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Native American Social Entrepreneurship Initiative To Increase Reservation Businesses


Northwest Area Foundation has launched a Native American Social Entrepreneurship Initiative to build Indian economies by spurring reservation-based Native businesses.

Over the course of two years, the foundation will award $1.59 million in grants to bolster Native financial institutions that can spawn new businesses and new jobs. The ultimate goal is for businesses and wealth to strengthen Indian communities, and as a byproduct formulate solutions to social issues.

“Historically, less than one-half of one percent of philanthropic dollars is invested in Native American programs, and studies indicate that number is decreasing. This initiative seeks to invest in Native communities’ ability to reduce poverty and build prosperity. We hope other funders will see this as an opportunity for investment and impact,” said Kevin Walker, president and chief executive officer of Northwest Area Foundation, in a release.

The Foundation's Native American Roundtables have found that funds also support efforts in healthcare, education, economic development, community revitalization and more.

“Native social entrepreneurship offers great hope for social change that reduces poverty. Currently, most Native American reservations have little to no locally-based businesses. When nearly all money is spent outside Native communities, there are few opportunities to create jobs, earn a living, and build prosperous families,” added Walker.

Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network (ONABEN) of Tigard, Oregon will lead the two-year initiative. The Foundation awarded ONABEN a $491,627 grant to support an educational cohort in which the participating Native organizations will meet regularly to learn and share best practices. The goal is to increase their ability to improve entrepreneurship in their communities. Training and assistance will focus on strengthening their operations and prospects for long-term sustainability and on applying entrepreneurial principles to social issues in the broader community. Participants will test innovative asset-based strategies and expand services that create assets and wealth.

Six additional grants have been awarded to Native nonprofits participating in the cohort. Many of these organizations are community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that support new businesses with loans, business plan development, marketing assistance, and financial projections. In addition, they will receive funds to implement pilot programs that build assets and wealth.

Four Bands Community Fund Inc. of Eagle Butte, South Dakota, will receive up to $100,000 over two years to create a green business development curriculum, including green business training and entrepreneurship outreach services. Four Bands will work in partnership with Cheyenne River Tribal Ventures.

Hunkpati Investments Inc. of Fort Thompson, South Dakota, will receive up to $200,000 for its fledgling CDFI, which seeks to stimulate economic growth on the Crow Creek Sioux Indian reservation. Located in one of the most impoverished regions in the nation, Hunkpati Investments will pilot a youth financial initiative offering financial education, job training, matched savings accounts, and hands-on business experience.

Lakota Funds of Kyle, South Dakota, will receive up to $200,000 to support a pilot project for a children’s matched savings program known as Children’s Development Accounts (CDA). The program will offer financial education that embraces partnerships with area schools, churches, and other community organizations. If successful, the CDAs will be introduced on other American Indian reservations.

Northwest Native Development Fund (NNDF) of Nespelem, Washington, will receive up to $200,000 to implement its Growing into Our Footprint project which will expand business training, outreach, tax preparation assistance, and access to loans. This initiative will promote matched savings programs and use of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Taala Fund of Taholah, Washington, will receive up to $200,000 for the Quinault Asset Building initiative, which introduces youth to financial management and business principles in order to pave pathways to future prosperity. The grant provides resources for the Taala Fund, a CDFI, to provide asset-building services such as training, assistance, and microloans.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation's Business Service Center of Pendleton, Oregon, will receive up to $200,000 to provide business and financial education as early as elementary school. The curriculum will include a hands-on summer internship for middle school and high school students to prepare them for the emerging economy on the Umatilla reservation.

The Northwest Area Foundation serves urban, rural and American Indian reservation communities in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The Great Northern Railway, founded by James J. Hill, served these states. Hill’s son, Louis W. Hill, established the Foundation in 1934.