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Transformational change—one day at a time

Photo provided by Asper School of Business.
Photo provided by Asper School of Business.

The Asper School of Business walks the talk on reconciliation

Seven years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) findings were released, providing a guide for Canadians to do the work that meaningful reconciliation requires. The 94 Calls to Action show us the way to reconciliation, and what needs to be done to make transformative change that true reconciliation requires. Educational institutions and corporate Canada have a major role to play, and today many are on the path. 

The I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba is committed to the role it can play in reconciliation for both education and business and the transformation needed to make it happen. 

“Our reconciliation journey began several years ago,” says Dr. Bruno Silvestre, Dean at the Asper School of Business. “We knew that when we started the process, we needed to understand what real reconciliation meant, and take the time to do it right.” While the school had already established several programs and scholarships for Indigenous students, it had to do more. 

“Awareness training is just the starting point. The school needed an approach that considered all aspects of reconciliation, with a plan for change—not just box checking.” Asper launched a standing group named the Committee on Indigenous Business Scholarship (CIBS), comprised of motivated staff and faculty to address reconciliation and develop the strategy that would lead the process.  

“CIBS has been looking at everything from curriculum changes to how courses can not only build awareness of Indigenous history, but also incorporate Indigenous perspectives and methodologies,” says Silvestre. Beyond education, the committee also examined the barriers Indigenous students face and gaps in the traditional institutional structure that prevent those challenges from being addressed. 

This process led to the opening of two Indigenous faculty positions (a search is in progress), and the understanding of the importance of increasing the critical mass within the school at all levels: faculty, staff and students.  A profound approach that is set to transform the school and the role it plays in Indigenous reconciliation, creating change in everything from recruitment and governance to a true mindset for inclusiveness. “The committee’s work has shown us the many ways that reconciliation has to happen, and where the work starts,” says Silvestre. “We also looked how we can measure and monitor our progress through key performance indicators.”  

Asper’s work in reconciliation has begun in various areas, including the hiring of the school’s first Indigenous Business Relations Executive in Residence—Mary Jane Maillet Brownscombe—in 2021. The work builds on Indigenous programs that have been running for many years, including Indigenous Business Education Partners (IBEP) started in 1994, the Visionary Indigenous Business Excellence (VIBE) Awards that began sixteen years ago, and numerous scholarships for Indigenous students pursuing graduate studies in business. There is also concerted efforts to recruit Indigenous faculty members and increase the school’s contributions to Indigenous research. “The key to it all is building critical mass and embedding change in our culture. This is a process that takes time to do it right,” says Silvestre.

The school’s plans for reconciliation will also culminate in the creation of the Asper Business and Reconciliation Hub. When it’s complete, the vision for the Hub is a place for students, staff, faculty, and the greater business community to come together to share and learn from one another. “We visualize a space where we can embrace change that’s comfortable, welcoming and engaging,” says Silvestre. “We have a big responsibility to lead the way, facilitate the reconciliation path for the business community and be the catalyst for transformative societal impact and social justice. That is what we want to do.”

Indigenous Business Education Partners (IBEP)
The Indigenous Business Education Partners (IBEP) program got its start as a pilot program in 1994. Designed for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis students pursuing undergraduate studies but now also includes Master of Business Administration students at the Asper School of Business, it offers academic support, scholarships and bursaries, networking, and mentoring opportunities. Zach Unrau is the program director, and a former IBEP student himself. “I came to the University of Manitoba in 2011 and was approached about IBEP after declaring I am Indigenous,” says Unrau. “I found the first year of business school intimidating with the number of students in Asper, not knowing where to go or find like minded peers and IBEP quickly became a place where I was able to get the support and guidance I needed.” During his time at Asper, IBEP became an integral part of his education. The program helped Unrau find the major that worked for him, introduced him to mentors, and provided a place where he could connect with other students like him.  Upon graduation, Unrau worked at IBEP as the recruiter/advisor and held several roles at the university before returning to IBEP in June 2022.

Today he leads the program that meant so much to him, helping more Indigenous students forge a path at Asper. “IBEP gives Indigenous students that dedicated space to connect with one another and to have a sense of community,” says Unrau. “By having more Indigenous representation within Asper, I hope students would feel less intimated in class, grow, and share their ideas on how businesses would look like through an Indigenous lens. It also makes our school a more diverse and inclusive place that reflects the world we live and work in.”

Doing your part
The Manitoba business community is encouraged to engage with the Asper School’s work in reconciliation and the IBEP program. “Whether it is to financially support students, offer employment, or collaborate towards reconciliation within the business community; we can help,” says Unrau.

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