"Our specialization is environments where there is rapid change in threat levels, minimal infrastructure and very limited third party support. If it is a tough environment with a lot of challenges, we excel."
In 2016, RA International embarked on a strategy to enter the mining industry. How has this plan progressed?
TS: We are not moving away from our business, and we never will – it is part of our DNA. However, about a year and a half ago we decided to move into the mining industry, as well as infrastructure development. While these aspects will increase, humanitarian projects still make up some 50% of our revenue. Our specialization is environments where there is rapid change in threat levels, minimal infrastructure and very limited third party support. If it is a tough environment with a lot of challenges, we excel. Typically, these are areas with very few local suppliers or subcontractors, and therefore equipment and materials are difficult to come by. Our policies, procedures and way of management is geared towards operating within these parameters.
SN: RA International currently has a very large footprint in Tamale, Ghana, and in Central Africa, Kenya, South Sudan and North Sudan. There has been a significant amount of activity in the Ethiopia and Eritrea area due to political changes and other factors leading to an increase in operations in both, especially within the mining industry.
Training can be a significant challenge in the mining industry, especially when new technologies enter the arena. What is RA International’s approach to training in the mining industry?
SN: RA International evaluates what skills are available locally and what skills are lacking and matches these with the skills that we feel are required. Over the years, we have managed to maintain a very strong local content percentage. In our current operations in Somalia, we are running at 45% local content, and in Central African Republic we operate at 92% local content, 22% of which are female in the construction industry as of August 2018. The company has been very successful in strengthening local content development. We have done this through developing local skills and training these local employees to become more involved in the operations. The aim is to get people to understand why they are acquiring new skills and how this will improve productivity not only in the operations, but in daily life. The training also has a strong focus on what the end results of the operations are, which gives employees the means to understand what their contribution will be.
RA International also engages staff by paying them higher than the local market from the outset. We are not paying them for what they are when they are hired, but rather for what we anticipate them to be after training. It is small things like this which strengthen our local content development. Additionally, RA International has been a signatory to the UN Global Compact (UNGC) since 2008. Our commitment to its principles has helped us to align our strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.
TS: Firstly, we frequently operate it high-risk areas and you cannot do that without involving the local community – it is just the way Africa works. Secondly, we pay a lot of attention to corporate social responsibility and we are an active participant in the UN Global Compact. We sponsor local businesses, we bring in local subcontractors who we provide with mentorship and we make sure that when we leave the project, everybody who has come into contact with us is better off than when we started. In addition, we donate to clinics, build schools and we are involved in anti-prostitution initiatives.
RA International has a unique background operating in high-risk areas. What is the competition like in remote site services in Africa?
TS: We do have competition, but they do not offer the same broad range of services. RA International does not just do catering or construction, but provides the full spectrum, from construction, to maintenance, operation and life support. The latter means things such as catering, cleaning, laundry, pest control and logistics. Another thing that separates us from the competition is that our background in peacekeeping and humanitarian projects has provided us with an ability to mobilize rapidly. If a company needs people on the ground within two or three days, we can do that. We have a large multicultural workforce comprised of 2,500 people. The same goes for logistics; if we want to ship goods into, for example, Central African Republic, we can do it in half the time it would take the UN.
SN: We invest in our customers and we invest in our people to understand the lay of the land - the language, culture, politics, logistics, weather and anything that will help us to give value to our customers. Having the database of information on different countries, we can credibly and honestly answer our customers’ questions. We can then also identify possible difficulties upfront so that the customer can be prepared and challenges do not arise halfway through setting up the operations. Especially within the mining industry, we see a heavier emphasis on preparation and we want to cover every base possible in advance.
What are RA International’s priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?
SN: RA International has been restructuring to optimize our services and operations. The restructuring will enable us to expand our company and portfolio. We can then ensure that we have the people, the systems, the compliances and the ability to deliver the best possible services to our clients.
We currently have simultaneous operations in Oman, Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan which are quite substantial. Given where the company is now, we have the ability to add more projects to our portfolio within a few more countries. In the near future, RA International will be looking at taking on projects in the West Africa region as we have already started with preliminary research in countries such as Burkina Faso and Senegal. Côte d’Ivoire is also a country that we are looking at for opportunities. Our main aim is to explore where we can add value to local operations and industries.
TS: We are in the process of moving into both the DRC and Senegal, but we have been very busy. It has been an excellent five years with great revenue growth. We are expanding fast and since July this year we are listed on the London Stock Exchange. As a public company it will be easier to raise capital and that is one of the reasons we predict that things will get even better.
Now that we have gone public our strategy is to diversify further. We will make sure that the oil and gas/mining component increases. Our focus is also on infrastructure development projects. Sometimes these are funded by government and sometimes by international aid organizations. The goal is to cover the entire African continent. As for now, we are not operating everywhere but we have enough bases across different countries to reach all of Africa.
Do you have a final message to the mining sector about working with RA International?
SN: RA International is a young and dynamic company with a significant drive. With our broad service offering, RA International is in the unique position of being able to take care of all the client’s non-core requirements, from the outset of exploration through to full production and beyond. In today’s demanding mining environment, integrated camp management services are becoming more complex, especially with longer term camps. From health and welfare programs, to pest and vector control programs, recreational facilities, the client has one point of contact, whatever the requirement.
Our specialist mining contractors are effective at ensuring that specialist mining and plant-related equipment and material gets to site. Our established network of suppliers and logistics partners also ensure that all equipment and general supplies are accounted for. This is where RA International can really make a difference. We have successfully delivered over US$450 million of projects in hostile conflict areas, which shows that RA International has the ability to deliver.