Natural Diamond Manufacturer sparkles with opportunity

30 December 2020 | Business

Of Namibia’s 2.5 million population, more than half are unemployed and over 100 000 persons live with some form of disability which puts them at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to job opportunities.

One natural diamond cutting and polishing company decided to do something about this.

The André Messika cutting and polishing facility proactively recruits from Namibia’s disabled community and today more than a third of the company’s employees are living with a disability.

Productivity has improved along with employee morale and each morning a custom-built company bus provides transport to help disabled employees get to work.

The project began in 2007 when Schachter & Namdar – founding partner of the André Messika facility – first set up operations in Namibia.

“We decided to embark on employing disabled people because quite simply, we believe in equal opportunities where everyone should have a right to work and feel socially included,” said Marc Friedman, operations director at the company.

“It took about two years to bring in the first group of people. We had to adapt the factory for wheelchair users and also brought in sign language interpreters. Today I’m proud to say we’re the biggest employer of disabled people in Namibia.”

In their Namibia headquarters, 16 of 42 employees are living with a disability and this number is expected to increase in 2021.

Anna Marie Johnson, 26, was one of the first disabled employees. A wheelchair user since she was injured in a swimming pool accident at the age of eight, Anna Marie is now an experienced diamond polisher whose work is admired by global brands.

“Growing up in the kind of neighbourhood I did, I didn’t get a degree or papers to even get a job,” she said.

“Who would want to employ a wheelchair-bound girl who was disabled and not educated? But then one day a man I recognised from TV stopped me in the street and asked me what I was doing with my life. When I said ‘nothing’, he said he had something that could help, and he’d pick me up on Monday morning. A bus came and he kept picking up disabled people. As we were driving, he explained to me about the opportunity.”

Teopolina Sheveenyena is in her early 30’s, mother to a young baby and works as a stock controller. She was born with a hearing impairment. Prior to starting work, she didn’t consider looking for a job, as she didn’t think there would any point, “because people see that I can’t hear, I can’t talk, they think I’m unable to do the job”.

Not only does the company recruit wheelchair users and men and women with hearing impairments, it also proactively welcomes people from a wide spectrum of age groups.

Like the Natural Diamond Council, the André Messika cutting and polishing facility takes their corporate social responsibility very seriously and places its workforce and local communities at the centre of its operations.

The company’s training programmes take years before they yield highly skilled professionals that are true experts in their field, providing crucial employment opportunities that would otherwise elude many of those living with a disability.

Joseph Kunyenga, production manager at the company, says that the quality and productivity of the company has improved since people living with a disability were invited to join their workforce.

“The quality of diamond cutting and polishing that we see from our team is on another level. We invest in training and make sure we have a supportive and encouraging working environment where people can thrive and feel proud of the work they do. These are professional diamond cutters and polishers,” added Friedman.

“If you look at those who are hearing impaired, their concentration levels are much higher, they are totally focused without distractions. Our employees are so committed to their jobs, to growing in the company, and learning more things all the time.”

Raluca Anghel, Head of External Affairs at the Natural Diamond Council, emphasised that diversity is fundamental to the success of any business.

“This factory in Namibia is a shining example of how to create a happier, more productive working environment. What this diamond company has achieved is an inspiration not only to the diamond world, but to every employer. Every human deserves the same opportunities.”

Source: The Natural Diamond Council (NDC)

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