My Journey to the Purdy Crawford Chair

They say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” If that’s true, then I must be having the time of my life. It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated from Dalhousie with a Degree in Industrial Engineering, at which time, I never would have imagined that I could experience so much in such a short period of time. I certainly never would have thought I’d be back in Cape Breton, working with an amazing project team at Cape Breton University studying and promoting Aboriginal Business Nationally.

My adventure with the Purdy Crawford Chair started in 2006, well 2005, when I had the worst Airport experience of my life trying to get home from Toronto for Christmas Holidays.  That year I spent well over 48 hours in Airports and didn’t make it home for Christmas because of a series of snow storms. I just barely made it home by mid-night on Boxing Day, because of rebooked flights and more weather challenges. It’s a story that Capers working away know all too well.  At the time I was working in Toronto, and that one terrible flying experience made me realize how much I love Cape Breton. It also helped me realize that no amount of money or experience can make up for having family and friends around, and easy access to the Highlands, beaches, and Ski Ben Eoin. In Cape Breton,  you’re never more than a 10 minute drive from the Atlantic Ocean, Bras D’Or Lakes, or Mira River. In Cape Breton distances are measured in time to travel and not kilometers because it’s just as accurate a measure; no need to think about calculus or queuing theory in order to avoid traffic on the 401, 407, 427 or any other highway to get somewhere.

I applied for the MBA(CED) in the spring of 2006. I had decided that I didn’t want to become like so many of my Maritime turned Torontonian friends, who always talk about moving home if only they could get the right job, get paid the same amount, live close to their parents, etc. etc.  I decided the best way to get a job in Nova Scotia was to learn about Community Economic Development and what it would take to change the economy of Cape Breton.

My experience with the MBA at CBU was better than I would have ever imagined. My classmates were wonderful. There were people from all across Canada and the world attending class with me. I learned a lot about my communities and their communities and I saw the world through a different lens, a lens where people and place matter. Once you accept that those things do matter and they don’t have to be at odds with development, a whole new world of possibilities emerges. While studying, I also had the opportunity to work part-time with Advanced Glazings Ltd. An experience that opened my eyes to the real potential of the entrepreneurial spirit and the impact a couple of great ideas can have in a community, creating jobs, knowledge, energy, and excitement.

When I graduated from the MBA CED, I was fortunate enough to work for Membetou Band Office. For someone who was looking for a place where possibilities are endless and challenges can be overcome, Membertou was the perfect place for me to work and learn.  For those people who can’t imagine a world where community, culture, and business are given equal value, I dare you to learn more about Membertou and some of the other successfully innovative Aboriginal Communities like them. One of the wonderful things about Membertou is that the corporate culture supports personal development and Education. So, when Dr. Brown, a previous Marketing prof and advisor on my MRE, asked started talking about a partnership with Membertou and the idea of a research chair in Aboriginal Economic Development, I was confident the Chief and Council and the Senior Management team at Membertou would support the project and my involvement. The time was right for the Purdy Crawford Chair, Membertou, CBU and Unama’ki.

Two and a half years after the Chair became reality, we have learned a lot as a team, and accomplished more than anyone would have expected. We have a friendly, productive, passionate team  and we’ve been connecting with lots of brilliant, inspired, students who are enthusiastic about Aboriginal Business.

Finally, in this past 6 months, the Federal government agreed to support a National Youth Mentorship Program based on a provincially funded Nova Scotia Pilot that is currently in its 3rd year.  In order to get this program off the ground, I’ve been seconded to work with the Chair full-time for a year. Although I’ve been working on this project for the last 3 years, this last month has added a whole new perspective to the success and challenges ahead.  The goals are overwhelming some days.  Multi-tasking between research and practical application, education, student support, presentations, reporting, and just general operations management is exciting and exhausting, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m encouraged by the energy of those around me in the Chair, the School of Business, Unama’ki College, the President’s Office and all of the other partners we work with daily. 

My journey thus far has been both fascinating and entertaining. I'm looking forward to creating space for economies in which community, culture, and business are given equal attention and respect because it will be the only way to ensure our communities thrive and grow.   I'm also convinced the work of the Chair and our experiences will not only be of use to us, but also those across the country who also want to support the growth Aboriginal Economies.