Romain Girbal : a French Entrepreneur who Wants to Revolutionize Mining in Africa
Romain Girbal is the President and Co-Founder of Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR), a new and independent French company that has been working to develop several mining projects in Africa these last few years. But this is not your typical mining company: it’s dedicated to mining in a way that respects the environment and local communities. Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR) is now operating in Guinea, where it is running a large bauxite mine near Boké, in the northwest of the country. In January 2016, AMR found itself in the spotlight following an investment in the company by Xavier Niel, the famous businessman who revolutionized the telecoms industry in France. We decided to take a closer look at Romain Girbal, one of the two young Frenchmen behind this company that wants to “do mining differently.”
Romain Girbal and Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR): an Adventure that Started in Guinea
It can be notoriously difficult to set up a new company and innovate in Africa. In addition to having to deal with a complicated new set of local challenges, any entrepreneur who tries his luck in Africa will have a hard time avoiding being labeled exploitative. Romain Girbal, however, is very far off from this stereotype. This is partly because his decision to work in Guinea is anything but a coincidence: the young Frenchman in fact spent a good part of his childhood in the country, which he knows well and has a sincere attachment to. The market he’s targeting is particularly promising : Guinea holds 52% of the world’s bauxite, according to the French Geological and Mining Research Bureau (BRGM). He attended university in France and had his first professional experiences in Europe. It’s thus not surprising to see him undertake this adventure in Guinea, alongside ambitious and enterprising Guineans like himself. But the ambition of Romain Girbal goes beyond simply making Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR) a financial success; he wants to do mining differently. That means more respect for the environment and a better relationship with local communities, who have often failed to benefit from the success of the mining industry. Along with his associate Thibault Launay, the Deputy Director, and a board that includes a number of well-known figures such as Anne Lauvergeon and Edouard Louis-Dreyfus, Romain Girbal intends to distinguish himself in the mining world by including all stakeholders. It’s a praiseworthy undertaking that somehow seems innovative, especially in Africa.
Romain Girbal Makes His Own Path
While it thus doesn’t come as a surprise that Romain Girbal chose Guinea, given that both cofounders have lived there, Romain Girbal’s career path may seem more surprising. Why did he decide to try out an African adventure? After attending university in Paris-Nanterre and Madrid, he graduated from HEC Paris with a Master in Business Law and International Management. This prestigious education allowed him to join a large trading firm in London specialized in energy immediately after finishing school. Romain Girbal got his start there and quickly developed a passion for the trading and raw materials sectors. He continued to advance in the industry, which is heavily international, and gained significant experience while working in London. Still, the young Frenchman yearned to be out in the field, close to the action. After a few years, he was drawn toward adventure by his “inner entrepreneurial spirit,” to use the words of his cofounder. Romain Girbal gave up his cozy life, his big responsibilities and a promising future at any number of big London firms, and decided to leave for Guinea and jump into the particularly promising bauxite mining industry. It was the perfect occasion to take advantage of the contacts he had built up throughout his career, along with those of his partner Thibault Launay, to pursue an unusual project. The beginning was not easy, as with all project launches, and the cofounders’ living conditions were Spartan since they were putting all financial resources toward developing the project. Things weren’t made any easier by the Ebola epidemic that was going on in the country. But despite all that, the two entrepreneurs held strong and continued to fight to develop their mining project. Their struggles together built more than a business: it also led to a lasting friendship.
A Clear Ambition : Revolutionize the Mining Sector in Africa
With Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR) and Thibauly Launay, Romain Girbal started off this entrepreneurial adventure with a clear ambition: to “do mining differently,” as he told Stéphane Soumier of BFM Business in February 2016. What he means is that he wants to engage in socially responsible mining by setting new standards in the mining industry. “Mining is about more than extracting raw materials. It can also be a way to get local communities involved in mining by starting win-win partnerships for everybody: the country, its people and the mining company.”
Being responsible means committing to local hiring; that’s why Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR) today has 21 employees, 18 of whom are Guinean. That number sums up the vision of Romain Girbal and Thibault Launay. The two French entrepreneurs focus their socially responsible activities around three main themes: local employment, education and environmental preservation. As head of Alliance Minière Responsable (AMR), Romain Girbal has thus worked to launch an ambitious education program for the students of the mining school in Boké. It’s also a smart investment, as these future graduates are potential recruits for the socially responsible mining company. Romain Girbal and Thibault Launay aren’t stopping there: they’re also proposing an ambitious forest preservation program that will replant trees after the mining process. The initiative will be carried out in coordination with the local population, following their needs and demands. Always looking for ways to promote sustainable development in Guinea, the Responsible Mining Alliance has created a partnership with Colombia Water Center to improve water management on land covered by its mining permits. The partnership also includes neighboring communities in order to avoid any conflict. Proof that mining and social responsibility can today go together, both in Africa and in Guinea.