By Nicole Verkindt
Despite growing up in a small town in rural Canada, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to our Aboriginal communities.
I knew about them. I had taken history in university after all and was often horrified when I read of our nation’s past and current treatment of this community.
My uncle, who served in the RCMP, was involved in Aboriginal self-policing. He travelled with the prime minister to various communities and he often told me stories about his trips. We debated what needed to happen, but I always struggled to come up with any solutions.
When I started working for my family’s manufacturing business, we often partnered with local Native American’s to bid on U.S. defence contracts that were set aside for disadvantaged groups. As a result, we often transferred IP to our partners and worked with their teams to deliver critical projects for the U.S. government. Not only did these business activities create jobs in the Native American sector, they also produced long-term economic benefits to those communities, and built their capacity.
Finding immediate economic solutions to help our Aboriginal communities in Canada just felt so complicated, and difficult. However, I knew from experience in the U.S. that there working models that I can adopt and the situation changed last year.
In October 2015, OMX linked up with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses (CCAB).
Immediately, our two organizations couldn’t help but notice that we shared a similar mission.
While OMX helps Canadian SMEs land procurement contracts and track of economic impacts, CCAB focuses on increasing procurement contract opportunities for Canadian Aboriginal businesses. It was very clear from day one that this organization operated with extremely high energy and bold ambitions, something like, perhaps, a tech start-up. Something a lot like us just down the street at OMX. It didn’t take long before our two organizations realized that we had a lot to offer each other.
Not long after our initial connection, we announced a formal partnership with them. OMX became the CCAB’s procurement platform, a place where the large corporations they worked could easily post tenders, RFPs for increased Aboriginal participation on projects. (See: https://theomx.com/press-releases/2015/new-partnership-toexpand-aboriginal-business-in-public-andprivate-sector-procurement)
The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business was founded by Murray Koffler more than 30 years ago.
Koffler— who is the founder of Shopper’s Drug Mart and the co-founder of the Four Seasons Hotel — wanted to ensure that Aboriginal people in Canada had access to the same economic opportunities.
That was the vision he set out to pursue when he collaborated with Paul Martin and Eric Bronfman to bring the CCAB into existence.
In an interview in Aboriginal Business Report magazine, Paul Martin remarked that “there was no one who could have inspired the business community the way that Murray Koffler did, and I was prepared to do whatever he wanted.”
JP Gladu, the current President of the CCAB, has been involved in indigenous issues since he was 19. His father was a logger, his grandfather was a logger, his other grandfather was a pipeline worker, and so his background was primarily in natural resources.
The first person in his family’s history to go beyond high school, to get a college education, then a university education, and then a master’s degree; JP has worked in First Nation communities, industries,governments, non-profits, and environmental organizations.
When asked what he thought Canada should do to support Aboriginal Peoples, JP explained that what was needed was “to build more relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses.”
He elaborated further:
“By partnering with OMX, we’re making sure that Aboriginal entrepreneurs and CCAB members have access to the kind of opportunities that OMX specializes in. We support sourcing from Aboriginal businesses, and ensuring that Aboriginal stakeholders are engaged across every part of the supply chain. One thing that guides CCAB and its members is our Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program. It’s so far the only Aboriginal-focused corporate social responsibility program of its kind in Canada, and we use independent verifiers to certify companies at the Bronze, Silver, or Gold levels. Those levels are determined by some of the things I outlined above.
Are companies successfully engaging the Aboriginal community? Are they increasing Aboriginal procurement? Do they have programs in place to ensure their engagement with Aboriginal people and companies is consistent and sustainable?
Business engagement, community development, Aboriginal employment — these are all key forms of support. In the end, increased support means more sustainable partnerships and shared economic prosperity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses.
I’m incredibly passionate about the role that our people have in business, I am incredibly passionate about the contributions our people can make, and procurement needs to be the main tool that industry and governments should be utilizing to bolster our participation.
Also, a lot of CCAB’s research shows that when we bolster indigenous representation in procurement supply chains that we actually add to the bottom line.”
A good success story is Bruce Power, which has begun applying CCAB’s Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) guidelines to its own supply chain to increase Aboriginal business and procurement.
Bruce Power has also been encouraging its suppliers to become CCAB members and to participate in the PAR program.
Suncor has also recently signed on with OMX to manage and track their suppliers, particularly Aboriginal owned businesses, given their recent commitments to increase Aboriginal procurement in Canada.
Moving towards the defence sector
Although the current economic outlook is not very strong, a lot of CCAB members are saying they want to emerge out of the current climate with strong Aboriginal practices. They say that maintaining good relationships with Aboriginal communities, people, and businesses are critical to success in this area.
CCAB is now expanding into the defence sector and has engaged LockheedMartin, ATCO and Davie Shipyards to begin.
Lockheed Martin, in particular, has adopted the PAR program and was also the main supporter of the OMX webinar on Aboriginal content in defence procurements.
In this issue of Technology Watch, I will highlight various CCAB certified Canadian Aboriginal-owned businesses that operate or could operate in the defence sector.
Stevens Solutions & Design Inc., which specializes in technical animations and videos for the marine, manufacturing, law enforcement and defence sectors, is one such company.
The Atlantic Region-based business is led Barry Stevens, president of the company. Stevens Solutions prides itself in marrying the technical with the creative.
Many of its customers say that Stevens Solutions understand their requirements and the nuances of what they need whether it’s stated or not.
The company has expertise in product design, manufacturing, operations, marketing, and sales and works with creative videographers, journalists, and animators. The company’s present and planned future investments hardware and software will allow them to provide the highest level video and animation output. However, a long-term investment connected to government procurements will enable the company to “hire and inspire” other Aboriginal people.
I also caught up with industry leader Mark Taylor, who is the shipbuilding strategy manager for the Joint Economic Development Initiative. The group is focused on helping Aboriginal-owned businesses grow.
JEDI is an Aboriginal not-for-profit organization that works with various partners to foster Aboriginal economic development in New Brunswick.
The organization offers a variety of programs, services and events focused on supporting Aboriginal small businesses and entrepreneurs, Aboriginal community economic development, Aboriginal workforce development, and partnerships between Aboriginal communities in both the public and private sectors.
The company uses the OMX platform to help the private sector find Aboriginal companies to partner with or become part of their supply chain.
An important part of what JEDI does is to bring a variety of stakeholders together in an effort to encourage collaboration in pursuing economic development opportunities.
One example of this is the New Brunswick Aboriginal Shipbuilding Engagement Strategy. The project includes Aboriginal communities, businesses, tribal councils, industry, organized labour, and government.
All these stakeholders contributed to the development of the strategy that is now being implemented. As part of the implementation, we are using innovative ideas such as organizing Canada’s first Aboriginal- focused business accelerator program.
This 10-week program targets aerospace and defence and has a number of OEM as partners as well as the New Brunswick Aerospace and Defence Association, Aboriginal Tribal Councils, and various levels of government and BMO.
“Our clients would benefit tremendously by having long-term contracts where they could use the funds to reinvest in their businesses such as by improving their use of technology,” said Mark Taylor. “For example, we have two CNC machining clients who could benefit from new technology.
He said encouraging clients to invest in technology helps them move up the value chain tremendously. For example, one CNC machining client of JEDI has attracted the attention of a large OEM this past year because the client had experience, talent and expressed a desire to invest in technology to improve its operations.
Finally, JEDI is introducing a new opportunity to Aboriginal businesses and communities in New Brunswick.
The aerospace and defence industry holds tremendous opportunity for them and many people are interested. However, the industry must show that it is interested in supporting Aboriginal businesses and communities in New Brunswick. The Government of Canada can encourage this by ensuring offset policies and programs have a strong focus on Aboriginal economic development.
Other Canadian Aboriginal businesses that have been quite active in the industry are Nuna, Porcupine Canvas, and Toolcomm, along with over 100 CCAB certified Aboriginal-owned businesses and more than 1,000 self-described Aboriginal-owned businesses.
Lastly, OMX’s strategic partner, MNP LLP is a leader in capacity building, supplier development and advising Aboriginal-owned businesses.
Also a CCAB member, MNP supports the TFab (Tools for Aboriginal businesses) program by providing various advisory services in areas such as accounting, taxation, and others.
Operating for more than 25 years, MNP has embraced the opportunity to work with Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Based on MNP’s diverse body of work within the Aboriginal community, they have honed their skills and expertise to create a very specialized understanding of how to work within a broad range of conditions that often exist exclusively within this business environment. This has made MNP the preferred firm of over 250 Aboriginal groups, including First Nations, tribal councils, organizations and First Nation communities, as well as individual business owners.
“We are a proud supporter and founding sponsor of the OMX platform – and we have been working in collaboration with the OMX team to offer valuable insight and information to the Aboriginal community,” according to Mike Perron, leader of the Aboriginal consulting group at MNP. “MNP is looking forward to working more collaboratively with both OMX and the CCAB now and in the future”.
But I am the first to admit, there is still a lot more work that we all need to do together.
Nicole Verkindt is the founder and president of OMX. She is a Board Member of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and was recently appointed to the Board of the Peter Munk School of Global Affairs.