Last week, I was in Sydney, Nova Scotia, at a conference called, “Partnering for Successful Economic Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices.” The primary goal of this conference was to “profile best practices in Cape Breton, such as the Unama’ki Model for collaborative economic development and Eskasoni Cultural Journeys, and provide a forum to discuss issues related to the creation and maintenance of successful development partnerships. “ Participants were mainly practitioners and Aboriginal students, with a small number of academics invited to provide a national or international perspective on the various issues raised.
The conference was really interesting in a number of respects. Continue reading
Second, we got to hear and see first hand some of the great things happening at Membertou First Nation, a very innovative and exciting First Nation in terms of economic development. Driving onto the reserve was a real eye opener in terms of the variety of successful economic development initiatives they have pursued successfully, and the quality of life on the community. According to conference participants, the keys to their success were many of the same factors indentified in the academic literature, including:
(a) building internal and external credibility with band members, federal/provincial/municipal governments, and non-Aboriginal businesses through initiatives like posting information publicly, achieving ISO 9000 designation, and getting rid of long-lingering debt;
(b) establishing an internal economy and infrastructure even if some infrastructure was unlikely to be profitable for a long time. In the case of Membertou, building a convention centre helped them to attract partners and investments to build a hotel, gas station, entertainment centre, and heritage centre, among other things;
(c) building capacity by identifying the various strengths that existing band members in the community had and involving them in economic development planning and other activities, and;
d) framing economic development projects in terms of how they benefit both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, which was crucial for attracting financial support and partnerships with non-Aboriginal governments and businesses.
Lots of other interesting ideas were discussed at the conference. Although there was some debate, the conference participants were in general agreement that partnerships with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples were crucial for facilitating economic development on-reserves. The key is to make sure economic development is grounded in community goals and strengths, and to work with partners who want to achieve outcomes that benefit both communities.
Overall, I think the ideas at this conference will be useful for Aboriginal communities that are located close to cities and towns. To what extent these ideas can help remote communities, however, is far less clear.
Nonetheless, an interesting conference.