USask researcher studying COVID-19 impact on Indigenous businesses

SASKATOON – Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), has been awarded $25,000 in federal funding to study the impact of COVID-19 on Aboriginal Economic Development Corporations (AEDCs) which have helped to greatly expand the number and scale of Indigenous businesses nationally.

“It is imperative that we begin to foster an understanding of how the AEDCs have been affected by the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Coates, a professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, USask campus.

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AEDCs are owned by Indigenous communities and serve as umbrella organizations that form and operate businesses on behalf of citizens, holding millions of dollars in assets and generating revenues to help meet community needs. These organizations are also a vital conduit for companies seeking to engage with Indigenous communities.

Since AEDCs are larger and more diversified than privately owned Indigenous businesses, they have leveraged their size and even partnered with other AECDs to tap into regional supply chains and expand their reach and revenue. Indigenous businesses contribute more than an estimated $30 billion to the Canadian economy annually, a figure that had been anticipated to grow steadily before the pandemic.

Through a Partnership Engage Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Coates will partner on the study with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB)—a recognized global leader in Indigenous business research, with an expansive store of data related to the operating capacity and economic development of AEDCs in Canada.

“This research represents the first step toward understanding, supporting and informing economic recovery policy as it pertains to AEDCs in Canada,” Coates said.

The study will begin by analyzing CCAB data gathered in a 2018 research survey on the umbrella groups. This will be followed by CCAB collecting a new wave of data by interviewing 10 senior officials of the AECDs.

Researchers can then use information on key demographic, economic, and operational factors to compare the pre- and post-pandemic status of AEDCs in Canada to provide SSHRC with an up-to-date picture that can inform government economic recovery policies that affect Indigenous business organizations.

The information gathered during the project could be used to pursue a further partnership between USask and CCAB for an in-depth research project on economic recovery policy and the actions of AEDC leaders as they manage their organizations in a post-pandemic marketplace.

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