mowbray clarifies, “we are a business. So the main tack we’ve taken has been to get in with the mining companies, with infrastructure companies, and deliver cost savings to them. The next stage, which is what we have to build out, is increase those savings continually by using labour and local resources.”

It’s not always possible to use the methods you might choose, though. Reverting to the example of Mozambique, de Mowbray laments a huge skills gap, and the fact that it might take five or 10 years to bridge it. 

Sometimes, though, the fruit do hang lower: in another project, this one in Guinea, he describes a Dutch workforce operating mining machines, all on 130,000-euro salaries; here, change was possible. “We took villagers, invested in training for them; that saved the mining companies money and gave the locals jobs. And the impact was huge; it was a very rural area and they’d not really had jobs before. It was fantastic. Not the big bang that I ultimately want to create, but it’s important to play the long game. The training is key; the question is in what and how to train people.”

We ask him what the tools are - how this is really done?

“What we’re aiming to do by using technology is create a framework that people can use that accelerates the training process.” What’s the framework? He smiles: “That framework… is something that’s under vigorous development.” It works by analysing existing components of the supply chain—origination, logistics, compliance, finance—and using them in novel ways to make opportunities for positive change more clear.” 

We ask him how this is applied in reality—what he’d do if he had a magic wand. “I’d offer mining companies a platform that enables them to streamline procurement, ensure all anti-bribery compliance is in place; harmonise documentation and payment methods, and make them more cost effective. To suppliers, we’d say look: you’ve not been able to get into that mine before—but here’s a mechanism whereby you can see what you need to do to get the contract—what’s needed to meet the mine’s demands, but also what kind of capacity building is necessary internally.” The clients get supplier origination; the suppliers get client origination. It’s a neat picture.

On the back of that, suppliers are also able to use the mechanism to strengthen their offering to clients - particularly thorough using it to obtain financing that allows smaller enterprises to fulfil large orders while letting financiers take the associated risk. Another element is a set of complex qualitative and quantitive ranking mechanisms that further informs supplier selection, and provides a lifeline allowing suppliers to rebuild damaged reputations. “The point of this is to be non-exclusive.” 


In Part 3 tomorrow, we discuss finance models and the real innovation needed if businesses are to drive long term social change.
IMAGE courtesy of Lifa Communications:  "Yhanish Bhageerutty (Regional Sales Manager) and Peter Deveraux (Dints Onsite Technician) Ambatovy, Madagascar – February 2015"