Besides its financial contributions to charitable projects, Ostro Minerals also used the company’s expertise to develop opportunities for women in Myanmar, mobilising industry partners to provide training and then well paid, dignified jobs in jewellery manufacturing.
Mining for Development Initiative
Myanmar has a long history of gems and jewellery, and the gems industry today has the potential to have a profound and positive impact on the country. However, at present, very little of the enormous wealth industry creates benefits ordinary people. The focus of this initiative is to provide people, from all faiths, with skills and gainful employment while upholding high ethical standards.
In 2012 Maurice Ostro OBE returned to Myanmar for the first time in 30 years with a UK Government delegation to look at opportunities to help with political and economic development. In conversations with the government and the opposition at the time, a project encompassing the three major stages of the value chain began to take shape, which would provide sustainable training, and well paid, dignified jobs. The focus is on women from both the Buddhist and Muslim communities who by working together, will foster positive interfaith engagement and social cohesion.
Our work with artisan jewellers is already changing lives and tackling prejudice.
We have partnered with Hillberg & Berk, and worked with them to build a team of Buddhist and Muslim women in Mandalay. The team comprises of women from a highly vulnerable, systematically-impoverished community where low pay, long hours, unsafe working conditions, and high levels of debt made it extremely difficult for them to properly care for themselves and their families. We provide a positive working environment with proper tools and equipment, regular nine-to-five weekday hours, fair pay, health insurance, regular breaks, supportive employers, and freedom to express religious identity.
We are delighted to say that our first round of products made by our team in Myanmar have launched, incorporating Shimmer, a beautiful Gold colour, a nod to the natural skin cosmetic ubiquitous in Myanmar. Learn more about the project here.
Building on the success of this partnership, we are expanding our project, and are looking to partner with other jewellers, who require artisanal workmanship and want to support vulnerable women.
The Foundation, together with Ostro Minerals, the world leader in the semi-precious stone Blue Topaz, has begun creating a network to connect jewellery companies across the globe with local Burmese artisans and the graduate cutters and polishers. These connections can yield opportunities for international brands to manufacture in Myanmar at competitive prices whilst improving peoples’ lives significantly.
The Ostro Fayre Share Foundation (OFSF), working in partnership with local NGOs, has three related goals; to establish an ethical, co-operative mine for the sourcing of semi-precious gemstones, to develop a local gemstone cutting and polishing industry, and to cultivate small scale jewellery manufacturing expertise.
An ethical, community-owned mine
This initiative plans to support the creation of a local mine, which will set an example for other mines in the region, and indeed for ethical mines world-wide. With the support of government and the local mining industry, this Fair Share mine will be run for the benefit of all the community. Adhering to high ethical and industry standards, as set out by international bodies, the intention is that the Fair Share mine will safeguard the environment, the workers and the local community as well as yield the gems to service the burgeoning cutting, polishing and jewellery making industry.
Cutting and polishing training
There is a demand for skilled gemstone cutters across this industry, and hitherto, Myanmar master-cutters have focussed on more expensive gemstone such as rubies, sapphires and jade. By increasing demand abroad and the number of people with the requisite skills in Myanmar, this initiative aims to fill a need for experienced craftsmanship and provide a livelihood for many impoverished people.
Training academies are already in progress, teaching the craft of cutting and polishing. The intention is that trainees will first learn to cut inexpensive stones, such as topaz and then graduate to the more precious gemstones, for which Myanmar is famed. The eventual outcome of this will be to create income opportunities for tens of thousands of individuals in remote areas. This is of particular value to women who have limited access to child care or are house-bound, caring for elderly parents, since these acquired skills can be used from within the home.
Much of jewellery making in Myanmar can be done as a cottage industry from home, or from rural areas where there is extensive poverty. The challenge is the route to market, as these individuals have little to no opportunity for engaging with the outside world.
Many of those who have been trained will need further support if they are to return to their homes and set up their own business. We are exploring how we can provide them with access to equipment, electricity, water, and of course the gems themselves.
A thriving cutting, polishing and jewellery making industry in Myanmar, requires a source of locally mined gemstones. The region of Mogok while famed for its rubies, has potential for mines of other less expensive and more plentiful gemstones such as spinel and topaz.