Digital divide is holding back Indigenous communities and Canada’s economy, new report finds
Starting a business is tough enough, but young Indigenous entrepreneurs face an even tougher battle due to a systemic digital divide holding them back and the Canadian economy as a whole.
This is the main course a new report from RBC, after spending the past 18 months analyzing economic data and discussing with Indigenous stakeholders how to unlock and maximize their economic potential.
The report includes the results of online surveys of 2,000 Indigenous youth who have agreed to participate in the bank’s Future Launch initiative, a 10-year, $ 500 million initiative funded by the bank to help prepare for the future. young people for the jobs of tomorrow.
Canada’s Indigenous youth population is growing at a rate four times the rate of the rest of the country’s youth, according to the report, and Indigenous people are starting new businesses at nine times the Canadian average.
And while Indigenous entrepreneurs are a large and growing cohort, a primary reason they remain a largely untapped resource is the yawning digital divide.
This is something Edmonton business owner Mallory Yawnghwe knows firsthand. Growing up in the Saddle Lake Cree Nation of Alberta, she never saw the online world as a career opportunity because her community’s digital infrastructure was so poor.
Last year, the federal government promised to ensure that 98% of the country will have access to high-speed Internet within five years. Despite this commitment, the report indicates that more than three-quarters of households in First Nations communities do not have it.
In a global economy that moves more and more online, this is holding them back.
“I come from a reserve where we have very poor internet access,” Yawnghwe said in an interview. “To this day… literally, you can’t access the Internet unless you have a connection to a Wi-Fi source, which a lot of people don’t.”
It wasn’t until after graduating with a business degree from MacEwan University in Edmonton that she realized the economic potential of being digitally connected.
Fast forward to 2020, the pandemic gave him an unexpected chance to realize his passion for uplifting his community.
Using her digital skills, she reached out to other Indigenous business owners about selling their products packaged with other Indigenous-made items, from cosmetics to food to food. household items.
Indigenous Box was born and growing rapidly. Launched in the spring of 2021 with a plan to ship four seasonal boxes per year, Yawnghwe says its customer base has already quadrupled and now number in the thousands.
“I see this as an opportunity to really shine a light on the amazing things that Indigenous entrepreneurs are doing,” she said.
Keith Matthew, director of the Tulo Center for Indigenous Economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, says he himself sees these impacts all the time.
Former councilor and chief of the Simpcw First Nation, about an hour north of Kamloops, B.C., Matthew says that less than 20 years ago, the community relied on dozens of unreliable modem internet connections and expensive.
In 2007, the local council decided to spend $ 175,000 to set up a fiber optic connection, and Matthew says it was the best investment they ever made.
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“If we did not have this link, many young people would not have [what] they need to advance their careers, ”he said in an interview.
According to the RBC report, two-thirds of the jobs currently held by Indigenous workers in Canada are at risk of being cut or drastically changed by technology.
Remote and rural communities are particularly at risk due to the lack of infrastructure, Matthew said. “Young people are more and more left behind [and] this exacerbates the problem of the departure of young people.
The benefits of being digitally connected are vast and they often pay off in unexpected ways, says Julie Nagam, director of the Winnipeg-based Aabijijiwan New Media Lab. The newly opened lab provides access from basic web tools, such as computers for audio and video editing work, to complex tasks, such as 3D printing and computer animation.
When you give someone access to creative digital tools that they didn’t have before, “the sky is the limit,” Nagam said. “It gives people the opportunity to dream, to think about the potential, the future and where they can push it.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen until people have access to it,” she said. “It offers people new opportunities and potential new opportunities for training and employment.”
But it’s not just skills and infrastructure that can be a problem. The report found that there is a systemic bias at play that robs Indigenous entrepreneurs of one of their secret weapons: trust.
While young people surveyed were overall very confident in their problem-solving, critical thinking, collaborative and creative skills, they were 13% less likely to describe themselves as having enough digital skills to thrive.
It makes sense to Yawnghwe. “Throughout my life, I have felt that I try not to feel discouraged by racism, by discrimination, by people thinking that I was not smart enough to be in these spaces,” he said. she declared.
These biased assumptions result in unequal access to finance for banks. As the RBC report acknowledges, Indigenous peoples “face structural and systemic barriers to financial security, ranging from restrictions under the Indian Act on ownership of assets, to racial bias against lenders.”
A 2017 Report of the National Indigenous Economic Development Council found that Indigenous businesses have about 10 times less access to private equity than other businesses. This means that Indigenous people get less than 0.2% of all credit in Canada, despite representing nearly five percent of the population.
RBC calculates that the Indigenous economy in Canada is currently worth about $ 33 billion, but growing it at a level commensurate with its population would triple that amount.
This represents almost $ 70 billion in new money for local communities – and the Canadian economy as a whole.
For Yawnghwe, this would be a particularly welcome sight to see.
“We are natural entrepreneurs,” she said. “We are the original supply chain for this whole continent, with a trading network that spanned the entire continent before colonization. We are just coming back to these spaces.”