As the world’s leading diamond corporations have adopted more ethical and humanitarian standards and practices in recent years, many have also added philanthropy and social activism to their core corporate values.
The Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF), established in 2007 by diamond industry leaders, was created to financially support trade initiatives that aid residents in mining locations worldwide. The global nonprofit initially raised money to help young people in African mining communities access higher education, with the stipulation that scholarship recipients would return to their native countries for a time to perform work that diversified the economy or created fair and equitable social structures. It has since expanded to India, where most of the world’s diamonds are cut and/or polished.
Today, DEF lends financial support to five organizations: South Africa’s African Leadership Academy, which offers young people a two-year program focusing on leadership, entrepreneurship, and African studies (DEF supports all students in the program from diamond-producing countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo); the Botswana Top Achievers Scholarship Program, developed in 2010 by Botswana’s Ministry of Education and Skills Development to help students pursue careers that help drive economic diversification in the country; the Diamond Development Initiative, which brings mobile schools—with traveling teachers—to remote mining communities for a condensed school year; the Flaviana Matata Foundation in Tanzania, a grassroots nongovernmental organization that provides financial and material support to underprivileged girls; and the Veerayatan Colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, and Business Administration in the Indian state of Gujarat.
“We support youth,” explains DEF vice president and executive director Nancy Orem Lyman. “A lot of African countries have free education up until around middle school, but there’s little opportunity in some places for kids to continue on to higher education. From our perspective, our work is about raising up these young people. It’s not a hand to lift them out of poverty—it’s about empowering them to bring their communities forward.”
And though DEF is mission-based, Lyman says it’s always had the parallel goal of “connecting this message to consumers, so they can see there’s a positive side to diamonds.”
In 2014 DEF introduced Diamonds Do Good, a multipronged marketing campaign that works to expose the buying public to the many ways diamond companies support the (almost always underprivileged) communities in which they do business. The initiative includes a website, DiamondsDoGood.com, and social channels that share uplifting stories of how the industry has effected change in mining regions.
“De Beers and others—they understood there was no organization that was specifically linking how diamonds ‘do good’ to the public,” says Lyman. “And these companies have been doing good things for a long, long time. They just hadn’t been talking about it.”
Top: African Leadership Academy graduates