O Trade | 2020 Canadian SDG Accelerators Awards Profile

O Trade

Industry: Socio-economic Consultant in Infrastructure and Extractive Industries

Website: https://otrade.ca/

Category: SME

Applicable SDG: SDG 1: No Poverty

Applicable Targets:

  • Target 1.1. By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
  • Target 1.2. By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
  • Target 1.3. Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
  • Target 1.4. By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

Please explain why the selected SDG is a priority for your company

The Sustainable Development Goal that best represents O Trade’s work is Number 1.  No Poverty – End poverty in all its forms everywhere. 

O Trade is a socio-economic development firm with expertise in designing, customizing and implementing solutions to assist the private sector in engaging and working in collaboration with communities impacted by its operation.  For over 20 years of extensive academic and in-the-field research, we have worked on addressing communities’ needs and have advocated integrating the private sector as an active participant, a catalyst for development.  Not only is this part of their mandate as corporate citizens, but, most importantly, acts as a solution for the people who serve their operation as direct employees, or part of the local supply chain, or simply as close neighbours. 

No poverty is fundamentally a commitment to people, enhancing human dignity and being a trigger for sustainable development.  In every O Trade project, we design solutions that alleviate poverty through multiple considered strategies such as infrastructure development, conflict management, local employment and education.  Our focus is primarily in the mining industry, a natural enabler for regional development, when a collaborative company-community approach that assertively impacts poverty is put into place.

O Trade has a fundamental No Poverty commitment, guaranteeing the wellbeing of individuals and communities with whom we work.  This commitment defines our efforts and our defined solutions.  All 17 SDG’s are related to our work.  A natural No Poverty focus equates to customizing our solutions to the needs of individual communities and operations of our clients.  Water and sanitation access through the integration of local supply chains, humanitarian aid that enables access to health services for women and men equally, bringing attention to critical needs of children through poverty and hunger elimination combined with access to education, and internal corporate transparency that creates awareness and value for the implications of our work are all examples of how we integrate focus across multiple SDG’s while ensuring that our No Poverty commitment is effectively driven.

A conflict-free environment is a prerequisite to No Poverty, facilitating an environment where prosperity increases for all.  A conflict-free setting allows us to implement the sustainable solutions that we design while providing the private sector with gains through conflict-free community collaboration.  This work allows us to build environments in which O Trade’s solutions are part of everyday activities, processes, and procedures; by doing so we leave poverty in the past and everyday communities working with the private sector secure social and economic stability, where poverty has no space.

Alleviating poverty from O Trade’s perspective is an opportunity to mitigate risk of social conflict, war, and fear around abuse in the hands of criminal organizations.  Communities strong in their relation with a responsible private sector find freedom in the dignity of work.  

Alleviating poverty demands action around all goals set by the UN Global Compact.   O Trade’s work in the mineral industry has given us the opportunity to bring benefits to over 100 communities living in isolated and far-distant areas where governments don’t reach them, and therefore with needs that are far from satisfied.  

We see an opportunity to contribute to the role of mineral and mining companies, as they are the first step towards development and the first player building active economies around local resources.  At O Trade we see the risks taken by companies going to distant areas as opportunities to help them be stronger in these regions by acting in collaboration with locals, by being the solution that includes communities, by recognizing that poverty is a social condition that can be fixed by working together and by bringing the assertive solution to address the root cause.  From 20 years of working in many countries we have learned that Poverty offers a great advantage; it unifies and allows us to work in solidarity, this being a natural quality in each human being.

Please describe the initiatives/programs that your company is taking to address the TARGETS of your primary SDGs

Program: Early Stakeholder Engagement

     O Trade’s Early Stakeholder Engagement approach is a starting point to assess poverty levels and design solutions to address root cause issues, while building a conflict-free collaborative environment. 

      Innovation in social inclusion and Indigenous participation

O Trade’s Early Stakeholder Engagement methodology assesses poverty and designs solutions while allowing Indigenous communities to be part of the assessment, 

have a voice, contribute to defining solutions, and to work collaboratively on implementation.

       O Trade’s innovative engagement identified root causes. We successfully designed an approach to early Indigenous engagement and land access.  All efforts in this area led towards obtaining a “social license to operate” by following 4 key steps: 

  • Led research and study to understand root causes of conflict.  
  • Engaged Indigenous communities throughout the entire process in order to overcome these conflicts.    
  • Respected each local community and individual Indigenous people, with a focus on equal treatment through the process and the maintenance of dignity.  Provided status to ensure that their connection with the land and environment are recognized, understood, and respected.
  • Ensured that mutual agreements are in place, honoring Indigenous rights.  

      Scale of the initiative – O Trade’s Early Stakeholder Engagement for Indigenous

For this question, we are introducing the case of Conflict-Free Land Access in Indigenous territories in Ecuador.  O Trade’s work on Early Stakeholder Engagement in this project positively impacted approximately 7,000 people living across 56 Indigenous regional settlements.  Our impact scope assessment is based on a thorough regional analysis that we conducted in order to understand individual communities and local populations.  

Description: Early Stakeholder Engagement for poverty alleviation

    O Trade’s work in the mineral industry has allowed us to develop customized solutions addressing the needs of communities impacted by the private sector, while ensuring our work contributes to strengthen the operational capacity of the company and the local supply chain.  

    Our innovative approach integrates principles around SDG’s in a cohesive social engagement strategy, including justice, partnerships and a focus on building conflict-free environments where companies can build the capacity to operate sustainably.  Combining all the above elements allows us to ensure long-term collaborative relationships.  We will now focus on Ecuador’s Conflict Free Lost Cities Project Land Access case.  

     One of the greatest risks for companies triggering mineral exploration in regions with high mineral potential is that they must obtain community approval for land access.  This risk is greatest in the developing world, where absence of government leaves Indigenous communities vulnerable in relationships with larger companies.  Fear and aggression are natural local reactions as companies with financial power trigger unknown development.  O Trade successfully manages this risk throughout our Early Indigenous Engagement methodology, allowing communities to express their fears and concerns and companies to initiate engagement.  The case that O Trade introduces here illustrates our innovative approach to SDGs and conflict-free land access, starting from an in-depth understanding of the history, social dynamics, risks, and challenges of communities exposed to companies starting operations in their land.   

      Our client, Aurania’s Lost Cities Project is in the province of Morona Santiago, Ecuador, a region occupied by Shuar Indigenous peoples for centuries.  Shuars have suffered from significant abuse and violence over time, starting with the Spaniards and manifesting to this day in non-inclusion, discrimination that permeates the job market and basic local community needs that are left unsatisfied.  The project covered an area that impacted approximately 7,000 people living in 56 Indigenous settlements.  

      The Shuars live in conditions, which qualify as extreme poverty, in accordance to UNDP – United Nations Development Program – Measurement of Poverty (including lack of access to clean water, limited access to formal education and healthcare, high discrimination in the job market, and environmental degradation due to illegal lumber trade, among other factors).

  • Lack of clean water, sewage, and sanitation systems have increased likelihood of disease, which mostly, and regrettably, impacts children (2,800 estimated number of children live within the region).  Sanitation is also at risk due to an increase in the numbers of people living under a single roof (up to 10 people may share the same home).  Respiratory diseases appear due to the wood used for cooking.  
  • A staggeringly high unemployment rate amongst Shuars, strongly linked to discrimination and extreme isolation, makes their capacity to earn money so they and their families may survive relatively low.  Today approximately 4,200 Shuars are of working age; indeed, a majority of the population is composed of youth.

     The success and impact of O Trade’s strategy is best illustrated through the testimonials of multiple stakeholders.  Mr. Fernando Benalcázar, Vice Minister of Natural Resources in Ecuador, describes our successful approach from the government’s perspective.  Mr. Ruben Pitiur, President of Organizacion Shuar del Ecuador, talks about Indigenous impact and felt respect.  Both viewpoints result from strong multi-stakeholder based strategic engagements. 

Due to the content restriction we unable to include the testimonials mentioned above.

Please highlight the key impacts and results of the mentioned initiatives.

Impact/Benefit of O Trade’s Work 

O Trade’s work in Ecuador’s Amazonia illustrates important SDG impacts.  Our Early Stakeholder Engagement methodology shifted the mindset of Shuar communities from oppositional fear to hopeful trust and collaboration.

  Impact highlights:

> ZERO cases of conflict or  violence impacting the project.  O Trade built an environment of trust, collaboration and equality.

> 1,300+ short-term jobs were created, ~800 families benefiting from O Trade’s Indigenous early engagement strategy – 96% of operational employees are Shuar Indigenous and Morona Santiago community.  

> 90 land access and collaboration agreements signed in 3 years.  

> Shuar Indigenous have granted the project a social license to operate, and are actively involved.

> Over 1,500 Indigenous women, men, and youth participated in Human and Indigenous Rights training, ranging from engagement and education about mineral exploration to the signature of community land access agreements.  

SDG’s that O Trade measurably impacted:

    Goal 1 Over 1,300 new jobs created stable income to support 800 families.  Employment integrates Indigenous community members in the operations, building trust and a conflict free-environment with measurable impact.  O Trade’s community socio-economic analysis concluded that alleviating poverty was the first step towards the development of future generations.  By engaging, young Shuars find a path towards progress, building skills that qualify them for the future workforce – this breaks the cycle of poverty and underdeveloped conditions.  

    Goal 2 Economic stability allows families to address needs around hunger. Culturally, Shuar men are hunters, and women are farmers.  O Trade strictly respected traditional roles; now men work in exploration and women are part of training and education to improve agriculture, as a mechanism to improve nutrition and eliminate hunger. 

    Goal 4 O Trade’s solutions address three training levels:

  • Education allows men to be trained on working with exploration teams, gaining knowledge while participating in activities developed in their regions.
  • Collaboratively with the Ministry of Agriculture, OTrade designed a program transferring knowledge and skills to women about crops that grow in the Amazonia, including the environment, water, soil, and cultural tradition.
  • With the Ministry of Education, OTrade triggered building 2 schools, with education in Spanish and Shuar.

    Goal 5 Early engagement equally included women and men, including access to education, employment, and participation in land access approvals.  Signed community agreements include women, youth, and elders, incorporating their concerns and approvals, with 50/50 male/female participation.  We encouraged two women leaders to represent their communities.

    Goal 6 In early poverty assessment, clean water and sanitation access was a top issue, with ~2,800 regional children not having clean water and sanitation access.  The strategy to ensure clean water involved company-community collaboration across individual communities, giving communities ownership and benefit from solutions.  In early stages, the program benefited over 500 people.  

   Goal 8 Working in Indigenous territories demands the recognition of Indigenous, Human, and Labor rights; OTrade ensured Indigenous workers learned about their rights and had formal agreements ensuring the company is obliged to comply.  This generates mutual commitment to decent work, including personal protection, fair salaries, and respect for days of rest.   Ninety land access and collaboration agreements with 27 communities were signed, enabling trust-based company-community relationships and company commitments on local employment and sourcing.  

    Goal 9 Working in remote areas including 7,000 persons spread across 56 communities demands innovative approaches under extreme limitations.  Innovations for working in the Amazonia came from “Social Innovation”, integrating knowledge of local Indigenous who lead exploration teams while building regional collaboration.  The lack of access to communication technologies and electricity proves that innovation comes from grassroots social and human capital.  

    Goal 10 Work with exploration teams in dense jungles demands equal treatment for Indigenous peoples living and working in the region.  Acknowledging rights as land occupants and building capacity around Indigenous and Human Rights allows OTrade to build equality, with Indigenous and the company dialoguing as equals, recognizing their commitment to respect each other’s rights. 

    Goal 11 The development of sustainable socio-economic communities starts from definition of living and working conditions. That allows the company to progress to non-stop operations in a conflict-free environment. Company’s  sustainability translates to regional sustainability.  OTrade started building economic stability through employment, collaboratively moving toward the improvement of basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation in 6 communities, and transportation, by building 3 airstrips – all projects count on the labor and contribution of both parties. 

     Goal 16 OTrade’s approach to conflict-free engagement is based on principles of respect and transparency.  Meetings with Shuar Indigenous, OTrade engaged the community, promoting inclusion of women, youth and elders.  Agreements were public knowledge and transparent reporting to communities allowing to build an environment of peace and justice.  It gained the respect of Indigenous leaders and Ecuadorian Ministries.

     Goal 17  OTrade’s solutions rely on multi-level partnerships. OTrade collaborated with Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, Justice, Agriculture, and their Human Rights Secretariat to ensure Indigenous territories were respected, honoring rights.  The company ensure to comply with international Indigenous Rights and Protected Areas standards.

Please describe how your company is building awareness for the selected SDG

O Trade believes in the benefits of social development.  Our mandate is to design and implement solutions supporting the progress of communities that are impacted by the private sector.  Impact for O Trade means building a future together where risks are resolved and where collaboration generates opportunities.  Every project that O Trade has is perceived internally as an opportunity to contribute.  As an organization we are driven by the ideal of empowering communities as active respected members of private sector initiatives.  Transparency is key in our approach.  O Trade’s team is driven by principles of respect, transparency and collaboration, which translate in our daily practices and our common goal of engaging community-company collaboration.  Through our commitment to poverty alleviation, we understand that this is only possible by integrating all SDG’s in holistic community-specific strategies.  Conflict-free peace is of course core to our spirit, knowing that collaboration in a peaceful environment that we contribute to is core to sustainable development.  

O Trade works to build external awareness about the value of social and human capital to build society.   The success of our work in implementing SDGs is reflected in metrics, and pointing towards goals that have touched the lives of more than 100,000 people.  We have worked for over 15 years to leave a positive footprint in each project and ensure each community is much better in regards to employment, engagement, participation, equality, and living conditions as the foundation for tomorrow.  We have seen how communities and companies we worked with 10 years ago have grown together over time.  One of many examples is Lundin Gold in Ecuador.  O Trade was trusted to build capacity for Indigenous women in 2010.  At the time, their skills were limited and we found that cooking was their greatest expertise.  We raised their capabilities, and today the same group of women, now quite large, is a formal company responsible for feeding over 500 people onsite.  Ten years after our work, the same principles stay in place and the given opportunity is a seed of peace in the region.  

In addition, O Trade is actively participating in delivering lectures around the world in which each of our case studies serves as a reflection of the SDGs, as well as the value behind collaboration between the private sector and communities.

We believe in the value of joint collaboration and SDGs are the result of this.  

Please outline the plans your organization has for being committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in response to COVID-19

At O Trade we see COVID as a real-life test to work in social management.  COVID is a call to collaboration and understanding that the well-being of others depends on each of us.  This reflects in how the private sector approached community engagement and understood the social dynamics of communities.  

COVID, in the short term, is limiting our ability to travel and serve communities directly.  This limitation has opened space to build new partnerships with organizations that have supported us in the past, and today we are building mechanisms in which O Trade can continue to conduct root cause analysis, assessments, and, from here, design solutions.  Although sadly the O Trade team cannot implement on-the-ground due to travel restrictions, we are now focused on working with communities through engaged partners who are geographically positioned for providing on-the-ground support.

COVID in the long term has helped us to reevaluate how our approach to conflict-free environments can be imbedded in all the programs we designed for the private sector.  Our thinking is extending in terms of benefiting society with our knowledge.  Transparency and collaboration are now key areas to build new solutions – transparency in reporting and collaboration in implementing solutions.  This led to new partnerships; as mentioned before, we are expanding our network of colleagues and revisiting mechanisms to contribute from here in Canada.  

The following examples outline O Trade’s work in defining and implementing COVID-related solutions.  

This year we have been actively involved in addressing challenges that COVID wrought on Ecuadorian Indigenous communities, including the definition and implementation of company-specific approaches required for safe operational readiness.  The intent was to ensure safe collaborative reopening of facilities, based on the mutual support of the local communities and governments.  In the case of Indigenous Ecuadorian communities, O Trade started a very significant communication campaign in early February through Radio Kiruba, a Shuar Indigenous radio station reaching an estimated audience of 50,000 persons across the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazonia.  Messaging was bilingual, in Shuar and Spanish, facilitating regional people to learn how to mitigate COVID-related risks through preventative measures.  The communication program was extended to the distribution of food, with over 800 tons of food distributed across 1,200 families, thereby allowing people to remain home with the ability to feed families amidst the crisis.  This was especially important given that Ecuador’s government imposed strict restrictions on mobility during the lock-down period.  

For company operations, O Trade drafted COVID protocols for our clients in Ecuador and Mexico, and defined safety measures that minimized health risks to employees and to surrounding communities.  The protocols were developed collaboratively with medical teams, experts in HSE and exploration, resulting in effective approaches to mitigate risk while allowing exploration teams to continue their work of sampling with the assistance of local workers, who passed strict examinations prior to being transported to field-work.  

All of our above efforts resulted in minimizing the risk of COVID spreading in Ecuador, where regional cases were contained to no more than 20, most of whom were military personnel.  The small number of cases allowed local health authorities to act on traceability, managing the risk.  Organization and collaboration were key to controlling the pandemic, and transparency in informing the Indigenous communities was key in driving behaviors that were necessary to minimize spread.  In Mexico, no COVID cases have been reported from teams working in the field on our projects, given that full control starts with the company.  

Our work always looks to integrate operational efficiency with social development, and COVID has been the best of tests to prove our approach.