By Curtis DeCora
09/07/2018 05:46 am CST
There are 567 Federally Recognized tribes in the United States. When we as tribal members, community advocates and leadership constituents look to solutions best addressing the economic landscape of the tribal status, there are diverse challenges. These diverse challenges stem from a few areas, one is the geographic location. Whether the tribe is in a urban community, or rural community - the challenges are very much different. One tribe that is located in the rural Northwoods of Wisconsin will not have the same challenges as a tribe in heavily populated metropolitan location.
What comes to mind are tribes like Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and trying to compare them to Gila River Indian Community - whereas the economic development plans for each community will be entirely different in design, resources and implementation.
The question we as tribal members, community advocates and leadership constituents ask ourselves is, “How can we participate, help or ‘chip in’?” Let me be the first today, that’s a great question and those are the types of people we need to reel in, foster and empower to make massive waves of contribution within our very own communities.
Without further adieu, let’s dive into the 5 Pillars of Sustainable Tribal Economic Development. We have the three (3) R’s, which are real, reliable, and relevant, as well as two additional surprising factors we should be considering.
Pillar 1: Reliable Data
In any type of improvement program we must measure and track before we can improve. Consider the last diet plan you started, what was the first step? You had to measure your waist, weigh yourself, and track your height and daily calorie consumption. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does!
This is also true for sustainable economic development. We must measure the revenue, expenses, resources, assets, and liabilities associated with our tribal community. Once we have a clear picture, we can design a plan with clear and concise deliverables that allow us to make improvements.
This all starts with reliable data.
Pillar 2: Relevant Education
When we look at the educational opportunities afforded to us in our tribal communities, most of us aren’t blessed enough to have a tribal colleges and universities (TCU’s). These institutions are great as they can provide a great career pathways incorporating school-to-work type of partnerships, whereas local tribal enterprises can obtain training, certifications and specialized degrees that provide the local tribal enterprises with a highly qualified workforce.
Unfortunately, most TCU’s aren’t engaged wholly with the tribal economic community. The TCU’s prove 2+2 programs to bridge the students with an educational pathway to obtain an Associates degree and afford them a streamlined path to a Bachelor and Master’s degree programs. These are great! This still leaves a gap with the qualified workforce.
Skilled trades and specialized programs should be created to train, certify and license local tribal members that feed directly into the tribal enterprises as it relates to the tribal economic development plan.
Let me provide an example. There are community colleges that focus on transportation or construction trades, but have no pathway to direct placement upon completion. This is the simplest and most cost effective form of recruitment, hiring, and managing as most participants likely already completed an internship or work-based-learning opportunity with these enterprises.
We are addressing the challenges of; high employee turnover, unqualified workforce, training expenses, and ramp up time to bring new hires up to speed.
A great example is the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College with their Early Childhood Development program, which addresses all of the certifying, practicum hours, licensing, and experience needs, as well as the cultural sensitivity training needed to ensure the new hire is experienced working with culture, language, and family or community dynamics. This program pours new graduates directly into one of four (4) early-childhood development centers in the Lac Courte Oreilles community.
Pillar 3: Real Opportunity
As a Native entrepreneur, I personally see the whole landscape of sustainable tribal economic development moving the route of fostering tribal entrepreneurship. In order to provide real opportunities for tribal entrepreneurs, we must engage in business incubators and produce tribal procurement that supports and empowers tribal entrepreneurs.
We have tribal preference for our hiring practices within tribal organizations and enterprises, but rarely do we have a process or policy that states you should consider tribal entrepreneurs first priority the bid on a contract or outsourced service.
If a tribal procurement process empowering tribal entrepreneurs were available with a business incubator offering training, supports, and shared resources for all tribal entrepreneurs to succeed. This would be of massive business.
Here is an example of how this would work. As a tribal entrepreneur, I approach tribal leaders and business development corporations often in regards to proposing my products, services and solutions. My own tribe has saved tremendous amounts of money by utilizing my services and I turn around and purchase gas, eat at the restaurants, and shop at their retail locations.
The money stays in the community.
Every tribe has skilled tradesman in the areas of landscaping, carpentry, masonry, electrical, mechanics, heavy equipment operators and commercial driver’s license holders - and so on. These entrepreneurs can bid on contracts with the tribal health center, casino, convenience stores, and any other asset properties the tribe owns. Again, the money stays in the community, we are supporting tribal entrepreneurs and through the incubators empowering members through capacity building, and training opportunities.
To take this a step further, the tribal organizations with 8(a) or HubZone certified enterprises can subcontract to these entrepreneurs, save massive amounts of money on payroll liabilities, insurance, and managerial oversight, while satisfying the federal requirements of minority workforce.
Pillar 4: Mobile Technology
Technology has leveled the playing field for any business, provided these businesses are leveraging the power of technology. I personally know two to three dozen digital entrepreneurs that have built 6-figure businesses from their kitchen table while leveraging the power of social media platforms. In their pajamas, they can create aggressive marketing campaigns to help businesses generate more qualified leads, quotes, and clients through free platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Instagram, Snap chat, Twitter and many others.
In addition to digital entrepreneurs, mobile technology can benefit premise-based enterprises, much like we have on tribal lands, with online ordering, e-commerce and digital products. We can generate and approve loan applications from people from all over the United States we have never met, nor will we ever meet. Within 24 hours, we lend short-term loans and can generate millions in revenue through this mobile technology.
Other considerations include training and technical assistance through mobile technology. I have been involved with Community Development Financial Institutions since 2010 and realized there were some geo-based challenges associated with supporting tribal entrepreneurship. Many of the participants seeking to start a small business had to arrive at the office, take a 60 minute class in financial management, marketing, management, budgeting, and so on. The biggest challenge these participants experienced was associated with transportation, specifically in rural areas. Mobile technology can solve that. An online business training and technical assistance module can train in program participants in all areas of business ownership, while allowing the Native CDFI organization full transparency to the reporting functions of their progress. These are progress reports can be part of their development plan for the next round of funds released for the aspiring tribal entrepreneur.
Personally, I took three (3) online courses to help me develop an entirely new service which produces ⅓ of my annual revenue. These courses were $299 each and I have made that back on my first 4 clients. New client acquisition can be done from the comfort of my home, in my pajamas, updates and maintenance are completed from my laptop or mobile device. Remote services are what I’m talking about here. Mobile technology allows Remote Services to be a critical service most companies tend to hire for - they can now outsourced that to businesses like mine.
Pillar 5: Youth Engagement
This is the final pillar, only because I personally find it the most crucial component. I’m a strong advocate for youth development, specifically tribal youth development. My younger years included becoming a three sport athlete, and going on to play basketball at the collegiate level. The character developed includes aspects of leadership, team-building, self-improvement, and taking direction for the greater good of the group or team. These are characteristics most hiring managers and recruiters are looking for.
This process should start early, and here is why. As a Native tribal youth continues on with their younger years and advance into high school, they begin to craft their vision for their future. There are two boats they can take post-graduation.
Boat number one includes, going off to the university of their choice, obtaining a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree in one specialization - only to return and help improve their own community, become a leader, if you will. Boat number two includes, working in one of the local tribal enterprises, climbing the corporate ladder, and helping improve their community internally.
The internal conversation that goes on with the youth revolves around, “How can I participate, and do I want to participate?”
Our job, duty and obligation as tribal members, community advocates and leadership constituents is to engage and empower our youth to participate. Early on, we should encourage them to participate in youth entrepreneurship to grow a desire for a skilled trade, profession, or pillar in the community for language or cultural preservation. Our programs and organizations should focus on creating career pathways, training opportunities, internships and apprenticeships while they’re still in school.
Not only will this allow the youth of our community to begin crafting their vision of the future with our communities in mind, but how they can make an impact early and be a critical component of the economic landscape.
Where the importance of youth engagement shines the brightest, go to your General Membership meetings and listen to the topics.
Most topics include, “Why are we not hiring our own people?” The most common answer is, “We don’t have any qualified members to run this enterprise.” There are two boats I referenced earlier in this pillar which address this specific challenge. It is a recruitment pipeline that generates interest and engages the youth within our very own tribal enterprises, while helping them craft a vision of their future and the impact they can make on their own communities.
Sustainable Tribal Economic Development is a hot topic with just about every tribal community, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, magic bullet, or cookie cutter template to solve these challenges. If we focus on these pillars, we have the framework to improve upon our communities with a diligent and powerful approach which ropes in every tribal member to play an active role from youth to elderly.
Curtis DeCora specializes in Business Development and Tribal Economic Development roles. Equipped with 10 years of experience in corporate sales, door-to-door sales, and outsourced sales - helping small businesses increase their sales and increase productivity.