As the Chairman and CEO of junior mining companies, Tigui Mining Group and Camara Diamond Gold Trading Network, Tiguidanke Camara’s first contact with mining was through jewellery while she modelled. The model turned mining entrepreneur is about to see her first project go into production in the Ivory Coast. Tiguidanke is in mining for the long haul as she looks to expand her operations across West Africa. “What I have learnt is that with mining, it’s not a date, it’s a long-term marriage.” She says patience, passion and professionalism are vital ingredients for success. The mother of two believes you can be a great businesswoman as well as a great mother to your children. By Camila Reed
What made you choose a career in mining?
My first contact with mining came through my work as a fashion model. I worked a lot with jewellery business owners who also owned mining licences across Africa. Many of these mines were in my native country of Guinea. This fact piqued my curiosity and interest in understanding how the mining sector works.
It is still a male-dominated sector but I wanted to give it a try. I think we, as women, must be bold to break into male dominated fields. Besides, I liked the challenge. I come from Guinea, one of the countries with the richest soils in the world. Mining is the driver of many economies in Africa. Harnessed correctly, the sector can help alleviate poverty in these countries.
What is the secret of your success?
I believe that the secret to my success is that I never give up! I don’t back off when I am faced with a challenge. I keep pushing, keep trying and absorb the lessons. I also have a lot of passion for what I am doing. I’ve discovered mining and have grown to really love it, which adds to my passion. Because I love my work, I don’t mind the long hours and enjoy representing women in the sector.
Professionalism is also an integral piece of my success – always act professionally no matter what you face. People will forget the situation but they will never forget your action and reaction so make sure you leave a good impression.
Have you encountered a lot of discrimination? What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
Mining is similar to an all-boys club. When a woman comes in the sector, they don’t look at your skills; to them, you are just a woman. It’s up to us to change their perception; this sometimes means that we have to work harder than men in the sector. I am proud to be a woman.
Yes, I have to work really hard to prove that I can deliver as much or even more as men. But, I welcome the challenge because I am paving the way for other women.
As a former model and young woman, I stick out in the sector. I’ve heard a few times: “So whose assistant is that?” I make it a point to reply: “I’m the owner of this business.” I take my time to address the issue as a way of making the person aware of their bias. Having the conversation clears the way for actual business talk.
What are the challenges you are faced with?
The biggest challenge has been raising funds. I created CDGTN and TMG when the economic climate was still challenging. Mining is different from other businesses because growth is a slow process. You have to take a long-term view with a minimum of 10 years.
About six months ago, we finally found a partner but couldn’t start work due to the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak. The Guinean government is working very hard to control Ebola together with foreign governments and civil society organizations. Thankfully, the number of new cases has gone down. I’m hopeful that we can get back to work by mid-2015.
I am in discussion in order to acquire licences in the Ivory Coast. We are finalizing a semi-industrial project with a local cooperative, which would allow us to start production within 3 months. In Guinea, we have had licences since 2010, but we have had a few setbacks because of the Ebola outbreak and mining reform, which has slowed things down a little bit.
What would you love to do next?
Our objective is to expand across West Africa. We are looking at countries like Liberia, Mali and Burkina Faso. I would also like to expand into iron ore and oil. We are awaiting an agreement with the Guinean government to acquire and explore iron ore. We are working on doing the same in the Ivory Coast for oil, diamonds and gold.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I’m passionate about starting something and turning it into something substantial. Discovering a reserve that would be economically viable and would have an impact in the different areas where we work is important. This is key because it would enable us to change people’s lives in the communities within which we operate. It would be a big step toward ending poverty. In short, I am passionate about bringing change in my areas of work.
Representing women in the sector is also a great passion of mine. Last year, I co-founded Women in Mining in Guinea. The membership includes approximately 100 women. This includes women working for mining companies in Guinea and women who are interested in providing services to the mining industry. We are growing slowly and are carrying out training to help members understand the mining sector.
Are you pro targets or pro quotas re Women on Boards?
I think that we have to move beyond quotas. Women should be placed on boards because they provide a different perspective and possess skills that the organization needs. Beyond being on boards, I want to see more women owning their businesses. There is a certain freedom that comes from leading your own company and making decisions you believe are right. I also want to engage with other young people in the field. I believe we are now being accepted and noticed. I’m sure we will see more women on boards as a result.
What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
One thing that I’ve learnt from setting up my own company is that I don’t need to do everything myself. I was totally self-reliant at the beginning when it came to acquiring licences. I should have fostered strategic alliances from the beginning because I would have had access to more resources both financial and human. This could have pushed my company even further. It would also have saved me time and headaches. I wouldn’t change my journey, however, because I have learned a lot.
Which of your skills has been most useful in your career?
Networking and building relationships has been very important to my career. I think people are what make and break businesses so it is important to take care of your network.
Have you any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Before you start, you have to have a passion, a love for what you do. Specifically in mining, time is of the essence. What I have learnt is that with mining it’s not a date but a long-term marriage, so don’t go into mining thinking today I start and tomorrow it’s already working.
It’s a long process and you have to be very patient and passionate about what you are doing and then you have to learn. Learn as much as you can about the business because with that knowledge you can make the right decisions.
Every bad decision will cost you and it could cost you your company. Don’t fear mistakes — learn from them. Be professional and courageous as well.
How has it been balancing work and a family?
I have been fortunate enough to have a supportive and understanding family. My children also have grown to understand that I have to work and build a better life for us all. I do travel often for work. However, I make it a point to spend time with my family when I am home. My kids are growing into wonderful independent people and I am very proud of them. I don’t think I have to give up my family or my business because both are a part of me. I strongly think that women have to define their own dreams and life. Be whatever you want to be as long as you are happy. Finally, you can be a great businesswoman and a great mother to your children as well.
Tiguidanke Mounir Camara was born and raised in Conakry Guinea. From an early age, her entrepreneurial spirit drove her thinking into actions. In 1996, before beginning her modelling career in the United States, she undertook management studies in Morocco. In 2009 Tigui became the founder and chairman of Camara Diamond & Gold Trading Network (CDGTN), a mining company and in 2012, the founder and chairman of Tigui Mining Group (TMG), based in New York, Conakry and Cote d’Ivoire. She is one of the youngest women mining executives and one of the few women mine owners in Africa. She is the only woman who owns a mineral exploration company in Guinea. She’s a member of Women in Mining International (WIM), co-founder of WIM Guinea, and an active advocate of women and their role in the development of the mining industry. She is the mother of twins and has been living in New York for the past nineteen years.