By JP Gladu and Kevin Thomas
There is a massive change afoot in the economic picture for Indigenous peoples in Canada, based on solid entrepreneurship, a growing and able young population, visionary leadership, own-source capital and strong networks to scale up that potential.
Yet that potential will only be fully realized if other investors, especially institutional investors, latch on to that opportunity and foster it.
Canadian investors can play an important role in building a resilient Indigenous economy in their role as employers, capital providers and shareholders.
Importantly, they can address the too-often neglected demand side of the economic development equation.
Most research and programs have focused on the need for greater investment in skills development and education of Indigenous peoples, boosting the supply of trained and savvy Indigenous employees and entrepreneurs. But if that’s going to result in real economic growth, we also have to look for ways capital providers can enhance the demand for those Indigenous employees and the goods and services produced by Indigenous businesses.
Our new report, Moving Capital, Shifting Power, commissioned by the Government of Canada, identifies a range of opportunities and challenges for institutional investors to contribute to economic reconciliation and support the advancement of Indigenous peoples.
Overall, we found that the majority of investment organizations are not yet integrating Indigenous issues into their policies or decision-making in a manner that would translate into positive increases in Indigenous employment, advancement, procurement opportunities or investment in Indigenous business. Some of the barriers that currently impede investment organizations include limited awareness of the opportunities and risks involved, a lack of resources for supporting knowledge development in this area, and a dearth of suitable investment vehicles for large-scale investment in Indigenous businesses.
Economic reconciliation is still in its infancy across parts of the financial system.
However, there are great opportunities for asset owners, asset managers, data providers and the Government of Canada to leverage their power to help build a resilient and dynamic Indigenous economy.
There is a growing interest among institutional investors that want to support economic reconciliation, particularly those who have made commitments to responsible and impact investing. Together, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE) are working with investors of all sizes to support economic reconciliation in ways that create new opportunities for Indigenous people to own and grow their businesses, find meaningful employment and advance into leadership roles across the entire economy.
Investment organizations can increase internal education, implement more inclusive hiring and diversity policies, and revise procurement policies to maximize opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
These organizations can also ensure that reconciliation and Indigenous rights are incorporated into their overall investment analyses, including in asset selection, shareholder engagement with investee companies, and shareholder voting policies.
For example, earlier this year, SHARE worked with Coast Funds, a financing group created and overseen by First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, to design and implement proxy voting guidelines that address Indigenous rights at publicly-traded companies. This has helped Coast Funds set a new, innovative standard in Canada through its efforts to align their investments with their values – including reconciliation.
We are also urging investee companies to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities, for example by committing to CCAB’s Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program – a rigorous certification system for corporate practices, independently evaluated by an Indigenous board – and by opening the door to procurement opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
Fundamentally, investment is all about building a better future. The future of Canada’s economy is Indigenous. There is no better time for investors to leverage their power to ensure their decisions contribute to economic reconciliation and building prosperity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike.
JP Gladu is the President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, a leader in Aboriginal Business in Canada committed to strengthening Indigenous communities, promoting progressive and prosperous relationships, and growing a new economy based on mutual respect and shared prosperity.
Kevin Thomas is the CEO of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), a Canadian leader in responsible investment services, research and education for institutional investors.