TORONTO - An international delegation of officials from the United Nations and business people from around the globe descended on Toronto for the first World Summit of Indigenous Entrepreneurs (WSIE). Held Aug. 18 - 20 in the state-of-the-art BMO Financial Group Institute for Learning, the WSIE sought to create a forum for the discussion and promotion of indigenous business issues and services in the face of increasing globalization.
"The conference was a success," said Sujit Chowdhury, summit co-chair and global coordinator of the WSIE. "Our theme for this summit was 'Indigenous Entrepreneurs and World Trade: A New Mechanism for Shared Prosperity.' We came to Toronto with specific purposes and objectives, and we met them all." Despite the blackout that hit the eastern seaboard, the summit did not skip a beat.
Organized by the World Trade University Global Secretariat and in association with the United Nations, the WSIE featured plenary sessions and workshops by Native and non-Native experts in various fields including international trade and banking. The sessions and workshops were designed to provide participants with the opportunity to network, advertise their products and services and explore joint venture opportunities.
"The sessions were valuable for me and my company, specifically the networking opportunities," said Dennis Stark, a Toronto-based Native entrepreneur and founder of the newspaper "Tansi." "I made many new contacts and potential business partners."
Stark's experience epitomizes the WSIE's intent. "If one indigenous entrepreneur made one contact that would lead to a business transaction, then we have served our purpose," Chowdhury said.
One of the summit's objectives was to define the things that matter most to indigenous entrepreneurs globally. With hundreds of delegates representing 39 countries, including New Zealand, Guyana, and Peru, this task may have been daunting. However, despite the geographical distances that separate the participants, commonalities were apparent. The most urgent need that developed from the international delegates in attendance was a strong desire to define, create, and regulate the intellectual property of indigenous nations.
"It is fundamentally important to find a way to prevent cultural theft and appropriation of our symbols and property," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. "For far too long Native and Inuit people have been economic victims. We must protect what is ours to further our prosperity."
The delegates pointed to finding a balance to success for their communities. For all entrepreneurs, cultural responsibility shone through the business dealings. Many of the delegates expressed their desire for economic success as beneficial for their home community. "Economic success on a Native or Inuit community for one person has far greater impact than elsewhere," Watt-Cloutier said. "That one person can have a significant impact on many people in one community with a small population."
Similarly, economic growth to the detriment of cultural preservation was cautioned. Instead, delegates stressed a desire to find a balance between economic prosperity and sustainability of natural resources and cultural traditions. "The two can go hand in hand," Watt-Cloutier said.
The WTU hopes that the WSIE follows in the footsteps of the organization's other successful global summit, the World Summit of Young Entrepreneurs (WSYE) which has been held annually since 1993. Future summits are in the works but no date or location has been established. "It would only benefit the citizens of the world to have an economically successful and diverse population of indigenous entrepreneurs," Chowdhury said. "Together all of us should be able to define, shape and influence the things that matter most to the shared prosperity of indigenous peoples of the world."
For more information on the WSIE and the WTU, visit http://wsie.wtuglobal.org.