During the Mulroney government years, I was part of the process when, through Tom Hockin, the federal small business minister of the day, Canada created its first national entrepreneurship policy and strategy.
At the time, part of the excitement was that it was one of the first policies of its type ever created in the developed world.
I was fortunate to be a member of the national evaluation framework team for that policy and as such, enjoyed vast experiences that I will never forget and, I suppose, forged part of my love for entrepreneurship and the joy it can bring to peoples’ lives.
This policy had a range of target groups, with whom it was intended to focus and one of these categories was First Nations in Canada.
So what is it that makes a First Nations enterprise successful?
One of the heaviest burdens aboriginal people in Canada have to bear is dependency.
While there have been various differences in the interactions between native peoples and European newcomers over our generations, the expropriation of Indigenous lands, the social welfare policies and other aspects of historical interaction have produced some common results. Indigenous dependency is one of them.
Being stripped of the resources on which they had drawn for so many years, but also their freedom, many First Nations communities found themselves descending into welfare dependency.
The harsh reality of this is that such dependency has high costs. It undermines political autonomy, leaving nations hostage to policy decisions made by other governments serving interests that may depart from First Nations concerns.
On reserves where productive economic activity has experienced its own roller coaster ride of successes and failure, it produces economies that are heavily dependent on employment in First Nations government—that is employment that is funded by non-Indigenous governments.
Escaping the dependency challenge, it has been suggested, offers alternative ways of meeting two critical economic goals.
Providing economic opportunity for First Nations citizens (jobs, business prospects, resources and subsistence) and funding for First Nations government (law-making, decision-making , judicial and enforcement to name a few important items).
One of the most important keys my research uncovered to successful First Nations socio-economic development advancement is productive entrepreneurship.
Productive enterprise means jobs. It can provide direct income to the nation in the form of business revenues or indirect income in the form of taxes. It often leads to new venture opportunities for the First Nations or its citizens, multiplying its own effects; and it constitutes a way of meeting its community needs that is subject culturally in one way or another to community control.
Productive and sustainable entrepreneurship in First Nations typically comes in three forms – internal markets, export markets or both non-aboriginal ownership that employs First Nations citizens and serves aboriginal markets. The urgent need for growth, diversification and resilience in First Nations economies suggests the wise choice is to explore all the various forms of enterprise development.
There is, however, no concrete way that First Nations, or anyone else for that matter, can guarantee entrepreneurial success and communities or their entrepreneurs who demand such guarantees will be quickly immobilized.
The factors that shape entrepreneurial success are too diverse and we recognize that a degree of risk is always inherent in a free society.
But, I have discovered that First Nations’ entrepreneurs and their respective communities can control certain factors that can increase their chances of enterprise success and thereby enjoy potentially considerable economic benefit.
External economic conditions are often tough to control for First Nations entrepreneurs—from the cost of capital, market behaviour, competition, regulatory environments and government policies toward First Nations enterprises.
Skillful new venture preparation may affect some of these things but I have a firm belief that First Nations communities that create a spirit of entrepreneurship from within ensure the installation of entrepreneurship education and training best practices, as well as embrace partnerships for new venture creation that blend First Nations aspiring entrepreneurs with existing non-First Nations entrepreneurs and collaborations with dedicated and committed educational institutions and organizations for all entrepreneurship pursuit will produce enviable results.
For several years prior to moving to the Okanagan, I was immersed voluntarily in First Nations economic development throughout Saskatchewan and visited many of the communities and tribal councils from top to bottom of the province.
I had the privilege of creating one of the first aboriginal entrepreneurship centres in the province and originated and orchestrated an international licencing agreement for First Nations communities to access a leading edge entrepreneurship training series from the U.S.A.
Through this experience, I was extremely privileged to meet and learn from the multitude of talented First Nations people and first-hand, witness the interest of these people to the benefits of entrepreneurship creation and how its journey can affect a positive impact on their lives.
One of the great partnerships that I have observed since moving to British Columbia in 2006 from Saskatchewan is the FirstBusiness.ca web site and all that it contains is a wonderful platform for young First Nations entrepreneurs to access.
So I would like to applaud all First Nations leaders in the Okanagan region and throughout Canada that embrace entrepreneurship education and new venture creation as solid courses to follow for advancement in First Nations socio-economic foundation.