Four Master of Business Administration (MBA) students from Vancouver Island University are working in the Arctic Circle on a nationally funded research project to help one of Canada’s oldest First Nations communities improve living and working conditions and stimulate the economy.
The students are in Aklavik, located in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories on an MBA internship.
“We’re helping the community of Aklavik develop an economic sustainable development plan,” said VIU student Abdulkader Mahairi. The population of Aklavik is about 600 people with over 90 percent Aboriginal people - Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and Métis.
It's an interesting blend of cultures and backgrounds. Mahairi is a pharmacist from Saudi Arabian, team member Edwin Kolausok is a photo-journalist from Aklavik, while Arvind Chauhan, an aerospace engineer and Gaganjot Singh, a mechanical engineer, are both from India.
The students secured $166,000 in funding for the project from MITACS ACCELERATE (a national internship program that supports graduate research), the governments of Inuvaluit and Northwest Territories and Billy Archie Contracting and Consulting.
“What an amazing international experience for these learners,” said MBA program coordinator Brook Pearce. "This team has shown a lot of initiative and is a living example of our MBA internship vision – to inspire professional excellence and self leadership.”
Team members are rotating shifts back and forth between their research head-quarters in Nanaimo and the communities of Aklavik and Inuvik. “We’re identifying community needs/desires through surveys, and taking an inventory existing community, human and social, infrastructure and economic development (business) resources and opportunities,” explained Mahairi.
“We are analyzing socio-economic practices and available technologies, and government policies related to advancing Aboriginal and northern development. Finally, we are identifying gaps in resources.”
The information will help develop the final economic sustainable development plan to assist the community in advancing towards its socio-economic goals for the benefit of community stakeholders and the Northern Arctic.
The internship came about in 2008 when VIU MBA student Edwin Kolausok was approached by people from Aklavik at the Aboriginal Business Conference in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Kolausok, a photo-journalist, attended the conference on invitation of the Northern Aboriginal Business Association to photograph and write articles about the event.
There he met key Aklavik business people, elders and government leaders who expressed an interest in completing a comprehensive cooperative community economic development plan for their community members. He brought the idea back to his MBA cohorts, set up a research team and applied for funding.
Mahairi said the plan could act as a pilot project for exploring the role of traditional economic activities in remote communities in today’s modern world.
“Aboriginal people in Canada have faced extremely harsh oppression in the past - politically, economically and socially, making them among the most impoverished people in Canada,” he said. “But with Treaties, settled comprehensive land claims, education and economic development they are emerging to embrace their inherent potential of once again becoming socio-culturally and economically self-reliant.
“Partnerships are critical to successful economic development outcomes and the First Nations and Inuit people of Canada can re-establish their socio-cultural and economic inherent rights, which will in turn advance Canada as a nation that is compassionate about equality in sharing the economic and social development of our nation.”
The students expect to complete their internship by October 2009.
The project involves several partners including MITACS-ACCELERATE (a national internship program), Aklavik Community Corporation (the local Inuvialuit government), the Aklavik Indian Band (Local First Nation government), Hamlet of Aklavik ( Local governing council) Billy Archie Contracting and Consulting, the government of the Northwest Territories and local leaders, elders, business people and community members in general.
The Accelerate Program is made possible through the support of the Government of Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Small Business, Technology & Economic Development, the Manitoba Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy & Mines, the Newfoundland & Labrador Ministry of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, the Nova Scotia Ministry of Labour and Workforce Development, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities, the Quebec Ministère du Développement économique, Innovation et Exportation and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour.