By CLINTON MASUMBA
At first peep, the look of things at FQM’s Kansanshi Mining Plc in Solwezi, North-Western Province is quite ordinary, with menfolk working the pits with machinery.
Not much out of the usual seems to be happening, but then a closer look reveals a young woman striving among the men.
Raena Patel, 22, Managing Director at PhaseOne Testing Limited, leads a company that was recently awarded a contract at Kansanshi Mining Plc to offer Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) services.
Florida-based Patel, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science from Florida State University and certifications in Non-Destructive Testing from The American Society for Nondestructive Testing founded PhaseOne Testing Services (which her young sister who currently studying at her alma mater hopes of joining) in 2022.
“I read an article on non-destructive testing, something completely different from what I studied (Economics), and I fell in love with the concept. I did market analysis research, and I saw that it’s not very prevalent in this country. Yet it is a very important thing that a lot of industries practise because you are testing the quality and the strength of a material that could make or break a life. So I went to South Africa to study it,” said Patel.
With her certifications under her belt, Patel shared her ambitions with those close to her, “I told my family, this is what I want to do; I want to open up a business in non-destructive testing and see how far I can go with it.”
Before PhaseOne Testing Services was awarded the contract, Patel had to train around eleven people in Non-Destructive Services who she now relies upon and this has been her greatest moment because she feels knowledge of NDT is rare in Zambia. And as a small company that’s growing, the money is going straight back into the local economy. “My initiative is to grow Zambians here and provide them jobs with new knowledge that’s incredibly specialised,” Patel said.
With Kansanshi Mining Plc being a machinery-intensive environment with different types of heavy equipment and machinery which can cause fatal accidents if not subjected to safety testing, non-destructive testing services are a priority. Non-destructive testing is a composition of various techniques applied in analysing and evaluating the state, integrity, or properties of materials, systems, components, or equipment without damaging the test subject collectively or individually. PhaseOne Testing Limited is on a mission to technologically advance the engineering field and has arrived, fully motivated to ensure the safety and reliability of equipment used in all heavy-duty industries.
According to the International Labour Organisation, as of 2019, only around 14 per cent of the total population working in the mines are women.
Patel admits initial feelings of discouragement once she saw how difficult it was to get a contract in the mines without being connected to an insider. Ultimately, her persistence in following established procedures allowed her to get a foot in at Kansanshi Mining Plc, “Every day, it took persistence, it took kind emails. Every email saying, ‘Thank you so much for your guidance, thank you so much for your assistance.’ I had no connections here (Kansanshi Mining Plc). I was very reliant on just showing who I am and how I can provide a service that they expected – because once again, I’m a brand new company. When I tendered for this contract, I would sleep at 12:00 am and wake up at 3:00 AM, for two months straight for the months of September and October, I was probably sleeping three to four hours a night to compile, to understand, to study, to learn how to speak to people. Because I knew one day FQM would communicate with me, it took a lot of sleepless nights. I had to persist on my goal every day and envision it.”
Patel encourages suppliers and contractors not to be deterred, but to understand what they could be missing when given an opportunity for a site visit to the Mine.
Kansanshi Mining Plc has a deliberate policy that has been running since 2021 aimed at allowing any supplier or contractor to showcase what services they can provide even before any tender is floated.
McGerald Mvula, Supply Chain Manager at Kansanshi Mining Plc, explains that an Open Day avails interested parties the chance to visit and display what they can offer, “If they are capable of doing business, we give them a chance. We have an Open Day on a Tuesday at Kansanshi Mining Plc, where vendors from all over the country are able to book an appointment. They come to site and show us what they can do. So the major interest we have in suppliers is whether they are capable of doing what they think they are doing.”
“We try to educate our vendors that knowing someone in the organisation doesn’t help you to give a quality product. So even vendors who may think they know someone here, they are not going to win in the tender process because they know someone. Our tender processes are transparent as they can be. If you are not capable of doing something, knowing someone won’t help you to deliver an item on time…So my encouragement to suppliers is they shouldn’t be focusing on knowing someone, but they must be focusing on knowing their product and their services so that they can be able to stand on their own. Because the person who is able to explain what they can do does not need to know anyone,” Mvula added.
Because of the mine’s best practices in procurement processes and promoting local businesses, Kansanshi Mining Plc last year won two awards, one with the Zambia Institute of Procurement and Supply, and another with the Chamber of Mines.