Jennifer brings over 20 years of government and Indigenous economic development experience. She runs her own consulting business that supports Indigenous entrepreneurs with local and national scale projects. She currently works at Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education, an Aboriginal initiative founded by the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Ch’nook was established to address the need for sustainable economic development in Indigenous communities through business applications and education. Follow Jennifer’s journey through this map and her interview to learn more about the roles and skills needed for the Indigenous economic development space.
SIA: How did you enter this space?
Jennifer Hooper: I got into Indigenous economic development after attending a conference for Aboriginal women in business. One of the presenters worked in Aboriginal economic development and it intrigued me, so after the conference I followed up with her and a job opportunity came up for me. She offered me a job at Aboriginal Business Canada, a government program that offered loans to Aboriginal entrepreneurs and First Nations Bands looking to build business ventures. This program was set up for individuals unable to get conventional financing from the chartered banks. I learned a lot about business through reviewing many business plans and financial models.
After about 8 years, I decided it was time for a change, so I decided to start my own consulting business to support the Aboriginal business community. Through my company, I was involved in many projects over the next 15 years, starting small and eventually working on projects with national significance.
In 2017, I took an opportunity to join the government again developing a portfolio for Indigenous international business. This area is still in early stages of development, so I decided to step back and continue to work on Indigenous economic development within the business education space.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
JH: I really believe that education and access to educational opportunities is one of the most important ways to continue to build the Indigenous economy. Since 2005, Ch’nook has been offering business education programs to Indigenous learners in BC. The economy has evolved to the point where Indigenous business has started competing in the global economy.
I see opportunities for continued development of Ch’nook courses and programs, for example programs that ladder into mainstream business programs, and more programs tailored for Indigenous learners that could be delivered online and directly in rural/remote communities.
SIA: What’s your work-life balance like?
JH: I start my day at around 6am and begin work at 7:45am, so I do my best to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I usually work in a quiet corner of my house, away from distraction to get all my tasks done in between calls.
I believe that you should work every day in a manner that allows you to maintain a work-life balance, so I aim to finish work at 4:30 pm, but sometimes it takes to 5 pm. I don’t generally work beyond 5 pm.
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
JH: I am relatively new in my role, I’ve been with Ch’nook and UBC Sauder for just over one year. It has been a steep learning curve to learn all aspects of the various programs Ch’nook offers, report to various (and generous) donors, and understand the culture in a research institution. I have found my way, and the challenge I see going forward is identifying and developing exciting new programs for the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs and managers.
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about your profession or space you’re in?
JH: The biggest misconception is that business studies are too hard for most people. Our students really begin to appreciate their innate abilities once they take the first step towards their future.
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
JH: Integrity, curiosity, open-mindedness, sense of humour and humility.
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
JH: Probably not, but sometimes I wish I had continued on to get an MBA and taken work outside of Canada to gain some international business skills and learned more about other cultures.
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
JH: Find some good mentors, stay curious, and never stop learning!
A few insights that stuck with us from Jennifer’s journey are:
We are so grateful for Jennifer’s contribution to our Career Maps. If you want to learn more about the Indigenous economic development space, the role of Indigenous youth and women in business, or about the work Ch’nook is doing, reach out to Jennifer on LinkedIn.