In 2011, I was hired by the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies to run a business mentorship program comprised of 30 Aboriginal high school students and six Aboriginal business mentors from across Nova Scotia. At the time, the program didn’t even have a name, but thanks to funding by the Province of Nova Scotia and Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, and an innovative proposal developed by a great team of visionaries (too many to mention), the program was given life! During program implementation many expressed concerns that we would not be able to find 30 Aboriginal students with an interest in business. However, to their surprise, during presentations at 24 high schools across the province, 216 students applied to participate in the newly named Business Network for Aboriginal Youth. We were then faced with just the opposite problem: how would we choose 30 when we have over 200 interested?
The program continued to operate as a Nova Scotia pilot for two more years with great success. In the second year of the program it was recognized that, with adequate funding, perhaps this concept could be mobilized in other parts of Canada. Using the lessons learned from the Nova Scotia pilot, a new proposal was submitted to the Government of Canada. If approved, the program would involve up to 300 students and 50 mentors from all provinces and territories. We received notification in March of 2013 that we were approved for five years of funding to expand our operations nationally. So much has happened so quickly that I often don’t stop to reflect (as I’m doing right now) on what has been accomplished. However, now that all five regions are up and running, including my own (Atlantic), I figured it was time to tell the story from my perspective. Some of the noteworthy changes are as follows:
- Rebranded from the Business Network for Aboriginal Youth to In.Business: A Mentorship Program for Indigenous Youth
- Increased full time staff from 2 to 11 (6 devoted exclusively to In.Business)
- Partnered with four institutions that currently house our regional offices:
- Eastern Region: Nippissing University
- Central Region: University of Winnipeg
- Pacific Region: Vancouver Island University
- Northern Region: Yukon College
- Launched Music Mogul (iTunes or Google Play)
- Moved into new office space in Membertou
Over the past 6 weeks, opening conferences for all five regions were hosted, including my own (Atlantic) with 60 students from 21 high schools and 19 Aboriginal communities across Atlantic Canada. Across all five regions there are now 240 students participating from 10 provinces and three territories, which is impressive considering we started with 30 students from one province only four years ago. It’s been great to be involved in something so innovative that could eventually have a huge impact. During the three year Nova Scotia pilot and the first year of the Atlantic region, 82% of our grade 12 students have moved onto to study post-secondary business, and 50% have chosen business as their area of study. Can you imagine the possibilities if/when these stats are replicated in all five regions? There have certainly been bumps in the road along the way, and in some respects, we are merely just getting started. Regardless, it has been pretty cool to be “along for the journey” – a journey that would not have been possible if we didn’t dream big!