Responsible Sourcing Manager | Levin Sources
What do you do as Responsible Sourcing Manager at Levin Sources?
I mainly work with businesses to build value into their processes and manage human rights, integrity and environmental risks to their operations. My work tends to be with jewellery and electronics manufacturers and retailers, precious metals and minerals companies, and industry associations. I also work with governments and civil society.
Recently, I’ve worked with refineries and mining companies to strengthen their policies and due diligence processes, I designed a comprehensive capacity building and support system for SMEs performing supply chain due diligence for the European Commission. My work is always varied and never dull.
You studied International Development for your undergrad, and you've got a Master's degree and a PhD in Law. How did you end up in mining?
I worked in West Africa during my International Development studies – it was there that I realised I wanted to learn more about rural development. I was fascinated by the relations between different stakeholders that contribute to sustainable economic and human rights development – both good and bad.
I pursued a second Master’s degree from King’s College London in Law and Criminology, which gave me additional lenses through which to view relations between actors in development and business. I studied state crime, corporate crime, state-corporate crime and organised crime. My research focused on the relationship between Nigerian and Italian organised crime.
I started working for the International Labour Organization (ILO), before starting my PhD in law and on public-private partnerships, and how these new institutions advance labour rights in global supply chains. During this journey, I started looking into agricultural and mineral supply chains, which eventually led to me working in the precious metals and minerals sector. I always felt that, to understand supply chains and work in high-risk countries, I needed to fully understand the economic, anthropological and sociological drivers and barriers.
Which skills did your PhD gave you that you use in your job?
I started my career as a researcher, but my PhD definitely polished my research and analytical skills. I can assess qualitative data and interpret information and then make sense of it. Doing a PhD gave me the time that I would never otherwise have to read everything that I was interested in relation to the topic I chose for my research. I’m never going to have that time again in life. I spent a year reading, a year doing field research and a year writing.
You were talking about the link between Nigerian and Italian crime. Could you tell us more about it?
I focused on organised crime in Nigeria initially and wanted to complete my Master’s thesis on that. I started seeing a huge presence of Nigerian organised crime in Italy and wondered how those groups co-exist with organised criminal groups from Italy. I wanted to see how land control worked between them, how they cohabitate in the same economies and share criminal activities. What I learned is that any new group eventually ends up in conflict with existing organised criminal groups until they find a new balance and way to coexist and make money. It is not only the Nigerian criminal groups that have to manage this kind of coexistence in Italy but those from Albania and Romania too.
Of course, the Italian organised criminal organisations make a profit from their presence in Italy, so I travelled from the North to the South of the country to interview stakeholders to understand the dynamics of these types of relationships.
You started your studies in Italy and then you moved to England. Why did you move?
I won a scholarship to travel to England to learn English. It was only supposed to last two months; I ended staying there for almost ten years. Early on, I got an internship with a small NGO called ‘AFRUCA’ that supports victims of trafficking in the UK and later on for the British Red Cross in their Trust and Statutory Fundraising team.
I found the access to the UK labour market very appealing. You can apply for a job and stand a chance, whereas I find the Italian labour market too rigid. Eventually, I decided to stay in the UK to explore career options. There is an openness here to people moving from one career to the other, whereas in Italy, a career change can be harder.
The mining industry is very male-dominated. What’s your experience of it and how do you deal with it?
In large-scale mining and in industries like tin, tantalum, tungsten (3Ts), and gold, you do find more men than women. I went to a conference last year that dealt with 3Ts and the audience split was probably about ten percent female.
I try not to let it bother me. Poor female representation in the industry penalises the sector because it doesn't give enough diversity in the mindset, in the ideas, in the solutions. I'm not sure how self-aware companies are of the limitations presented by only having a male perspective.
Personally, I haven’t felt discriminated against, but I’ve heard men in the industry refer to women as “girls”, rather than as professionals. You might hear “where is that girl from?” said a female speaker at an event. I always make a point of saying “you’re referring to [name] from [company]”. I want to make the point that words like “girls” are used to undermine a woman’s credibility – it’s not appropriate to describe a person, in a professional capacity and beyond.
You've mentioned that sometimes, when faced with a sexist situation, you speak out and sometimes you don't. What do you base it on, when do you choose to say something?
When the person says something discriminatory, I don't shut up.
When people discriminate through their body language, I act to break that wall.
For example, when I see that men are all sitting together in a corner of the table, I'll make a point to sit in the middle. It's not always easy, but eventually, it flows. People talk to you, you share ideas. Never sit on the other side: if you’re able to, always sit in the middle to acknowledge and challenge the culture of exclusivity.
You're currently pregnant. Were you concerned about the impact being pregnant and having a baby might have on your career?
Not particularly, because I work in a company where women and family are accepted and supported. We have male and female colleagues that have babies and we support each other. It’s part of our company culture.
In terms of career development, it naturally helps to have the family close. My husband is involved in the family activities and is going to take a very active role in raising our child, which will allow us both to continue our work. If you split the responsibility, it makes a big difference.
You're currently working in the private sector. Before you worked for NGOs, International Organisation and for local government. What were key transferable skills from one place to the next?
While working for NGOs in Burkina Faso and Benin, I honed my research and strategy skills. In Burkina Faso, I researched rural supply chains the relationship between different farmers cooperatives and how they work together to market their products better. Later, in Benin, I had the opportunity to further develop my strategy skills as, after the research, I had to write reports and to set strategies on how to move forward and improve the existing project. These experiences formed the bedrock for the development of skills I use every day.
At the ILO, research and analysis played a key role, along with sensitivities to the needs and cultural differences between how local communities and institutions operate internationally. I also polished my training, project management skills as well as my diplomatic and negotiation skills because of the environment in which I was working.
Next, I worked for Southwark Council – public sector, but still a different and educational experience that informs my approach today. Working from within a government institution was inspiring, allowing me to design and implement employment and business support policies that directly affected people I became familiar with, understanding and helping them overcome difficulties and challenges they faced.
Every type of job gives you something that can be valuable to your next career step. I feel sorry to see companies hiring only people that have done a specific type of job because there's no space for creative solutions. In my experience, the most incredible solutions can come from people that never worked in that sector. They come with fresh minds, fresh analytical skills, fresh ideas that let them think outside of the box and propose real change.
What do you think is the one thing it took you may be a while to learn, that held you back?
Learning to approach situations diplomatically was a gamechanger. Understanding the drivers, motivators, and barriers stakeholders face when entering negotiations is essential in my field. When you find yourself in a conflict situation, the way you convey the message is critical to how that conflict is going to evolve.
Throughout my various job experiences, in different types of environments, with different people from various cultures, I’ve learnt to interpret signs of risk and anticipate how situations can deteriorate. Anticipate it and then craft your communication appropriately, maybe change the conditions in which you're working. I always encourage people I meet to try different environments and not always work in situations where they feel immediately comfortable. Otherwise they do not develop that kind of negotiations and conflict resolution skill.