After eight years as CIM’s executive director, Jean Vavrek has touched down in board rooms, conference centres and halls of power around the world. Whether he is meeting government officials or cultivating relationships with CIM’s sister organizations in this and other countries, Vavrek is the face of CIM and an enduring presence on the leading edge of the global mining industry. Recently returned from a trip to West Africa, Vavrek sat down with CIM Magazine to talk about the big moments of the last year and his vision for CIM’s future.
CIM: You’ve met with legions of people over the last 12 months. Was there a discussion you had that stands out as especially memorable?
Vavrek: What comes to mind is my meeting with the president of the Republic of Senegal in late October. It was very open and somewhat freewheeling. The comments he made about Africa not quite being ready for democracy as we know it were very candid. He recognizes they have major gaps in terms of how they take charge of their own business. I see a parallel here in Quebec. Thirty to 40 years ago, Quebecers recognized they had to take charge of their own destiny – and they have. Now, after a lot of hard work, they have built amazing companies that are global in scope. The Senegalese are in a similar situation; they’ve got to step up and match the entrepreneurship and business models presently deployed by the Europeans and some of the people from the Middle East.
CIM: What are potential members in developing countries asking for from CIM?
Vavrek: They see how we run our industry and how our people perform; they aspire to something similar but they don’t know what steps to take to get where we are. Developing countries are looking to establish a kind of road map for the next 10 to 15 years. CIM is one of few organizations with the mechanisms that can help develop that knowledge, and that’s starting to happen through our work with the Centre for Excellence in CSR and the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).
CIM: What is the biggest surprise that you have encountered in your travels?
Vavrek: I’d say my business in Africa, where I have been testing the waters over the last 12 months or so. Many people have been saying, “Africa is just not there. They’re 15 or 20 or more years down the road from being a market worth considering.” Those people are just lumping all 50 or so countries in that continent into one. There are plenty of people there that are smart, passionate and that care about their people. They want to see change. I think we shouldn’t underestimate how fast Africa can develop and what kind of opportunities it can provide. That, to me, has been the biggest revelation.
CIM: What is your goal in meeting our sister associations around the world? How does this bring value to CIM?
Vavrek: Our first goal is to help disseminate and develop knowledge. All of these organizations have information and practices that we may not be aware of. Reciprocally, we can share with them some of the amazing work we have been doing in the areas of resources and reserves definitions, safety and corporate social responsibility. Currently, we probably learn the most from the Australians because we’ve developed the strongest relationship with them, but I think we’ll be accessing more information from our American counterparts because we are looking to engage more closely with them as well. There is a whole world out there that needs access to what we do – collectively.
We are all struggling with how to develop a global institute; the world needs it. Our industries are global – our suppliers as well as our operators – and I think Canada has a leadership role to play. We want to be one of the powerhouses of development. There’s always going to be competition but, really, we should all be part of the tide that raises all boats.
CIM: The global industry is a competitive field. Is there anything about the “Canadian” brand that needs to improve if CIM is to be a strong and relevant international organization?
Vavrek: In terms of innovation, Canada is seriously lagging. That’s not just in our sector – we really need to get our act together. There are too many internal scuffles between provinces and institutions, and unlike countries where more resources are invested in the development of export markets and commercialization, Canada’s brand hasn’t been present out there. People have taken a lot of notice of the innovations coming from Australia and Brazil, but less so from Canada. We’re just not pushing the envelope enough.
CIM: By choosing Vancouver and Montreal as the alternating host cities for the annual conference and exhibition, CIM will be able to streamline the event planning process and save an estimated $1 million over the next decade. This, of course, has left other cities out. How is CIM going to serve these other locations?
Vavrek: We’ll do a number of things. The event is going to become more geographically diverse in scope. CIM Council has mandated the creation of an international advisory committee for the annual conference, so we’ll make sure that it appeals to a wide audience. We’ve also already identified other events that are well-suited for some of the Canadian cities that are not hosting the annual conference. For example, the Maintenance Engineering/Mine Operators’ Conference is an ideal fit for Edmonton. Through a partnership with AusIMM, we’ve also succeeded in bringing the International Mine Management Conference to Canada for the first time in 2014, which Toronto will host.
CIM: What is the most significant change you are expecting in your work for 2012?
Vavrek: CIM has been growing incredibly fast – we’ve doubled our staff at the national office over the last two years – but we always seem to be playing catch-up with the opportunities. They’re right at our fingertips, but we haven’t been able to mobilize quite fast enough to take advantage. I’m aiming to get to a stage where we’ve got more time to put ideas into motion. I personally aim to be making real, hard contacts with key people on the ground so that we can see concrete results from all the work we’ve done.
CIM: Professionally speaking, who would be your “dream date” to spend a day with in 2012?
Vavrek: It would probably be Bill Gates. That guy has put aside his corporation to help run his foundation; he’s looking to help change the world. I think he could do things for us, and we could do things for him – especially with our connection to the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE). Collectively, we could easily reach and mobilize from four to 10 million of the world’s top scientists and engineers. We’re having those discussions about what our role is in society. We have an obligation because we are in the best position to do something. If we don’t, who’s going to step up?
CIM: What about a place – where would you like to go?
Vavrek: Even though my travels have taken me around the globe, I’d really like to see and experience a place like Attawapiskat in northern Ontario. I engage more and more with our First Nations, but I can’t really speak from experience when it comes to their communities. I have the sense that we all have to get our boots on the ground and engage with the people who have such an enormous stake in future mining development in this country.