When one considers the amount of resources on First Nations and Métis lands, the potential for economic activity is almost unimaginable. However, tapping into those resources can be a challenge that is not solved by simply throwing in money, as direction and support go a long way to improving the fortunes of an investment. In order to provide that direction and support, the Business Ready Investment Development Gateway (BRIDG) program was established.
"BRIDG was created to help First Nations and Métis communities become more active in economic pursuits and businesses related to the energy and resources sector," says Vern Bachiu with Westcap Management Ltd. (Westcap), the fund manager responsible for BRIDG. "All communities have a need to become more involved, but there’s also the need to develop the capacity to do that."
"So to increase the success of these transactions, the program delivers business readiness training and development related to governance, legal, investment and industry specific issues."
Instead of simply investing the seed money for a venture, BRIDG helps make sure those ventures bear fruit. Beyond normal business concerns a community owned corporation brings with it a myriad of questions that must be addressed: Who will be on the board of directors? How will they be appointed? What skills do they need? What is being reported back to the shareholders?
BRIDG is funded by Department of Indian Affairs, which identified a need to link the profitable energy sector with resource-rich Aboriginal communities. The aim is to improve the socio-economic situation of First Nations and Métis populations by tapping into the opportunities encased in their land and generate wealth from within. This direction also allows other companies to work with Aboriginal communities and employ people that are eager to enter the workforce, while ensuring no groups get left behind, says Bachiu. The business priorities are set by the communities themselves and the importance of each individual investment is weighed by those people who recognize the impact of every financial decision or venture.
Energy and resources is the primary focus but there is also an emphasis placed on exploring investments at the secondary level, allowing the financial focus to become more flexible. "In fact, we encourage communities to diversify so they don’t put their eggs all in one basket. The initial direction is energy and resources but we advise communities to look at businesses that benefit them whether it is transport or construction or some other support service."
Examples of enterprises involving BRIDG communities include strategic investment centred on a natural gas project at Carry the Kettle First Nations; implementing the Harvard Governance Model and addressing overall business readiness preparation with the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council; and helping Sakimay become more active and diversified in economic development and positioning themselves well with key land investments.
"The BRIDG communities are actively looking for partnerships and joint ventures with companies experienced in the mining services industry," says Bachiu.
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