From funding hospitals to keeping conflict stones out of the pipeline, the industry is investing in the future of its mining communities.
Standing in the entrance to Kiran Hospital in Surat, India, Govindbhai Dholokia beams with pride as he gestures toward the list of donors that made the facility possible. “Everyone here works with their hearts,” says Dholokia, chairman of diamond manufacturer SRK Exports and co-founder of the hospital. “This project represents the heart of the diamond industry.”
Until the hospital’s opening in April 2017, Surat offered limited options for patients in need of specialized care, explains Dr. S.P. Shrivastav, head of the hospital’s oncology unit. Today, this facility is making treatments available to tens of thousands of people who previously didn’t have access, he says.
And it was Surat’s diamond manufacturing sector — which accounts for an estimated 80% to 90% of global polished production — that funded it, contributing most of the $75 million it took to build and set up the facility.
“This really is a testament to the heart of the Surat diamond community,” says one foreign executive considering a donation. “I don’t think the diamond industry markets its good deeds enough.”
Push the positive
That mandate — to highlight the positive impact the diamond industry has on its communities — is one that former South African president Nelson Mandela urged Russell Simmons to adopt just over a decade ago. Simmons, a celebrated music producer who at the time was mulling a jewelry line of his own, had embarked on a fact-finding mission to understand how diamonds could benefit the people of southern Africa.
The industry was still defending itself from negative perceptions about conflict diamonds, following the release of Blood Diamond — the 2006 film that highlighted the industry’s role in Sierra Leone’s civil war. But having visited mining and manufacturing operations in South Africa and Botswana, and having seen the schools, hospitals and infrastructure supporting those communities, Simmons recognized the opportunity that lay ahead.
He answered Mandela’s call by setting up the Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF), with the goal of giving back to youth in the communities where the diamond industry operates.
Changing the narrative
Now in its 10th year, DEF has given out millions of dollars in student grants and to organizations that facilitate access to better education, skill-building and vocational training, the fund reports. The idea is that students should come back and contribute to the economic development of their home countries, explains DEF executive director Nancy Orem Lyman.
The organization’s current beneficiaries include the Johannesburg-based African Leadership Academy, the Botswana Top Achievers program, and Veerayatan, a nonprofit providing educational, social and medical services in India. In the past, it also supported the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) in setting up mobile schools for artisanal mining communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
While DEF relies on donations from companies throughout the diamond pipeline, Orem Lyman stresses that the organization is not only about financial support. “We want to change the narrative surrounding the diamond industry,” she says. “People need to know about the good that diamonds do, and that miners, manufacturers and jewelers are contributing to uplift those less fortunate.”
That extends to the work jewelers are doing in their own communities. DEF launched a “Diamonds Do Good” website, providing a platform where companies can tell their stories about the positive impact diamonds are having on their immediate surroundings.