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Sifc To Begin MBA Program

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1994      v23 n04 p21  
The School of Business and Public Administration at the SIFC and the College of Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan have combined their resources to design and implement a graduate-level business program relevant to aboriginal requirements in the public and private sectors.

SIFC School of Business and Public Administration Department Head, Paul Dudgeon says "The SIFC/U of S First Nations MBA Program is the only MBA Program in Canada designed specifically for aboriginal people. It will attract students from all over the world."

The First Nations MBA Program will focus on Aboriginal requirements in the native and non-native public and private sectors. The first students will enter the program in Saskatoon in September 1995.

Associate Dean Jack Vicq says there is sufficient demand - in North America from native and non-native students for the First Nation MBA program. Initially there will be 10 to 15 students in the program.

A working committee, with representatives from SIFC and the College of Commerce, was established to discuss curriculum, content, organization and management, funding and program delivery.

We will be making join appointments, and joint curriculum development decisions," explained Vicq.

In February 1994, a workshop was held at Wanuskewin Heritage Park to seek suggestions for developing and implementing the program. Participants included representatives from the academic institutions, Aboriginal and mainstream business, and governments. The workshops focused on curriculum, content, organization and management, funding and program delivery.

"We're listening to Aboriginal leaders, "says Kelly Lendsay, a recent graduate of the MBA program at the U of S, "and also to the needs in the private and public sectors."

Lendsay was one of the facilitators at the Wanuskewin workshops. According to him, "The SIFC/U of S program is being designed to reflect market place needs, based on the information we're getting about he actual needs in the real world."

In his MBA research, Lendsay says, we discovered that here is a tremendous demand in he Aboriginal and non-aboriginal sectors for professional managers. "Preparing Aboriginal students to work in both worlds is very important."

The process of design and development of the First Nation MBA Program will take approximately one year. This intensive planning phase will ensure the currenty and relevance of the program and will provide full opportunity for Aboriginal input and direction.

Richard Missens is graduate in Business Administration from SIFC who now teaches classes for the department. He says that "One of the things I see is the bright future this will mean for our people, the long reaching effects for communities."

SIFC senior Administration student, Cheryl Adams, has her sights set on an MBA from the College. She's been combining the necessary classes with work experience in the SIFC' s Registrars office. She is one of several SIFC arts, administration, social work and education students who plan to further their education in business and public administration, after completing their undergraduate program.

The First Nation approach to business is starkly different from the mainstream, according to Adams.

SIFC professor Bob Anderson agrees. "First Nations people do business differently, "he says. "Their organizational charts are flatter, often they're structured in circles which demonstrates the democratic nature of how business is managed in those communities."

"Consultation and giving everyone a chance to express their opinion is key and this is in direct contrast to the top-down hierarchies inmost mainstream corporations and in government," says Anderson. "We're now finding that those organizations are coming around to a management style that First Nations people have always used."

Cheryl sees the First Nations MBA program as a niche that the SIFC is filling in the education market. "That niche hasn't been recognized, and is possibly not even understood by planners of business management curricula in larger academic institutions, "she says. The First Nations approach to management is-very different than in the hierarchical, top down approach elsewhere. Students who learn participatory, consensus-building  practices in the classroom will take those skills with them into the workforce.

Cheryl's long-term goal is to work as a management consultant in a First Nation community. The times are clearly changing. Not long ago, most consultants employed by bands were non-Aboriginal. Now, the SIFC is graduating qualified and capable First Nation students who are eager to use their skills in a competitive work force. The icing on the cake is this new graduate-level program: The SIFC/U of S First Nations MBA.

Only 20 percent of jobs in the Indian economy are in small business, compared to 80 percent for all Canadians.

"Development is still key in First Nation communities," says Anderson, "especially economic development."

"This program emphasizes control over that development by First Nations people."

"Now they won't have to hire only non-Aboriginal consultants any more, because Aboriginal people are getting their administration and MBA degrees," says Anderson. "They're managing their own communities by themselves."

For over a decade, the SIFC has been graduating students with Bachelors degrees from its School of Business & Public Administration as well as graduates in Education, Social Work and the Liberal Arts. This has created a need for a new level of post-graduate in education, especially with the gains being made in the areas of self-government and the transfer of control.

The rebuilding of First Nation governments created a demand for graduates and many bachelor level First Nation graduates have had to function where masters level graduates would normally be required. The trend in Canada is to equip mid career managers with graduate level-education in business and public administration. Hence the proliferation of Executive Administration programs all across North America. Now, the First Nations MBA is fulfilling another niche.

"Programs must be relevant," says Mittens. "For too long, the only programs available to First Nations students were developed and delivered by non-Indians. Now First Nations are developing and delivering relevant programs and services to their communities and society.

The size and complexity of First Nations government is growing. Saskatchewan is a good example of Indian governments in action or the implementation of Indian government.

Here in Saskatchewan, First Nations Indian Government need human resources. In Western Canada, aboriginal people now comprise a significant proportion of the new entrants to the labour force and will have a tremendous impact on Canada's business environment. This will also have an impact on Canada's ability to compete internationally.

In spite of the efforts of government regulation in the area of employment equity, most private and public sector organizations still reveal under  representation of Aboriginal employees in their workforce especially in management. The problem, we are told, is that there are no Aboriginal people who have this level of academic preparation.

"We want to prepare people to work in both worlds so this program is well-suited to Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal students of business and administration, " says Lendsay. "Students will get an appreciation of how culture and values permeate business, and how they can demonstrate respect in the context of the culture in which they're doing business.

"The First Nation MBA program will be a learning environment in which this kind of information can be learned and shared."

Some Aboriginal people know very little about their own culture and they don't necessarily know about the differences between the political, legal and cultural traditions and those of other cultures. Many are becoming re-educated about the values and ethics of their own ancestors. The new program will introduce the students to many areas, such as comparative Management; joint ventures and new enterprise development; resource management; community development. Planning for Economic and Logical Development; Policy Formulation and Analysis of Aboriginal Systems; The Economics of Indian, Metis and Innuit People; Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Organizational Behaviour, and International Indigenous Management.

A few Aboriginal people have gone through the U of S programs, and they are now working in management and administration positions. Others are operating Aboriginal-owned businesses.

"There is a real potential for excellence, " says Kelly Lendsay. "We have had a great deal of success in other disciplines, like Aboriginal studies, social work education and law. Now we have to address the needs of Aboriginal people in the area of business management training."

"SIFC is bridging the gap between the graduate and the professional levels," says Missens. "Now that the SIFC is involve in offering an MBA program, Aboriginal people will become aware of it and consider it as an option in their career choice."

"All of this knowledge will take us where we want to go in our communities," says Missens, "so that economic development flourishes and self-government becomes a realizable event."

"We can only do this as we continue to promote self-determination and. provide the knowledge and skills required. " "The Elders have always told us to be the best of both worlds," Says Missens. "This MBA program will assist us in doing that."