In his first ambassador role outside of sports-related contracts, Notah Begay III has teamed up with REDW LLC, one of the southwest’s 10 largest certified public accounting and business consulting firms.
Begay, who earned his bachelor's degree in economics at Stanford University, pursued the relationship to promote financial literacy in tribal communities, and to help REDW build out its services for tribal governments and companies. "Finance is like being in the middle of the ocean, and if you don't have a boat, you're going to drown," Begay told ICTMN in a phone interview.
That's why he not only thinks tribes should work with a trusted financial advisor like REDW, he wants Native youth to pursue careers in accounting and finance. "If a Native American kid gets a degree in accounting, they will never not have a job," Begay said. "There will always be work for them, for the rest of their lives. I think that's a very strong message to be sent."
REDW works with about 200 tribes and has been in the space for more than 30 years. Begay underscored that the firm demonstrated loyalty to Indian country before the gaming windfall: "The were in Indian country prior to the introduction of the gaming aspect and have had a consistent presence in over three decades of service to tribes," he said.
Left to right: Notah Begay III, REDW Principals Lisa Wilcox & James Montoya
Begay pursued the partnership with REDW when he realized the many parallel interests between REDW's mission and his desire to encourage "young Indian students to become financially literate in whatever specialty peaks their curiosity," he said. "I felt like there is definite synergy between what I believe in and what they are doing as a company.
"I think REDW understands the importance of financial literacy and entrepreneurship in our Indian communities, and they want to do more to try and cultivate talent from these communities, but also to promote stronger backgrounds in accounting, finance and entrepreneurship," Begay said. "At the end of the day, if we're successful in these pursuits as a team, it's going to produce [tribal] leaders that have a better understanding of the world of finance, which is so vast."
Begay was the first full-blooded American Indian (one-half Navajo, one-quarter San Felipe and one-quarter Isleta) to play the PGA Tour, and he won it four times. Retired from playing professionally, today he's a golf analyst and on-course reporter for NBC Universal and the Golf Channel. Throughout his career, Begay has devoted much of his time to developing the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F). The nonprofit, founded in 2005, provides health and wellness education and access to sport for American Indian youth and aims to reverse the tides of type 2 diabetes and obesity in Indian country. The entrepreneur and philanthropist's economics degree also came into play when he launched his golf course design business NB3 Consulting, as well as KivaSun Foods, his all-natural, traditional Native food company with retail accounts like Costco and Walmart.
The REDW-Begay partnership is mutually beneficial. Begay will endorse REDW’s services and serve as brand ambassador, and REDW will support Begay’s personal and corporate financial endeavors. The firm will also provide services to his philanthropic initiatives, including sponsoring the NB3 Foundation’s annual "Grande Slam" golf tournament at Santa Ana Golf Club in Albuquerque.
Begay sees many advantages to tribal governments working with REDW, which offers services in diverse industries. "When you have great partners that have a variety of specialties that are important to day-to-day activities in tribal administration, then it opens up time. Because they can do more for you, and you trust them," Begay said.
REDW offers auditing, accounting, financial reporting, internal controls and other basic financial tracking systems that are fundamental for any government, and the firm is well-versed in handling the unique funding mechanisms and reporting requirements of tribal governments. "Whether it be education, social infrastructure, or health and wellness, there's so much demand placed on tribal leaders and the government right now. Wherever you can partner with an organization that alleviates the workload, it's definitely to the benefit of the tribe," Begay said.
Begay will use the REDW platform to visit Indian schools nationwide. And he'll strive to make accounting and finance "fun" to Native youth.
"Accounting has this really bad perception of being boring. It's actually really fun when you start looking at how it impacts our daily lives," Begay said. "...Honestly, I love accounting. Accounting affects us all — every single one of us from our tax returns to our audits to our compliance with the way some gaming compacts are structured. If we can have more young people educated in these areas, it's only going to make our communities stronger down the road."