Economic development is a top priority for First Nations communities across Canada, but one Aboriginal-owned, Victoria-based consulting company believes creating economic plans without taking into consideration social development issues leads to business disaster.
Ainjil Hunt, 41, and Carol Anne Hilton, 36, believe so strongly that a holistic approach to business is needed that they decided to make a career out of the concept.
'Transformation: Social and Economic Development’ provides a global business model that creates a positive impact on communities, organizations and corporations.
Transformation offers advisory services in the fisheries, aquaculture, forestry, tourism, energy and mining industries. It also supports decision making for resource management through strategy, policy and governance.
"It's really the only company of its kind," said Hilton, a member of the Hesquiaht First Nation. "It's incorporated each of our skill sets," she added, explaining that she brings a wealth of economic knowledge to the table, while Hunt is an expert in the social development arena.
The company's focus is on increasing the presence of First Nations in business while building a local economy, driving innovation, creating jobs, promoting growth and helping communities realize their potential for opportunity, wealth, health and self-reliance.
Transformation began in 2003 and offers problem solving solutions, facilitator needs and capacity building tips for communities, organizations and governments locally, nationally and internationally.
Transformation fosters both individual and collective wellbeing through economic growth, building a healthy environment and vibrant communities now and into the future, said Hunt, company creator and a member of the Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay.
"What we're setting up to do is create a business model that unites business and culture," said Hilton, Transformation CEO.
"The social health of our families has to meet the economic wealth of our communities," she continued.
"Social and economic development are the primary drivers of community building," Hilton explained.
She said some First Nation clients have confidence issues which throws a roadblock up in their path to business successes, and she blames an "Indian Affairs" mindset for their struggles.
"We want clients to understand how powerful First Nations are and can be," she said. "We want First Nations to understand, through powerful decision-making, leadership and action, to step outside of the limitations of [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada]."
"I really believe that our people are held back or limited because we can't think ahead of poverty anymore," Hilton said.
"At Transformation, we are not only promoting economic growth, but we are also promoting a healthy and vibrant community," Hunt explained.
"We believe that social and economic development components have to parallel each other."
As strong First Nations business women, Hunt and Hilton are role models and just two of many Indigenous women determined to climb the business ladder.
Women statistically are returning back to school at a higher rate than men. There is a shift towards educated women taking leadership roles, building strong business relationships and bringing new perspectives to communities.
Transformation is growing and Hunt and Hilton are involved in "nation to nation" discussions with representatives in Bosnia and China.
"We want to be able to bridge the gap and create relations through national and international partnerships," Hilton explained.
But closer to home, ties between Transformation and local First Nation organizations are formed.
Bev Martin, CEO of Khowutzun Development Corporation, the economic development branch of the Cowichan Tribes, hired Trasformation to facilitate a meeting last month and she says she was pleased with the outcome.
"We wanted a facilitator and we wanted someone who was First Nations," Martin said, when asked why Cowichan chose to use Transformation's services.
"It was very good. It was well-planned out and they had a lot of great ideas and they were able to give us a lot of suggestions on how they saw [the economic development plan] flowing," she said.
Like Hunt and Hilton, Martin said incorporating social development into First Nations economic development plans is not only smart, it is vital.
"It won’t work without it," Martin said.
Without government training and community support regarding First Nations economic development ventures, communities "set themselves up to fail."
"You really need the community involvement and there really needs to be a connection," she explained.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsun agrees.
"There are social, cultural and economic costs that must be considered and valued when planning for social development and economic development," she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
Chief Hwitsun said she values Transformation for their facilitation and professionalism.
"Transformation brings a strong grounding in First Nations’ worldview," she said. "They have high capacity skill sets and a genuine interest in seeinr—helping—First Nations succeed."
"[It was] helpful, responsive facilitation with a positive attitude. [And they were] well prepared," she added.
"We build strong relationships [and] we've been really well-received," said Hilton.
"[Transformation] is starting to shift the way business is done," she added.
"It really puts the power and control into First Nations’ hands."
To learn more about Transformation, visit their Web site at www.transformationinternational.ca