Inuit Businesswomen and the Resource Extraction Industry
The expansion of resource extraction activities in the North has been presented as an opportunity for local economic development through both employment and entrepreneurship, as the industry supports local businesses through procurement services and their related spinoffs. However, little research has been undertaken to examine how Inuit entrepreneurs and Inuit-owned businesses are accessing procurement contracts to benefit from resource extraction activities. In particular, there is limited awareness as to how Inuit women may or may not be accessing contracting opportunities within the industry and the barriers to their further engagement. This report is intended to provide a summary analysis of the current role Inuit women-owned businesses are playing in the resource extraction industry across Inuit Nunangat, as well as the opportunities and challenges for their participation in the future.
The information provided in this report was gained through a review of documents, Internet sites and communication with informants across Inuit Nunangat. The informants were contacted either by email or telephone and selected based on their familiarity with businesses and mining activities operating in their respective jurisdictions. As no oil and gas extraction is currently under way within Inuit Nunangat, the focus of the research was on mining activity and in particular, active mining operations within the Inuit regions.
The informants were from a range of organizations and included:
- Economic Development Officers (EDOs) in a number of communities closest to operating mine sites;
- Inuit organizations that have some responsibility relating to mining operations, Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreements (IIBAs) or business development in their respective regions;
- Government agencies responsible for business development;
- Regional Chambers of Commerce; and
- Mining companies with operations in Inuit Nunangat.
While contact with most of the informants was achieved quite easily, gaining information from mining companies proved to be more challenging due to a lack of response from some companies despite numerous emails and telephone calls.
The research provided a wide range of findings which are summarized as follows.
Few Inuit women-owned businesses are currently delivering products or services to mining companies. One company in the Kivalliq was repairing clothing for a mining company, but the company was a subsidiary of a larger development corporation and was not in fact owned by the women doing the work. Another company was providing advanced pipelines and related products to a large infrastructure project. Interestingly, in Nunatsiavut, there were a much higher number of businesses operated by Inuit women involved in the delivery of products and services to mining operations. A total of five different businesses were identified by the Nunatsiavut Government’s Business Development Manager, although three of these businesses were owned by the same woman.
In general, Inuit women are not well aware of the opportunities that may exist in the mining sector. This likely reflects the fact that there are only a small number of Inuit women that have established their own businesses and are looking to expand those businesses. Businesses owned by Inuit women are typically small, often involving only a few employees and providing arts and crafts, catering, translation/interpretation, cleaning and clothing making services – fairly straightforward businesses that rely heavily on the skills, experience and business savvy of the owner/operator. These Inuit businesswomen are very limited in their awareness of how to find out about and access the opportunities that may exist through the resource extraction industry and its related activities.
Under the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreements, there are many Inuit-owned businesses currently providing products and services to mining companies. A number of these are companies established by regional Inuit Development Corporations (IDCs) and are active across a wide range of activities, including environmental management, logistical support, site remediation, etc. There are also a growing number of private Inuit-owned businesses across the region helping to supply the active mining sector. These businesses, however, aren’t generally owned by Inuit women and therefore fall outside the specific area of interest of this report.
Overall, mining companies do not appear to actively advertise in local communities for the procurement of products and services. No informants that were contacted were aware of any community postings or advertisements from mining companies looking for businesses to respond to tenders. The EDOs are the first point of contact in communities for both people looking for employment and businesses seeking opportunities. The Chambers of Commerce contacted also noted that mining companies weren’t in the habit of advertising their needs to small local businesses. Mining companies usually put out tenders to a list of approved companies with whom they have worked before and have a preference for working with larger, experienced, well-resourced companies that have proven track records and capacities. While this is logical from a business perspective, it limits local awareness about possible opportunities, particularly in the smaller Inuit communities.
An issue facing many Inuit businesses in general is that the most common opportunities arising from mining operations are very large, complex and sophisticated, requiring a level of capacity, resources and experience that effectively excludes many smaller, independently owned businesses from participating. For Inuit women-owned businesses, the problem becomes more problematic as they often tend to lack the capital, experience and capacity to meet the basic requirements of these larger tenders. The problem for Inuit businesswomen is exacerbated as the support and resources available to them in their communities are often limited, even if they wish to get assistance to bid on a tender.
Furthermore, mining companies often hire people full-time to provide the services that could be sub-contracted out to local businesses, i.e. full-time security personnel, cleaning staff, etc. From a purely business perspective, it is often more practical to hire a security person, kitchen staff or cleaner than to go through a tendering process to recruit a small business to provide those services. However, it may be these services which small, Inuit women-owned businesses could be qualified to provide.
Mining companies at the exploration stage generally don’t require a lot of services and products from local communities. One community reported that an exploration company’s activities had virtually no impact on the economy of the community. Better communication and coordination between communities and mining companies may result in higher quality services and products being provided to the companies, while also leaving a stronger economic impact at the community level.
Through Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreements (IIBAs), mining companies operating in Inuit Nunangat are obliged to consider hiring Inuit businesses to provide some of the products and services that are needed. The requirements of these IIBAs generally specify a number of steps to be taken to advertise the needed products or services and the minimum requirements for the companies bidding on the tender. To support local economic development, the IIBAs also often ensure that the mining companies offer some preferential treatment for Inuit-owned companies in the bidding process. This may include providing a 15 per cent price advantage for bids from Inuit-owned businesses, allowing them to better compete with southern companies.
Mining companies also generally hire graduates from the various training and education programs across Inuit Nunangat to provide services to the site. For example, TMAX Mining in the Kitikmeot region hired students out of the Nunavut Arctic College’s Culinary Arts program to staff its mining activities.
Some mining companies have been pro-active in engaging with communities and trying to encourage small local businesses to participate more in the tendering process. For example, Glencore conducted a two-day workshop in Nunavik where supporting local businesses was part of the agenda. Specifically, discussions were held on topics such as how to encourage smaller businesses to bid on contracts and the need for better communication of the opportunities available. Agnico Eagle and Baffinland, the two most active mining companies in Nunavut, have worked with community and regional agencies to develop community-based programs to help offset some of the effects of the mining activity on communities – spousal support programs, establishing Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) in the communities, etc. As well, both companies work extensively with numerous Inuit-owned businesses in their respective regions. The efforts in these areas are commendable and should be encouraged, but there must be more work done to extend these practices, in particular increasing the access of smaller businesses to the benefits of resource extraction activities.
1. Identification of potential opportunities
As Pauktuutit’s Inuit Women in Business Network has clearly indicated, Inuit women are interested in starting and operating businesses in their communities. Many of these businesses are at the micro-level and focus on a skill and interest that the potential business owner has. There are opportunities that may exist for small, Inuit women-owned businesses within the mining sector, although opportunities will vary widely depending on many factors, including size of the mining operation, location, logistics of getting to and from the site and the stage of development of the mining operation. Some potential business opportunities include:
- Language support services, such as translation of documents into local dialects, interpreting for community consultations, etc.;
- Intercultural training for mining staff;
- Catering for special events, including a possible emphasis on local country food and traditional dishes;
- Clothing repair, for example, damaged clothing from mines sites could be brought to communities on commuting flights and an Inuit businesswoman could repair the clothing and ship back when complete;
- Arts/crafts and clothing sales on site. Small arts and crafts displays could be set up at mining site locations, such as airstrips, or on a weekly basis to allow southern workers the opportunity to purchase gifts;
- Supply of country food;
- Logistical support; and
- Tourism and recreation programs for southern mining staff.
2. Efforts should be made to engage the mining sector across Inuit Nunangat
Efforts should be extended to the mining sector to identify more clearly realistic opportunities for Inuit businesswomen to participate in meeting the needs of the industry. An ideal opportunity to support this initiative would be to capitalize on events such as the Nunavut Mining Symposium. The event brings together stakeholders from the mining sector in Iqaluit for several days of information sharing and networking. Coordinating a workshop with interested mining companies and agencies that support Inuit businesswomen would provide a unique opportunity to discuss the issue and potentially develop an action plan. Topics could include how businesses could work more closely with communities to advertise their needs, which opportunities are most suited for Inuit women-owned businesses and establishing connections between the mining companies and Inuit businesswomen.
The Nunatsiavut Government is in the process of working with mining companies to explore means by which larger contracts could be broken down into smaller segments that could more easily be bid on by Inuit-owned companies. Following up on how this process works and its accomplishments would be a useful exercise and may provide best practices.
3. Support for Inuit women-owned businesses
Competing for tenders from mining companies will not be easy for most Inuit businesswomen. Challenges include the fact that the language of the documents can be difficult, the supporting documents required can be demanding and the process of completing the tender proposal can be daunting. Inuit businesswomen must be able to have confidence that there will be adequate support available to them when they require it for completing the tender proposals.
To encourage more Inuit women to consider starting a business, resources and workshops should be made widely available to provide information on how to establish a business and, specifically, how to complete a business plan. As well, connections with business opportunities should be established, supported and monitored by local business support agencies and economic development officers to maximize the opportunity for success. One element of the workshops and resources should focus on the potential for Inuit women-owned businesses to form partnerships with active suppliers and companies that service existing mining operations. This would enable Inuit businesswoman to gain access to the partner company’s experience and capacity and thus gain important knowledge and skills.
4. Case studies and best practices
It would be useful to research successful cases of small businesses accessing opportunities in the mining sector, not just in Inuit Nunangat but other regions as well. Identifying best practices could contribute greatly to the understanding of how to enable Inuit businesswomen and potential businesswomen to identify, access and profit from the mining sector across Inuit Nunangat.