Carol Banducci – Golden Girl
From precious metals to mental health, prepare to be inspired by the many missions of mining executive Carol Banducci.
It’s the year 2010. Carol Banducci stands in the middle of a freshly built schoolhouse in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Around her there’s a celebration: mothers and their children, future students, jump for joy, their eyes glittering in disbelief as they run their fingers over the brand-new desktops, the virgin chalkboards.
This is the moment Banducci describes to me when I ask why she loves her job. As executive vice-president and CFO at IAMGOLD Corp., one of Canada’s most prominent mining companies, it was the moment she experienced the unveiling of a new community built for IAMGOLD’s miners and their families, who had to relocate to construct Essakane, the company’s largest mine yet. A schoolhouse and a medical clinic were just two of the perks that drove the new residents “hysterical,” says Banducci.
We might as well be in Burkina Faso on the hot summer afternoon when I meet Carol Banducci in downtown Toronto. It’s 40 degrees, and by the time I get to IAMGOLD’s office on the 32nd floor of a Queen-and-Bay building I’ve nearly melted. Banducci, however, appears like a breath of fresh air, all smiles and kind eyes despite having just spent an hour and a half baking in the sun for a photo shoot on the University of Toronto grounds.
This is just a small example of the diligence and grace it takes to be Carol Banducci. She’s a woman in the very male-dominated mining industry, so she’s used to keeping her cool throughout whatever challenges her role throws at her. And after all, gold — that fickle metal — is her forte; the industry has conditioned her to be malleable with its climate, to ebb and flow with the ever-shifting gold market, which can be hot as fire one minute, ice-cold the next.
But of all her aptitudes, it’s Banducci’s philanthropic spirit that first catches one’s eye upon meeting her. That’s why she was particularly enticed when IAMGOLD approached her in 2007, asking her to become its new CFO — she’s kindred spirits with the company known for prioritizing giving back.
From the outside, the mining industry can seem as dark as its archetypal caves, but at IAMGOLD, it’s more like the sparkle found inside them. Since its foundation in 1991, the Toronto-based company has always had a heart, known for treating its employees right, whether they work in the mines or in the corporate office, and for always budgeting in a slew of worthy causes. So when that fateful offer was put in front of her, Banducci’s humanitarian instinct was a perfect match for IAMGOLD’s inherent principle of using its success to leverage causes around the world.
It’s simple: according to Banducci and her company, success is bred by sharing it. She calls each philanthropic project a “partnership,” implying that every dollar donated is mutually beneficial.
“We believe in being socially responsible, and that giving back is part of the overall equation to being a successful organization,” says Banducci. She also gives credit to the company’s CEO, Steve Letwin, who ensured that even when times were tough in the gold space, IAMGOLD continued its charitable funding. “It’s very much a part of our value system here, empowering people.”
With the excitement of a child showing off her latest artistic feat, Banducci opens a folder full of the company’s current philanthropic initiatives. The first document she pulls out is a plan to bring water and sustainable economic growth to the Sahel region in Africa. IAMGOLD, which has mines in Africa, South America and North America, is teaming up with Global Affairs Canada, Cowater and One Drop — a non-profit organization founded by Guy Laliberté, the father of Cirque du Soleil — to construct latrines in the region and teach the community how to sustain it. The estimated total budget for the project is $16.7 million.
Next she opens up about IAMGOLD’s partnership with PearTree Financial Services, a Toronto company that approached IAMGOLD a few years ago with a proposal that piqued Banducci’s interest: PearTree suggested trying a charity flow-through structure, creating an opportunity to raise money in the marketplace to fund Canadian exploration and development activities by issuing shares, which generous individuals would buy and donate to a charity of their choice, yet keep the tax benefit of funding the company’s mining expenses. To cap off the cycle, the charity then sells the shares to institutional investors. In the end, the charity gets the benefit of the donation, and the donor gets the benefit of the tax deduction it comes with — and, of course, the satisfaction of putting a sizable dent into their favourite cause.
Through the PearTree approach, IAMGOLD has raised just over $90 million to cover qualifying mining expenses at better than market premiums, thus being less dilutive to its shareholders than what’s otherwise available in the public market. At the same time, major charitable donors give more by significantly reducing their after-tax cost of giving. It’s a winning formula.
And then Banducci divulges the details of the cause she’s particularly jazzed about, the initiative she herself set into motion — her folder’s pièce de résistance — the Miner’s Lamp Award.
Back in the old days of mining, the miner’s lamp was used to detect unseen poisonous gases. That’s why Banducci named this initiative after the life-saving tool: the Miner’s Lamp Award recognizes people who have taken action to shine a brighter light on mental illness, the invisible poison that affects so many of us.
“The brain is like a black box that we still don’t fully understand,” says Banducci. “So we wanted to focus on figuring it out so we can treat mental illness early enough to really improve and change people’s lives.”
Banducci consulted her team at IAMGOLD, who were on board at once, before approaching Dr. Benoit Mulsant, Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, to get involved. Of course, the renowned professor — who is also a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) — was ecstatic, and the two got to work, coming together as co-chairs of the project.
In addition to an annual gala and award ceremony (this year’s was the inaugural event, honouring Paul Beeston, former president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays and longtime chair of CAMH), the Miner’s Lamp Award is a full-blown charitable endeavour with plans to raise $2 million for mental health research. Banducci says their goal is to meet that target within five years, and having raised $400,000 at this year’s gala alone, they’re well on their way. The whopping sum will eventually be donated to worthy independent research initiatives — leading experts with promising studies from CAMH and other prominent health institutions will compete for grants.
The poignancy of the Miner’s Lamp Award is its deep dive into the issue of mental illness in adolescents, vowing to aid the medical community in earlier diagnoses and more effective prevention in young people. The stark reality that one in five Canadians will be affected by mental illness triggered her desire to smash the stigma that shrouds the issue.
“Even outside of her work, Carol has a strong vision for making a positive change,” says Dr. Mulsant. “She’s the perfect example of the new marriage between philanthropy and the corporate world, which is so important today.”
Which is a tough task, especially when under the pressure that’s often put on women in a field that’s dominated by men. But Banducci has certainly pulled it off, and was even named one of the top 100 most powerful women in 2015 by the Women’s Executive Network, and this year was selected for the University of Toronto’s Alumni of Influence Award. She tells me it took her over 20 years to realize she had a voice and a head full of ideas that might just make a difference — and not just in the office building or the gold mine.
When I ask her to divulge how she’s done it, a knowing smile appears on her lips. She’s been asked this question a lot, but despite having answered it dozens of times her reply still packs the punch of a mini TED Talk.
“Bring your ideas and voice to the table,” she says. “It takes hard work and a focus on excellence. Importantly, be confident and always be true to yourself — as no doubt on occasion you will be challenged.”
And then she adds, with her eyes twinkling like the gold she takes chances on every day: “And don’t be afraid of risks.”
Photo By Farzam Hosseindoust / Hair and makeup by atous rasouli