A new leader for Justice in Mining


Guillermo Otano, from the Spanish NGO Alboan, has been appointed by Frank Janin SJ as the new chief of the Justice in Mining Jesuit Network. The network began many years ago in Ranchi, in India, and since expanded all over the world.

Dr Otano, Which are your priorities as a new coordinator of Justice in Mining?

It is a tricky question since networking is not about pushing for individual priorities but achieving shared goals. The latter has not always been easy in the case of Justice in Mining. On the one hand, due to the geographical distance and the internal diversity of the network, as we have members from each Jesuit Conference who speak different languages and come from very different cultural backgrounds. On the other, the fact that, even though most mining conflicts have global roots, the struggles are often local, meaning that the challenges faced by each member organisation are context dependent.  

Nonetheless, over the last decade, the network has managed to build up a shared purpose and a collective identity around the idea of “Ignatian advocacy”. The real challenge for the coming years, in my view, is to strengthen our ability to work together, connecting the local struggles with the global dynamics that lay behind them. We need to collaborate in order to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders and those who defend our “Common Home”; to speak out against the unethical behaviour of companies and governments involved in mining projects; and to open a public conversation about the environmental degradation produced by mining (specially, regarding the use of water).

These are the three thematic priorities included in the global strategic plan of the Justice in Mining Network for the next four years. While debating and drafting this document, we realised that we have much more potential than we thought, because we know each other much better than we did ten years ago. So, we just need to keep on sharing experiences, building capabilities for advocacy and keeping one eye open to identify those opportunities that allow us to collaborate with each other.

Social Forum on Mining and Extractivist Economies (Johannesburg, Nov 2019)

How are the four Universal Apostolic Preferences going to inspire your work?

I think the idea of reconciliation with God, with one another and with nature, which was remarked in the 35th and 36th General Congregations and runs through the whole Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP), is very inspiring. On the other hand, the four preferences chosen are not new for the Society of Jesus. They continue a long tradition of discernment and commitment to faith and justice.  

Of course, from the point of view of the Justice in Mining, one could be tempted to say “yes, we are already aligned with preference 2 (walking with the poor) and 4 (collaborating in the care for our Common Home), because that’s what our member organisations do”. However, this approach is misleading because it is not about ticking boxes. As Father General says in his letter to all major superiors, the UAPs are orientations, not priorities. They are not about doing but about being. So I guess he is calling us to start a discerning process to figure out our “way-of-being-in-the-world” in the light of these four preferences. We don’t necessarily need to change the priorities of our organisations but find ways to complement each other goals. For me, the question is how can we make these preferences truly “universal” through networking?

From left to right: Meyatzin Velasco (Centro Pro-DH, México); Cecilia Calvo (Ecojesuit); Guillermo Otano (ALBOAN); Julie Edwards (Jesuit Social Services, Australia); Xavier Jeyaraj SJ (SJES); Alicia Aleman (ALBOAN) and David Solomon SJ (Ranchi, India)

Would you like to reform the Justice in Mining network?

Instead of “reform”, I would rather call it an “update process” that, by the way, it is already ongoing. It started in April 2018 when the leaders of the four GIANs (Ecojesuit, Edujesuit, GIAN-Migration and Justice in Mining) where invited to the annual meeting of the social delegates to discuss the future of the networks. They identified different weaknesses related to the governance of the networks, their engagement with other Jesuit structures, the lack of resources and the difficulties to identify global advocacy goals and strategies.

Since then, there have been some interesting moves. Some of the networks are elaborating new strategic plans for the coming years. In the case of Justice in Mining, alongside with the global strategic plan, there will be also strategic plans per Conference. In order to improve the effectiveness, it is crucial to reinforce the work done by the member organisations at the Conference level and also to find opportunities to work between different Conferences. On the other hand, the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) has appointed one advocacy and communications officer and she will help us with the coordination of the different GIANs.

The next milestone in this journey will be the 50º Anniversary of the SJES that will take place this November. It will be a good opportunity to relaunch the networks, discern about the implementation of the UAPs and open the conversation about advocacy to the rest of organizations from the social sector.

From left to right: David Solomon SJ (Ranchi, India); Cecilia Calvo (Ecojesuit); Martin Van Nierop SJ (GEZSA, South Africa); Alicia Aleman (ALBOAN); Meyatzin Velasco (Centro Pro-DH, México); Charles Chilufya SJ (JESAM); Guillermo Otano (ALBOAN); Julie Edwards (Jesuit Social Services, Australia); Xavier Jeyaraj SJ (SJES).

What are the most important things done by your predecessor?

My predecessor, Julie Edwards, and her team at the Jesuit Social Services from Australia have done a great job all these years. They took the challenge of leading this network since the beginning, when it was called GIAN – GNMR (for Governance of Natural and Mineral Resources). Back then, this idea of the Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks was just an idea, not a reality. So, the most important thing they did, in my opinion, was to make it come true and to keep it alive for all these years. Alongside all the members of the Network’s core group, they compensated the lack of resources with a great deal of enthusiasm and dedication. It was in 2015, under Julie’s leadership, when the network renamed itself as Justice in Mining Network, establishing our first strategic plan and launching the website: www.justiceinmining.com The biggest accomplishment in this kind of endeavours is to create something that lasts, and they did. We are very grateful for all their work and it’s our duty now in ALBOAN to continue their legacy in the coming years.  

text collected by Susan Dabbous

JESC Communications Assistant