The annual Investing in African Mining Indaba has been going on for a
quarter of a century and 2019 looks to be the best year yet, writes Dineo Phoshoko.
Managing director Alex Grose and director of content Harry Chapman spoke to African Mining to discuss the conference’s shift in direction over the past two years.
Two years ago, Mining Indaba management realised that the conference could have been better than what it was and that all the right people were not attending the conferencing. “It’s called Investing in African Mining Indaba, so it has to be about investors and mining companies,” explained Grose. To change this, the team went back to the drawing board and brainstormed ideas on how to make the conference attractive to investors again.
Chapman said the team did extensive research to identify which areas needed critical attention, to establish what exactly needed to change. According to Chapman, research included a lot of engagement with the markets and having meetings with over 350 people, of which 50% were face-to-face. The whole objective of undertaking such research was to try and identify the type of content delegates wanted to see at Mining Indaba. In addition, the organisers were trying to understand the challenges that the mining industry is faced with, and possible solutions.
Getting around the challenges
Mining Indaba is the world’s largest mining investment conference and therefore attracts a lot of attention. Over the years, there was always the potential threat of people piggybacking on the conference. There have been instances of people taking advantage of the investor hub that comes with Mining Indaba, where they would network with investors or delegates outside of the conference — without actually attending the conference.
“All the best events do have that. They do have an impact on everything around them,” Chapman explained. Having said that, he stressed the importance of maintaining a balance, because if everybody did that, Mining Indaba would not survive since nobody would attend the actual conference. The team has worked hard to bring back the investment focus of the show, to draw people back into the conference. “We’ve completely remade the content and segmented it against different markets. That’s helped to pull more people back into the event. Ultimately, it’s better for everyone if you are in the event,” Chapman said.
Implementing the changes
Based on feedback from the research, Mining Indaba organisers decided to make changes to improve the conference in 2019. The content was revamped to include a hosted buyer programme and an intergovernmental summit for bilateral meetings between international and African governments, among others.
“In 2019, you’re going to see us cementing that and expanding on it. We are not reinventing the wheel again because we got such good feedback and our audiences in some cases doubled or tripled,” Chapman said. The number of mining companies increased to 300 plus.
Furthermore, government delegates increased to close to 500. A highlight for the 2019 conference was the inclusion of two heads of state from Ghana and South Africa, Nana Akufo-Addo and Cyril Ramaphosa, respectively, as well as 37 ministers in attendance. Grose expressed his wish to have more heads of state attending Mining Indaba in future.
Accommodating junior miners
‘Championing Africa’s sustainable economic growth’ was the theme for the 2019 Mining Indaba. “The event is about connections; we want people to connect and do business — that’s really important. But also, it’s about driving investment into the African continent and the mining sector. It’s about all stakeholders benefiting from that,” Chapman explained. One of the ways to achieve this is by exposing junior miners to investors.
Getting investment for projects is among the many challenges facing junior mining companies. Potential investors can be difficult to get in touch with because they are probably inundated with meeting requests from miners wanting to present or discuss projects. As a result, getting an appointment to meet with potential investors could be a monumental task for junior miners.
This year saw an increase in the number of junior mining companies taking part in the Investment Battlefield — a competition which affords junior mining companies the opportunity to pitch their projects to a panel of judges who give them instant feedback. The judges, who are made up of high-profile investors, decide on who will ultimately win the competition. This year, 22 junior mining companies participated, with Prospect Resources walking away as the winner for their lithium project located in Zimbabwe.
The junior mining forum was part of the investor pavilion where the investment lounge was moved to the junior mining forum. By so doing, junior miners and investors were more likely to bump into each other often. This created a perfect networking platform for both parties. “It’s very important to have those groups of people close together,” explained Chapman.
Another first this year was having an entire day dedicated to battery metals. The idea was to get car makers, battery manufacturers, and mining companies with relevant minerals for batteries to engage with each other. These included mining companies of cobalt, lithium, and vanadium, among others. The battery metals discussion was from an investor viewpoint, where mining companies received an outlook on what the battery market looks like and what they need to do to take advantage of the market. The day also provided a platform for an important discussion regarding responsible and sustainable mining of the minerals required in the production of batteries.
Another important matter that was addressed at this year’s conference was that of diversity in the mining industry, particularly regarding attracting more women to mining. Grose highlighted that Mining Indaba as an organisation had over 70% of women. “I think we’ve got the responsibility to drive the industry in this area,” Chapman said. To address this, every session panel at Mining Indaba had at least one woman on the panel.
The whole point of making the changes was to reinstate the investment focus of Mining Indaba. To achieve this, the conference is free of charge to investors and has been for the past three years. Investors could also access a personalised service from Mining Indaba’s investment relations team. With good knowledge about mining corporates, the team would be in the best position to advise investors on how to make the most of the conference and set up meetings with the right people.
Organisers also did significant work on the matchmaking system. This included extensive work done on the categories on the back-end of the system to make it more user-friendly and efficient for delegates with regard to setting up meetings with the right people. The categories distinguish between mining companies, investors, and projects, among others. The matchmaking service was accessible to all delegates, not just investors.
Outcome of the changes
Grose pointed out that the timing of all the changes being made could not have been better for both Africa and South Africa. He mentioned that the South African mining industry was going through changes.
“If you look at the landscape of driving investment into Africa with the resources and the skills that South Africa has, we believe that it is a great thing for South African mining. Our job now is to support that; to make sure we’ve got all the players to bring the investment,” Grose said.
The changes and the shift to restore the investment focus to Mining Indaba did not happen overnight. It is the result of a lot of research and hard work from a team committed to making the conference the best it can be. “We are listening, and we are making it better for everyone,” Chapman said.
Many delegates who attended Mining Indaba could see the difference at this year’s conference, with most of them saying that there was a significant improvement compared to the past two years. Dennis Gibson, chief technical officer of mining at Black & Veatch, said that the degree of positivity at the conference exceeded his expectations. “This year has been very positive. Mining companies and governments are working a lot closer in a number of very important resource states, which is important,” he commented.
As the conference drew to a close, it became clear that organisers had managed to achieve the task they had set out for themselves: Bring back the investment focus to Indaba. The outcome has seen an increase in investors and delegates and a return of previous investors. Investing in African Mining Indaba 2019 raised the bar and in so doing, created many expectations for 2020.