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Digital divide holds back Indigenous communities and Canada's economy, new report finds – CBC.ca

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It’s hard enough to start a business, but young Indigenous entrepreneurs face an even more uphill battle because of a systemic digital gap that’s holding them back — along with Canada’s entire economy.

That’s the main takeaway from a new report by RBC, after spending the last 18 months analyzing economic data and talking with Indigenous stakeholders about how to unlock and maximize their economic potential.

The report includes findings from online surveys of 2,000 Indigenous youth who agreed to participate in the bank’s Future Launch initiative, a 10-year, $500-million bank-funded initiative to help prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow.

The Indigenous youth population in Canada is growing at a pace four times faster than the rest of the country’s youth, the report says, and Indigenous people create new businesses at nine times the Canadian average.

And while Indigenous entrepreneurs are a vast and growing cohort, a big reason they remain a largely untapped resource is a yawning digital divide.

Missed opportunity

It’s something that Edmonton-based business owner Mallory Yawnghwe knows firsthand. Growing up in Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, she never saw the online world as a career opportunity because digital infrastructure in her community was so poor.

Last year, the federal government promised to make sure 98 per cent of the country has access to high-speed internet within five years. Despite that commitment, the report says more than three-quarters of households in First Nations communities don’t have it.

In a global economy that’s moving more and more online, that’s holding them back.

“I come from a reserve where we have very poor internet access,” Yawnghwe said in an interview. “To this day … literally you can’t get internet out there unless you have a connection to a Wi-Fi source, which a lot of people don’t have.”

It wasn’t until she got a business degree from MacEwan University in Edmonton that she saw the economic potential of being digitally connected.

Fast forward to 2020, the pandemic gave her an unexpected chance to fulfil her passion to elevate her community. 

Using her digital skills, she reached out to other Indigenous business owners about selling their products packaged together with other Indigenous-made items, from beauty products, to food, to housewares.

Indigenous Box was born — and it’s growing quickly. Launched in the spring of 2021 with a plan to ship four seasonal boxes a year, Yawnghwe says her customer base has already quadrupled and is now in the thousands.

“I see it as an opportunity to really shine some light on just what amazing things Indigenous entrepreneurs are doing,” she said.

Keith Matthew, director of the Tulo Centre for Indigenous Economics at Thompson Rivers University in B.C., says he sees those impacts himself all the time.

A former councillor and chief of the Simpcw First Nation, about an hour north of Kamloops, B.C., Matthew says that less than 20 years ago, the community was relying on dozens of unreliable and expensive dial-up internet connections.

In 2007, the local council decided to spend $175,000 to set up a fibre-optic connection, and Matthew says it was the best investment they ever made.

WATCH | How high speed Internet has been a life saver during COVID-19:

Keith Matthew of the Simpcw First Nation near Kamloops says high speed internet has been a life saver for his community, especially during the pandemic. 0:38

“If we didn’t have that connection, a lot of young people would not have [what] they need to advance their careers,” he said in an interview.

Two-thirds of jobs currently held by Indigenous workers in Canada are in danger of either being eliminated or drastically changed by technology, according to the RBC report.

Remote and rural communities are especially in danger because of the infrastructure gap, Matthew said. “Young people get left further and further behind [and] it exacerbates the issue of young people leaving.”

Julie Nagam says that when you give people access to digital tools they didn’t have before, there’s no telling what they will come up with — and the rewards are often great. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

The advantages of being digitally connected are vast — and they often pay off in ways you don’t expect, says Julie Nagam, director of the Winnipeg-based Aabijijiwan New Media Lab. The recently opened lab provides access to basic web tools, such as computers for sound and video editing work, all the way up to complex tasks, like 3D printing and computer animation.

When you give someone access to creative digital tools they didn’t have before, “the sky’s the limit,” said Nagam. “That provides people the opportunity to dream, to think about what’s the potential, the future and where they can push it.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen until people actually have access to that,” she said. “It provides people with new opportunities and new potential training and job opportunities.”

But it’s not just skills and infrastructure that can pose a problem. The report found there’s a systemic bias at play that robs Indigenous entrepreneurs of one of their secret weapons: Confidence.

While the young people surveyed were very confident on the whole in their problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and creative skills, they were 13 per cent less likely to describe themselves as having enough digital skills to thrive.

That makes sense to Yawnghwe. “Throughout my life I felt I tried to not feel discouraged by racism, by discrimination, by people thinking that I wasn’t smart enough to be in these spaces,” she said.

Those biased assumptions play out in unequal access to funding from banks. As the RBC report acknowledges, Indigenous people “face structural and systemic barriers to financial security, from restrictions under the Indian Act on asset ownership, to racial bias of lenders.”

Barriers to capital

A 2017 report from the National Indigenous Economic Development Board found that Indigenous businesses get roughly 10 times less access to investment capital than other businesses do. That means Indigenous people get less than 0.2 per cent of all the credit in Canada, despite making up almost five per cent of the population.

RBC tabulates that the Indigenous economy in Canada is currently worth about $33 billion, but growing it to a level proportionate to its population would triple that amount. 

That’s almost $70 billion worth of new money for local communities — and Canada’s economy as a whole. 

For Yawnghwe, it’d be an especially welcome sight to see.

“We’re natural entrepreneurs,” she said. “We are the original supply chain of this entire continent, with a trade network that spanned the entire continent prior to colonization. We are just stepping back into these spaces.”

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'Freak-Out' Factor Will Determine Delta's Impact on US Economy – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — The rapid spread of the delta variant has sown volatility in financial markets this week, but thus far economists are maintaining their forecasts for an historically strong U.S. recovery.

Key to their relative confidence: officials are unlikely to order renewed lockdowns, and most consumers won’t drastically alter their plans. Any change in that assessment, and bets are off.

“The delta variant is posing a growing risk, but it’s probably not to the point that we should be making big, negative changes in our outlook,” Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist who’s now a senior fellow at the Jain Family Institute, said in an interview. The outbreak has largely affected the unvaccinated so far, but Sahm said if it keeps spreading, “we’re going to find out a lot more about how much of that impacts the vaccinated and how much it freaks them out.”

For now, the rough consensus is that spending, travel and business activity will only be affected at the margin. Even late last year, when waves of Covid-19 cases hit the U.S., the recovery continued apace.

U.S. GDP is on course to jump 6.6% this year, and quarterly growth rates will be handily beating the average of the past decade well into 2022, Bloomberg surveys of economists show.

Andrew Husby at Bloomberg Economics highlights three factors that give him some confidence:

  • While Covid-19 cases have been surging, hospitalizations and deaths haven’t
  • The biggest impact has been in areas of lesser economic importance, such as some southern U.S. states
  • Some of the groups most at risk are least likely to change behavior

Bloomberg Economics: What’s the Delta From Delta Variant? Not Much

Nationwide high-frequency data show that Americans continue to spend and eat out at restaurants, as seen from compilers including OpenTable. New York City last week saw demand for hotel rooms hit its highest since the pandemic hit.

Still, there are inklings of potential change: Los Angeles County has reimposed a mask mandate. Apple Inc. delayed its office reopening. In markets, longer-term Treasury yields — those most sensitive to the outlook for growth — on Thursday were heading for a fourth straight week of declines.

Following are the comments of a number of economists on the delta variant’s economic impact:

‘Fluid Situation’

“So far, we haven’t seen any impact in the U.S. when it comes to real-time data,” said Aneta Markowska, Jefferies chief U.S. economist, by phone. “In fact, it looks like momentum actually improved in June, with foot traffic in particular. And that requires the opposite of social distancing.”

If Covid-19 “spikes stay localized, it’s hard to imagine a big national impact. Is a school reopening in New York State or in California going to be delayed because of a localized outbreak in Louisiana? Probably not. Obviously, it’s a fluid situation. It changes the risk profile, but it doesn’t change the base case for the U.S. outlook.”

JPMorgan’s Caution

“The delta variant may impart a little more caution in consumer behavior,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note Thursday.

JPMorgan trimmed its estimate for consumer spending growth to 4.5% for the third quarter from 5% previously. Still, with inventory gains offering upside risks, Feroli left this quarter’s gross domestic product forecast unchanged at 8.3%.

Local Caseload

“I do not think the impact will be marginal,” said William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO, in an email. Policy makers are underestimating how many people will remain home from work amid rising infections, and that it will hit prime-age workers hardest this time, he said.

“Even though the most-affected states are extremely unlikely to shut down, people stopped economic activity because of local caseload — not because of public orders. So, we could see retail sales continue to remain flat, as they have since March.”

Watch Schools

“The variant will do meaningful economic damage if it causes people to resume sheltering-in-place and forces schools to remain online when the school year starts in a few weeks,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in an email.

“Odds are uncomfortably high there will be other variants that are highly contagious, virulent, and elude our vaccines,” he said. But, “putting aside these dark scenarios, it remains highly unlikely the Delta variant would short-circuit the economic recovery.”

Vaccination Shield

“At least in the U.S., I just do not see the appetite for taking steps that would discernibly slow the economy — even mask mandates look like they will only be re-applied in a few places,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC, in an email.

Stanley pointed out in a research note to clients that even though cases have risen at a faster-than-expected pace, nearly half of Americans are now fully vaccinated and more are seeking to be inoculated each day as public health efforts ramp up. That limits the risk of the new Covid-19 variant and helps assuage consumers, he said.

British Example

In the U.K., where the delta variant spread rapidly before it became prevalent in the U.S., “hospitalizations and deaths remain so far below where they were the last time cases were this high,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research.

“I don’t see much downside to the economy. Consumers remain flush with cash and spending continues apace. Inventories remain low and are likely to rebuilt in the months ahead, supporting manufacturing production. Homebuilders are working through backlogs, particularly now as construction costs have moderated, supporting residential investment. Capital spending intentions remain strong.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Widening Circles – The Startup That’s Attracting Big Retail To The Circular Economy – Forbes

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The circular economy is no longer a novelty. Instead of buying a drill that will be used two or three times and then locked in a cupboard, increasing numbers of us are renting from our peers via apps.. And rather than making the choice between cheap fast fashion and much less affordable designer labels, millennials and  Generation Z’ers, in particular, are comfortable with buying premium brands secondhand. This is, by and large, a good thing – not least because it prevents an awful lot of stuff from piling into the nation’s landfill sites.    

The circular economy tends to be associated with the startup boom – companies that start out small and build an audience – but it seems bigger names are getting in on the act.,  

Witness Fat Llama, a British peer-to-peer rental company launched in 2017. This year the company launched a new enterprise platform aimed at allowing major retailers to offer a rental option to their customers. In the first instance, the focus is on furniture and the company has so far partnered with national brands, John Lewis, DFS, and Sofology. 

So what’s going on here exactly?  The first thing that has to be said is that Britons of a certain age are no strangers to renting high-ticket goods from High Street stores. For instance, track back to the 60s and 70s most consumers opted to pay for their color TVs through monthly rental deals rather than buying outright. It was a question of affordability back then and as wages rose and prices fell (relatively speaking), acquisition became the order of the day.  

Today, affordability may still be a factor. As the pandemic drags on many of us may well be reluctant to spend upfront on big-ticket items, such as furniture. Added that is the fact that here in the U.K., house purchase prices have risen beyond the reach of many first-time buyers. And if you’re renting an apartment on a short-term lease, maybe you would rather pay monthly for the furniture too. 

A Fundamental Shift 

These are situational factors, but  Fat Llama co-founder,  Chaz Englander believes there has been a more fundamental cultural and generational shift. Put simply, the millennial and generation Z cohorts are not that comfortable with a buy, discard forget approach to consumption. 

“Sustainability is an enormous issue,” Englander says. “People are no longer comfortable with the idea that you buy something and then throw it away. Maybe it goes to eBay or Gumtree for a while but ultimately it ends up in landfill.” 

As he sees it, people in their twenties are particularly interested in living sustainably and that desire to tread a bit more lightly on the planet is driving the circular economy as whole. Part of the trend is a demand for rental furniture, not just from specialist marketplaces but from big retail names.  Hence Fat Llama’s list of partners. 

But are big retailers – who after have done very well out of charging upfront for their products – really ready to embrace a new paradigm?

Adaptation

Fat Llama’s experience suggests that rather than resisting the sustainability trend, some companies have been proactively looking at how to adapt to changes in the consumer marketplace.  “We were approached by a household name about building an enterprise platform in 2019,” recalls Englander. “

On that occasion, Fat Llama said no, deciding instead to focus on its existing peer-to-peer business. But circumstances changed. “We decided it wasn’t something we want to work on at that point but then the pandemic happened and we lost about 80 percent of our transactions. So we decided to look again at a business-to-business solution.”

It wasn’t quite a case of pushing at an open door. Englander says that while strategists within retail organizations detected demand for rental options, financial directors tended to be a lot more cautious. But now it seems that strategies are indeed changing. Englander cites the example of Sofology – now designing products specifically for rent through its The Loop initiative.. “They have a metal frame which can be reupholstered and reused,” he says. 

On Trial

In the first instance, Fat Llama ran a trial with John Lewis. Although scheduled for eight weeks, the rental stock sold out in 48 hours. 

With that market validated, Fat Llama has developed a rental platform that reflects the brands of participating retailers and is looking ahead to further partnerships.  

But is there really a market trend here or just a temporary blip? And will increasing numbers of retailers turn to marketplace providers to open up new circular economy business lines? There are signs of wider changes afoot. Beyond Fat Llama,  department store chain Selfridges has also developed a rental offering in collaboration with lending company HURR. 

At this point, we’re probably looking at a grand experiment that may or may not signal a long-term market sea change but it’s certainly the case that retailers are seeing a need to innovate and perhaps also to partner with sharing economy companies.

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Calgary researcher looks at what Alberta's economic diversification could look like – Calgary Herald

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‘We are facing more challenges than in recent decades, and I think it’s time we be more thoughtful and focused on the longer term’

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As calls for economic diversification are renewed in Alberta amid work to recover from the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Calgary researcher says traditional diversification may not be the answer to stabilizing the province’s economy.

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When things get tough in Alberta, people often say the province needs to diversify by stepping away from a reliance on oil and gas toward new or better industries, said Robert Mansell, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Calgary and research fellow at the School of Public Policy.

The shocks of low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic have revived the discussion, Mansell said.

However, he argued that effective diversification is more likely to include increasing the range of goods and services produced by existing sectors in the province, promoting growth of markets for exports and creating competitive substitutes for imports.

“We can’t think there’s a quick fix to changing the industrial structure. There are things we can do, in terms of diversifying markets, expanding the range of products and improving the investment climate for new industries,” Mansell said Thursday.

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Mansell and his fellow researchers determined that Alberta’s rate of employment diversification is one of the best in the country, but is worse off when it comes to income diversification and value-added — or GDP — due to the size of the oil and gas industry.

Some of his suggestions for improving the stability of Alberta’s economy include reintroducing a heritage fund to save money, rebalancing federal procurement and repatriating the federal carbon tax.

“We do have a record of building strength in adversity,” said Mansell.

“We are facing more challenges than in recent decades, and I think it’s time we be more thoughtful and focused on the longer term. As opposed to looking for short-term fixes, let’s have a serious conversation about what we need to do over the next decade or more, and how we’re going to do it.”

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The paper concludes that the instability of the province’s oil and gas sector remains the highest risk to Alberta’s long-term prosperity. However, the province has the tools to adapt and innovate in a way “that will be critical in achieving a successful transition for this dominant sector.”

Mansell’s report is one of 24 research papers by the School of Public Policy, which will ultimately be grouped together to create three e-books published by the school. The research for the Alberta Futures Project is anticipated to form a basis for new policy to revitalize the province, with information on alternatives for Alberta’s fiscal, economic and policy future.

The reports touch on various topics — including financial planning and sustainability, Alberta’s energy sector and poverty — from a number of experts and researchers. And the project will also look at the future of Alberta’s health care, as the province transitions out of its pandemic response in the coming months.

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“This is to bring together thoughtful analysis of where we’ve been, where we are and what the future looks like, and what we should be doing to anticipate it,” said Mansell.

“Not everybody agrees and some talk about some of the hard choices that need to be made, like if we’re ultimately going to have a sales tax.”

Two of the reports — written by authors Mansell and Robert Ascah — were released Thursday as pre-publications.

Ascah’s research looks more closely at the province’s debt, the importance of addressing debt and how Alberta’s current fiscal crisis compares to those of the past.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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