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Ethical Innovation and Formalization: The Case of Small-Scale Gold Mining in West Africa

Start date

February 2023

End date

March 2023


This ESRC IAA Impact Exploration Fund project seeks to stimulate innovation and support for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low-tech, labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing – in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Working collaboratively with the World Bank and United Nations in Ghana and Mali, the locations of two of the more sizable ASM economies in the region, the project aims to facilitate entry of the Goldstrom Group, a vertically integrated gold-buying company, into both countries. 

The intention is to catalyse working partnerships between Goldstrom and local ASM groups, with a view toward catalysing support for the latter and ultimately, creating opportunities to improve local quality of life.

ASM is widely recognised as the region’s most important rural non-farm activity, providing direct employment to tens of millions of men and women; jump-starting a series of downstream and upstream activities which engage millions more; and generates income used to sustain family farms, bolstering food security at the local level, and to assist with the payment of children’s school fees.  

These are all societal impacts that routinely get overlooked by policymakers because over 95% of activities are carried out informally. Mali and Ghana are the largest and most dynamic ASM economies in sub-Saharan Africa and provide a blueprint for overcoming these barriers. This impact project hopes to identify routes for the Goldstrom Group, an integrated precious minerals sourcing group, to establish its presence as a purchaser of gold, within couloirs in Mali and territories covered by the CMS in Ghana. Dialogues have also been initiated with the World Bank and UNDP about fostering a collaborative culture.



The project will generate the following outputs:

  • Detailed profiles of at least 10 cooperatives at both Nwinso and Koulikoro. The Goldstrom Group is interested in cultivating relationships with these miners, which the Surrey team is in a unique position to facilitate. 
  • A detailed ‘map’ of the ASM ecosystem at Nwinso and Koulikoro.  Goldstrom, the World Bank and UNDP are interested in having a detailed overview of the different actors present on site and the relationships the 10 groups of studied miners have with them. 
  • A detailed inventory of financial services available to miners at both sites.  The donors and Goldstrom are interested in knowing what financial services and packages are available locally to support miners in Nwinso and Koulikoro and potentially, further afield. 
  • A training report produced based on engagements at both sites.  The team will provide training, as indicated, at Koulikoro and Nwinso. 
  • A presentation of findings at UNDP Headquarters in Geneva.  The PI, along with a Malian partner, will present findings to UNDP staff, with whom the team has been engaging with over the past five years, in Geneva.
  • An open-access journal paper submitted to the international journal World Development, and short reports from this paper made available through the DELVE platform,  (, a site established specifically by the World Bank to share data and case study analysis on ASM.   



The work will form the first phase of a two-part project aimed at generating knowledge for the Goldstrom Group and other international parties interested in sourcing gold from ASM communities in sub-Saharan Africa through arrangements that are fair and capable of delivering positive change to the livelihoods of operators.  Data will be uncovered to ensure the sustainability of the CMS and couloirs ASM formalization models in Ghana and Mali. 

The teams will deliver presentations to Goldstrom and the UNDP on the cooperatives engaged and the other findings collected.  The organizations will be asked to identify potential groups at each site that could feature in a pilot gold buying scheme which is the planned centrepiece of the second phase of this project, post-April 2023.

Future impact will include a grant application with Dr Stelvia Mathos at Surrey, which will explore informal innovation strategies at ASM sites in Ghana, Mali and Brazil, working with partners at the University of Sao Paulo. The intention is to share experiences, with a view to identifying ways in which to facilitate innovation, on formalization platforms, within the three countries.