“If one does not experiment with innovative ideas, one cannot experience positive change in development. Taking practical steps, no matter how small, can bring about change.” These are the words of Olayeni Maryam Temitayo, who completed the Local Economic and Social Development in Extractives (LESDE) course at the University of Queensland in 2015.
On returning to Nigeria, Olayeni started a mining empowerment project in her capacity as the Executive Director of the Conservative Environmental Growth and Development Centre (CEGDEC). This project was part of her Reintegration Action Plan, a critical element of the Awards as it aligns new knowledge and skills with opportunities for development impact and change.
The objective of the project is to improve the livelihood of women and youth, by increasing their participation in local economic development. The project successfully hosted a one-day Local Economic and Social Development Initiative workshop in Olode, an aquamarine-rich mining region. Aquamarines are valuable gemstones used in jewellery production. Nigeria has high deposits of aquamarine. Olode presents an opportunity for local communities to benefit their region’s natural resources.
The workshop was a first for the community. A total of 171 people attended the workshop. This event served as the community’s first gathering on mining-related issues, bringing together individuals from different walks. In addition, women and youth participated, and they engaged in group discussions on the various environmental mining best practices and mining linkages. The workshop strengthened participants’ strengths, skills and potential.
The participation of women and youth was a highlight for Olayeni. The extractives sector often marginalises women and youth from participating actively. The workshop provided a platform for them to come together and discuss the social and economic developments attributed to aquamarine mining.
A key outcome was the awakening of potential and strengths within the participants. Thus, ensuring that they are empowered to embark on opportunities that arise within their communities, such as the formation of cooperatives and registering for mining activities. Another outcome of the workshop was the selection of individuals to train in the cutting and processing of gemstones. This exposure will equip the selected individuals with skills that are valuable to the job market and expose them to Gemology its opportunities for the community.
Olayeni attributes the formation of the project to the partnerships that she forged because of the Australia Awards. She belongs to a forum that is part of the Australia Awards Alumni in Nigeria. The members of this forum share their challenges and experience. She was also able to forge valuable professional links, with other members of civil society in Africa, whom she met during her studies. Overall, the Australia Awards experience ignited the possibility for women and youth from her community to engage in matters that they had not been previously exposed to and explore opportunities that would improve their means of income. Olayeni’s mining empowerment project continues to benefit from her links, as she can propagate different ideas and emulate the best of these within her project.