First Blog – Experiences with Aboriginal youth business programs

Hi my name is Lenny McKay, I am a third year commerce student at the University of Manitoba – Asper School of Business majoring in Aboriginal Business Studies. My interest in business arose mainly out of my participation in various business programs targeted at Aboriginal youth in Canada, such as the E-Spirit National Aboriginal Youth Business Plan Competition, the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, and the Aboriginal Youth ICT Challenge.

          E-Spirit is a 16 week long business plan competition organized and run by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Originally I was scouted to participate in the competition in grade 9; however, due to my participation in another program that would take me to Washington, D.C. and because of my grade level I would not be able to participate until my grade 10 year at Children of the Earth High School. In my grade 10 year the competition took place in Regina Saskatchewan and in Kelowna, British Columbia in my grade 11 year. Both years my teams went home with nothing. In spite of that, during my third and final year of the competition in Ottawa, Ontario, my team and I managed to win two awards in the competition from a business plan centered on teaching technological skills to the public. In part to my success in the competition, I managed to obtain an internship with BDC Aboriginal Banking, the main people who plan the competition. Through this internship I was able to help with E-Spirit in Moncton, New Brunswick, my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and hopefully in Kamloops, British Columbia next year.

         The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative is an Aboriginal youth entrepreneurship program which the former Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Paul Martin helped create and develop. The Martin Initiative was started at my school in my grade 11 year and was one of the first schools to have the program in Canada. MAEI was set up as an available course for Aboriginal students interested in business to be able to take and changed the way E-Spirit was run at my school; changing it from an extra-curricular activity to a classroom based one. The program itself melded perfectly with E-Spirit and we were able to apply the skills we learned in both programs to the other in order to compliment what each program taught. The program also allowed me to meet Paul Martin himself as well as his son and other important people. At the time, what surprised me most was the high level of security they had in my school during the visits, which included (presumably armed) guards, police, and dogs.

          The Aboriginal Youth ICT Challenge, while not a traditional business program was adapted to be better suited for the youth in my school. The program was designed to teach technological skills to Aboriginal youth and to get them involved in technology related fields. In the program we learned how to use Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver to create websites using HTML (Hyper text Mark-up Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). We adapted the program in order to build websites and develop technological skills to use for our business plans that we created for E-Spirit and the Martin Initiative.