Canada’s Profitability Needs Globally Connected Indigenous Youth


The teaching of the seven generations tells us that we must consider how our words, our work and our actions will impact our seventh generation. The great-great-grandchildren of our great-grandchildren. It’s a powerful approach.

Investing in Indigenous education is something that is guaranteed to pay off for generations to come. As the fastest growing demographic group in Canada, Indigenous youth contribute significantly not only to the future success of their communities, but also to that of our country.

A new way to support Aboriginal youth is to help and encourage them to gain work and study experience abroad.

Global study teaches problem solving, communication, cultural sensitivity, languages, adaptability and teamwork – skills that students take back to their classrooms and communities. Students who study or work abroad generally earn more in their careers and are more resilient in the global economy than those who do not.

Canadian companies benefit from hiring people who can build strong and trusting relationships across borders. Time spent abroad connects students to opportunity-rich international networks, strengthening Canada’s ties to destination countries and directly supporting our business goals.

In addition, Aboriginal people create businesses nine times more than non-Aboriginal people and are twice as likely to export or seek to export to other countries. It makes perfect sense for Canada to support its fastest growing demographics to go global.

I can attest to the benefits of first-hand international experiences. In grade 12, as a Rotary youth exchange student, I attended high school in Turku, Finland, and lived with three different families.

It was an amazing learning and growing experience. Living abroad at 17, completely immersed in another culture and another lifestyle, taught me perseverance and openness to new opportunities.

The experience of making friendships between different cultures, sometimes with significant language barriers, plays a huge role in who I am today.

Before COVID, only 11% of Canadian undergraduate students and 3% of college students participated in an international experience while studying. These numbers were much lower among Aboriginal students.

Recognizing the need, the federal government launched the Global Skills Opportunity (GSO) program in 2021. Created to help students gain international skills, it is a $95 million investment in Canada’s future .

I’m particularly drawn to the program’s focus on access for all Canadian post-secondary students. At least 50% of the funding is directed to underrepresented students, that is, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and those from low-income backgrounds.

At the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, we continually see two key barriers for Aboriginal youth and entrepreneurs: equitable access to programs and networks.

This means not only giving everyone the opportunity to participate, but also having the necessary supports and removing all barriers to access.

This is what the GSO is aiming for.

Not only does G.S.O. provide additional funding for underrepresented students, it is also designed to make the whole process easier. For example, many trips only last a few weeks, which is more feasible for students with family or work obligations. Some experiences are being offered virtually – an unexpected, but welcome result of the pandemic.

Several projects carried out under the aegis of the G.S.O. have integrated indigenous approaches and are in contact with indigenous communities in other countries. In some cases, an Aboriginal Elder accompanies students on their travels.

The program is already producing results.

In the few months since safe international travel resumed, more than 1,000 Canadian college and university students have embarked on life-changing and career-boosting international experiences through the GSO program. Of these, almost a fifth identified as Aboriginal.

This is just the beginning. By 2025, more than 16,000 Canadian post-secondary students will benefit from GSO’s program.

We have important work to do as we look forward to the world we will leave to our next seven generations, and we must do it together.

Tabatha Bull is President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

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