Beedie School of Business, SFU: Executive MBA in Aboriginal Business and Leadership

Congratulations to SFU’s Beedie School of Business, 2013’s #10 Most Innovative Company in B.C.

B.C.’s aboriginal business community has a big stake in the province’s economic future. Treaty agreements, renewed autonomy over aboriginal land and increased control over health and social services have been game-changers for bands and First Nations across B.C. But future opportunities are still tied to present challenges, and big questions. Can business priorities reconcile with indigenous world views? And how can aboriginal business overcome the financial limitations and economic disadvantages embedded in the Indian Act and inherited from a history of colonization?

The Executive MBA in Aboriginal Business and Leadership at SFU’s Beedie School of Business is tackling these challenges head on. Launched last September, the program attracted business leaders, administrators and senior officials as students, including Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell, and former mayor of West Vancouver, Pam Goldsmith-Jones.

Semesters are divided into tight, two-week sessions at SFU’s downtown campus, allowing the participants to ferry between the Lower Mainland and their full-time jobs, with some participants travelling from as far away as the Yukon.

According to program director Mark Selman, 80 per cent of the content is the same as the regular EMBA. The difference? Addressing the role of indigenous knowledge in the boardroom, and the accounting for unique policy and governance issues that aboriginal enterprises face.

“We look at standard business models like Apple, but we get to a point where that won’t work in our communities, so then we have to make it applicable within our world,” explains Tamara Goddard, a student in the program’s inaugural semester and the founder and CEO of Blue Habitats Distribution Ltd., a manufacturer of eco-friendly building supplies.

Six months in, the program is a pilot for First Nations professional training, and has provoked conversations about aboriginal commerce and economic development. Teck Resources Ltd., a financial supporter of the program along with Vancity, started hiring students two months in. Selman says other Canadian universities are interested in developing a similar program.

“The education goes two ways,” says Goddard. In tackling issues from climate change to urban poverty, “learning from other cultures that have a different way of approaching business is what we need.”