By 2020, Canada is forecast to be short one million skilled workers representing a direct threat to the continued health and vitality of our economy. Aboriginal Canadians are not only over a million strong today, but are the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population.
• Half are under 25;
• Canada’s working-age Aboriginal population grew by 25% between 1996 and 2001, 5 times the national average growth rate suggesting that the forecasted labor shortage can be partly met by Aboriginal communities themselves;
• By 2020, one in four new entrants to the labor market will be of Aboriginal ancestry, even though Aboriginal people constitute 4% of Canada’s population.
Not only does this rapid increase represent new customers and consumers, but a trained new pool of skilled and productive participants in the Canadian economy. Furthermore, there are signs that the fundamentals of Aboriginal economies are improving:
• Self employment, a measure of entrepreneurship, among Aboriginals has increased by over 170% between the 1981-1996 period versus 65% for all Canadians;
• More and more Aboriginal leaders are stressing the separation of business from politics when it concerns establishing business relationships with non Aboriginal companies;
• The success rate of Aboriginal businesses created with support from Aboriginal Financial Institutions has been far better than the Canadian average (business survival rate of 58% versus the Canadian average of 33%); and
• Land claim settlements will provide significant liquidity.
Significant economic and competitive value lay untapped within Aboriginal communities:
• Many reserves occupy strategic locations near urban centres or border the U.S;
• The real estate and asset base of aboriginal communities near urban centres is underdeveloped;
• Possibilities for distribution networks across reserves are unexplored; and
Taking this entrepreneurial zeal to a higher level is of paramount importance. Promoting entrepreneurship has a number of advantages over other approaches. It has the potential of retaining wealth within Aboriginal communities, thus creating a much-needed business infrastructure. If successful, the promotion of entrepreneurs can also create positive role models for other Aboriginal Canadians, who would see the tangible benefits of education and private sector enterprise. The promotion of entrepreneurship is a role that the private sector is best suited for. It is within that context that CAPE Fund was created. It represents a serious attempt to apply disciplined business and financial models to promote Aboriginal entrepreneurship and ownership of business.