Innovation and mining sound like two peas that can’t be in one pod, but Vale is on a mission to change that. Vale is a global leader in sustainable mining and open innovation is the next step to working towards a sustainable future for the planet.
But what does “open innovation” mean and how does a global mining company lead initiatives in sustainability?
We spoke to Vale’s Open Innovation Global Expansion Lead, Suzanne Balima, to understand how innovation and mining go hand in hand and how emerging talent can help accelerate this initiative.
What does open innovation mean?
Open innovation is a business model that values solving problems across various disciplines by collaborating with other companies, institutions and individuals. Open innovation is, itself very innovative because it leverages the diversity of thoughts and ideas that exist outside the company unlike the traditional approach to innovation, which believes innovation should be created inside a company and all knowledge should be guarded as intellectual property and trade secrets.
“This helps us gain inspiration from what others are doing, allows us to try a different approach and helps us see things from a different perspective by collaborating,” says Suzanne.
At Vale, open innovation is being used to solve some of the company’s most ever-evolving areas such as safety and sustainability.
The open innovation team’s work touches on social impact and climate change, which are key pieces of Vale’s sustainability mission. For example, Vale has launched innovation challenges in the areas of supply chain decarbonization and circular economy to tackle solutions for climate change. Additionally, the open innovation team is actively working with some of the most disadvantaged areas of Brazil leveraging the power of the Vale brand to generate positive social impact.
Read more on Vale’s Open Innovation efforts.
As mining is an old industry, many people don’t associate mining with innovation. Even when Suzanne first joined Vale she was surprised to be exposed to emerging technologies implemented in their everyday operations and other in-house innovation projects. Open innovation is yet another example of Vale’s dedication to sustainable mining.
“Through open innovation, we not only gain exposure to solutions and technologies that align to current and future trends but it’s also an opportunity for us to share and showcase the great innovations that Vale’s applied with other industries,” says Suzanne.
What opportunities do students and grads have to be involved with open innovation at Vale?
There are many ways for students to get involved:
● Networking through events: Vale encourages students to attend hiring events, conferences and fairs to meet with the team and ask about the projects they
are working on.
● Explore grad programs like MITACS or the MINE program through which students can work directly on sustainability efforts led by Vale
● Reach out with your solutions: the purpose of open innovation is collaboration and Vale’s team is always looking to connect with students and grads who have sustainability solutions to share.
As Suzanne explains, “We are open to hearing about cool and innovative solutions. In some cases, we might even be able to connect you to other members of the innovation ecosystem who could be interested in your solution!”
MINE (Mining Innovation for a New Environment) Program
The MINE program is a student program that tackles challenging areas important to Vale through open innovation. Candidates have the opportunity to collaborate and work with partners like the Imperial College in London, MIT, The Bakery, and others.
By taking part in the program, the selected students receive educational content related to entrepreneurship and mentorship from the partners. For the bulk of the program, the participants work on developing solutions to solve the challenge, pitch their solution, prototype and validate it with the Vale problem owners. Then, validated solutions are prototyped and scaled for application in the business.
“This is a great opportunity for students to use their creative ideas to generate a real impact in the mining sector!” says Suzanne.
Vale is planning on opening up the next cohort of the MINE program to Canadian students. Students must have at least an undergraduate degree to be eligible for the program. In the past, all participants were from STEM fields but the next cohort will be students with diverse skillsets – beyond STEM.
Plus, you don’t need experience in mining to join Vale or collaborate with Vale through their open innovation ecosystem. The important thing is initiative, creativity and willingness to learn.
“If the lack of experience in mining is holding you back from considering a career in mining, I can assure you that you will pick things up as you go, as long as you’re open to learning!” says Suzanne.
More about Suzanne:
Suzanne works on solving some of Vale’s mining challenges by using different innovation methods and tools to deliver innovation projects. Since innovation is multidisciplinary, she works with many different people and departments across Vale.
The other aspect of her role focuses on understanding and engaging with the innovation ecosystem around the world – that could mean working with start-ups to co-develop a solution, sharing Vale’s innovation methods with other companies, and learning about innovations taking place in countries around the world!
It’s important to note that this is a two-way street. She connects with different players in the innovation ecosystem and brings those ideas and connections into the Vale network to see how they can help each other!