A home-grown solution to First Nations poverty

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The Toronto Star | By: Don Tapscott  |  Mon Nov 04 2013

Crowdfunding and entrepreneurship for first nationsMentorNation will use crowdfunding to promote entrepreneurship among aboriginal Canadians.

Despite the federal government pumping billions of dollars into housing, education and health care on reserves throughout Canada, the standard of living of too many First Nations remains horrific, with rampant unemployment and substance abuse.

The Assembly of First Nations reports that a young person on a reserve is more likely to end up in jail than to graduate from high school. Suicide rates are five times higher than for young non-aboriginal Canadians. The aboriginal population is the fastest-growing in Canada, with almost 40 per cent under the age of 20.

If you’re like me, you’re frustrated by the unrelenting challenges that seem to make it impossible for aboriginal people to break the cycle of poverty, find decent jobs and foster some sense of sustainable economic development. For my entire life it has seemed like a never-ending problem with no way out. It doesn’t make sense and it’s impossible to believe it has to be that way.

So instead of doing more of the same, let’s try making available to First Nations a Canadian resource that generates much of the prosperity that others enjoy. Let’s try entrepreneurship.

Let’s call on business owners and leaders across Canada to share their expertise with aboriginal Canadians, and provide them with the know-how to start and sustain their own businesses.

As we see in the rest of Canada, entrepreneurs are a source of innovation, growth and prosperity. They bring fresh thinking to the marketplace, and they fuel the creative destruction that makes market economies resilient.

Studies show that up to 80 per cent of new jobs come from companies that are five years old or less. Best of all, it’s never been easier or cheaper to start a business than it is today, thanks to resources, knowledge and networks available online.

But, as most entrepreneurs know, sage advice from a supportive mentor can make all the difference when navigating the stormy waters of a business’s early years. Scores of organizations across the country, such as local chambers of commerce, make current or recently retired executives available to new business owners. These mentors provide invaluable moral support along with frank feedback and problem-solving advice.

Such support would be tremendously beneficial for aboriginal entrepreneurs. I’m not suggesting that Toronto or Barrie business owners start flying into reserves in northwest Ontario. Thanks to the Internet, they don’t have to leave their offices or living rooms. In 2013, you can coach an entrepreneur entirely online via email, social media and Skype.

Related:  Crowdfunding is essential for innovation and job creation

Building a national network of willing-and-able business mentors is what MentorNation — the brainchild of Toronto-based not-for-profit Classroom Connections — is all about. It believes that experienced entrepreneurs, business people and professionals would welcome the opportunity to do something practical about aboriginal poverty.

MentorNation’s role is to be the intermediary. It will create an online platform that matches business mentors with aspiring aboriginal entrepreneurs.

MentorNation hasn’t built the online platform yet. That will happen next year. The first step is a pilot project to test the materials and processes to be used in the online platform. This includes training workshops to teach non-Aboriginal entrepreneurs how to work with their Aboriginal counterparts.

Just as the organization is using the Internet to provide the mentoring, it is also using online tools to raise its operational funding. It wants to raise $200,000 in the next 33 days from ordinary Canadians. To do this, MentorNation is trying to gather the funds from the startup platform Giveffect.org. This is a new organization in Canada that wants to use crowdfunding to help Canadian charities.

Crowdfunding is fast becoming one of the most fascinating and important tools of economic change today, helping business start-ups and social enterprises. An individual or organization announces a target amount of money and what it would do with that money, and the public is asked to contribute online.

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