Originally published in the Spring 2016 UWinnipeg Magazine
A UWinnipeg-partnered program is testing the business acumen of Indigenous high school students—and opening up potential career paths along the way.
Launched last spring, In.Business—a national initiative of Cape Breton University—matches Indigenous students from across the country with local business leaders. Acting as mentors for six months, leaders assign business-themed tasks that challenge students to consider the impact of businesses and business law on their lives.
“The first batch of students did amazing,” says Hanwakan Whitecloud, who manages In.Business’ central region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut) out of UWinnipeg’s Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre. “They loved having the opportunity to learn about business, and having the opportunity to be mentored by business people. A lot of them said, ‘I never thought business would be for me, I never thought business could be fun, and this has changed my perspective.’”
Challenges range from research-based questions to creative exercises that students complete with a provided smartphone. Each task requires some kind of exploration of a student’s community—such as identifying a monopoly or documenting a tourist attraction—with the goal of making business scenarios more relatable.
“The more they do the challenges, the more they discover that, ‘Hey, I can identify with business, and I can understand these concepts.’”
Making good on a pledge he made when he accepted his position, Whitecloud also incorporated the recommendations of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report into the challenges. One task had students reflecting on recommendation 92, which calls for the private sector to provide Indigenous peoples equitable access to jobs, among other commitments.
“It’s often the first time that the students have been exposed to the Truth and Reconciliation final report,” says Whitecloud.
Much of the program’s correspondence takes place on Facebook, so the mentors—a mix of Indigenous entrepreneurs and business people from larger companies— must be social-media savvy. The platform also provides a glimpse into the everyday life of a business person.
“Students get to see what their mentors are doing in their personal and professional lives; some of them are going to conferences, some are doing speaking engagements, some have new clients that they’re bringing on, and they post all that.”
Whitecloud is building on the program’s momentum in 2016, with several new businesses lined up to partner with In.Business for mentor and financial support.