The Social Economy for Women: A Glance at the Startup Nations Ikwe
November is social economy month throughout Quebec. Meanwhile, the activities of the training course in collective women’s entrepreneurship, entitled “StartUP Nations Ikwe”, are in full swing. Since September, three urban Aboriginal communities and organizations accompanied women’s groups in the development of a social economy project: the Société de Développement Économique de Uashat mak Mani-Utenam (SDEUM), the Centre de services emploi et formation (CSEF) de Québec and the Centre d’amitié autochtone de Trois-Rivières (CAATR).
Carried jointly by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Economic Development Commission (FNQLEDC) and the Quebec Native Women (QNW), the StartUP Nations Ikwe aims to support the development of collective projects initiated by First Nations women in urban centers or in the communities, that can lead to the creation of cooperative-type or non-profit organizations (NPO) social economy enterprises. It is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the Chantier de l’économie sociale (parcours SISMIC), the Youth Secretariat and Quebec’s Secretariat à la condition féminine.
Combining Social Economy and Women’s Entrepreneurship
Last May, the team of the Quebec Native Women invited the FNQLEDC to develop a training program in social economy specifically targeting the women of the First Nations. The project immediately appealed to the FNQLEDC’s team, for whom the convergence between collective entrepreneurship and women’s entrepreneurship seemed natural.
Effectively, according to a survey commissioned in 2015 by the FNQLEDC, the First Nations Women entrepreneurs are eager to develop their business project while generating positive spin-offs for their communities (see the highlights of the Report on the entrepreneurial potential of Aboriginal women, published by the FNQLEDC, in 2015). The social economy is the best way to do this, as it aims to combine the social purpose with the economic viability of the company, through an approach based on democracy, cooperation, autonomy and the assumption of responsibility by local authorities.
After the success of the 2017 and 2019 editions of the StartUP Nations, the idea of adapting the formula of this social economy youth incubator program for Aboriginal women quickly became obvious. This is how StartUP Nations Ikwe was born (the term “Ikwe” means “woman” in the Algonquin language).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the third edition of StartUP Nations could not be done by means of a large gathering as in the two previous editions. The FNQLEDC and the QNW worked on the elaboration of a 100% online course over a period of 12 weeks.
Working in a team … remotely
A call for interest was issued last July to urban Aboriginal communities and organizations wishing to form a team of three to five First Nations women committed to getting involved in their community. The selected communities and organizations then mandated coaches to mobilize their respective teams: Serge McKenzie and Éléonore Picard at the SDEUM, Vanessa Thomas at the CSEF de Québec, as well as Lyda Escamilla and Gabrielle Vachon-Laurent at CAATR.
The role of the coaches has proven to be crucial in the context of the pandemic and the completely virtual pathway. It is quite an achievement, and they brilliantly took up the challenge of successfully mobilizing their team without ever being able to meet in person, creating a team spirit and keeping the troops motivated during a journey of almost three months. Congratulations for their involvement in this adventure!
For the 12 female participants (and one male participant), the achievement was just as important. For three months, they followed a host of workshops and training sessions by Zoom on the ideation of their project and the development of their business model. The sectors of activity chosen by the various teams are varied: tourism, health and retail business. Profiles of the teams and their projects will be the subject of another blog post.
Finally, with less than three weeks to go before the end of the journey, the teams are preparing to present their project to a jury of Indigenous women of the “Dragon” type. This is in fact the closing activity of the training that will take place on December 7th.