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Indigenous microfinance organization supports youth entrepreneurs

(left to right) Paige Arden (PWRDF Youth Council member), Serena Read (NEDC), Mike MacKenzie (Youth Council), Lewis George (Tofino business leader), Gabby Knudsen and mother Ruth MacInstok (Parish of St. John the Divine, Victoria), gather in Port Alberni, B.C.

November 29, 2019

By Mike MacKenzie

On a speed boat that’s zooming across the waters of Clayoquot Sound in Tofino, B.C., an employee of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) speaks about the impact of their partnership with PWRDF.

“It has opened doors for our communities,” says Serena Read, Special Projects Officer with NEDC. “It means we can help new, small businesses get off the ground while also investing in our youth.”

Indigenous artist Richie Brown, 19, received funding to help grow his business.
Indigenous artist Richie Brown, 19, received funding to help grow his business.

It’s this focus on young people that brought members of the PWRDF Youth Council to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth territory of western Vancouver Island, home to 14 separate Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations, in March 2019. For many years, NEDC has provided expertise and financial support to small businesses within these nations, helping spur local economic development. Thanks to a partnership with PWRDF, they also recently strengthened their focus on youth entrepreneurship via the Indigenous Youth Business Strategy program. Launched in 2017, the program provides mentorship, coaching and micro-finance investments to help Indigenous youth start or grow their small business. The program is making entrepreneurship a viable option for many local youth who otherwise may not have access to business expertise or traditional financing.

In 2018-2019, NEDC updated its online application process to be more youth friendly and continued to establish solid partnerships with financial institutions, such as the Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Entrepreneurship, Business
Development Bank of Canada and Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program. Nine trainees have fully participated in the program and seven new youth are going through the training and mentorship process. Seven  more youth are being considered for the program now.

“I want to thank my funders for helping me grow my business and become more established in this field,” says Richie Brown, a 19-year-old Indigenous artist who is now learning form his father and uncles how to carve Coast Salish design jewellery in silver and gold. “This will benefit me a lot going forward into my line of work.”

Over their two-day visit, PWRDF Youth Council member met with NEDC staff to learn about their vision for the program and see first-hand the impact of PWRDF partnerships, whether across the globe or here in Canada.

Learning about the commitment of NEDC – and PWRDF – to invest in youth was clearly inspiring for the group.

“We know that youth can make a difference,” says Read. “This new program will help get them where they want to be.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Under the Sun.