Learn, Share and Grow: The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Work in the Indigenous Community

With a commitment to reconciliation and a passion for social innovation, Shyra Barberstock will be speaking on best practices for Indigenous entrepreneurship, and, along with her partner Rye, will present on the theme of “How We Can Learn, Share, and Grow” at this year’s Global Conference on Indigenous Entrepreneurship.

Shyra is the co-creator and co-founder of Okwaho Network, a social network established to bring Indigenous peoples in urban and remote areas together to build community, share stories, educate, and fuel ideas. Created “by Indigenous people for Indigenous people,” the Okwaho Network has grown global, stretching from the far north of Canada to the far south of Australia. This growing reach has enabled the Okwaho Network to be a platform not just for social use, but also for economic development, meeting the needs of Indigenous peoples and communities around the world. It’s a safe online environment that allows both Indigenous peoples and supporters to have user-friendly online access to a network that draws on the different needs of each Indigenous community, from a local level through to a global one.

Shyra completed her Bachelor of Arts at Western University (London, ON), with a focus on First Nations Studies, Environment and Health. She followed that up with a Master of Arts in Geography and Planning at Queen’s University (Kingston, ON). Her thesis was titled “’A New Way Forward’: Reconciliation through Indigenous Social Innovation.” In it, she takes exception to the 92nd recommendation presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015, which calls upon “the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” She contends that the recommendation focuses on what non-Indigenous peoples and businesses should be doing to bring about reconciliation, rather than understanding and including what Indigenous peoples can and are doing to bring about reconciliation. Shyra is currently pursuing her PhD at Queen’s University.

Growing up in an adopted non-Indigenous family, Shyra did not meet her birth mother until she was 21. At that time, she learned of her Anishinaabe heritage and her Kebaowek First Nations roots. Years later, she and her partner Rye (a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte) established the Okwaho Network. This life experience in different cultures has given rise to Shyra’s understanding of the multiculturalism and multi-ethnicism that underlies her drive to provide quality resources and opportunities for Indigenous peoples.

A few years later, in 2016, Shyra and her partner joined forces with Maori business development leader and procurement strategist, Luke McIlroy-Ranga and scaled up Okwaho Equal Source to have corporate headquarters in both Canada and Australia. Shyra is currently the President and CEO of Okwaho Equal Source in North America, and the Global Chairperson. With a mission to “fuel social, economic and environmental impact via the empowerment and inclusion of diverse entrepreneurs and minority-owned enterprises,” the Okwaho founders are rethinking how we view and engage Indigenous social innovation at the regional, national and international levels.

In both the panel discussion and the breakout presentation with Rye, Shyra will share insights drawn from her years of experience. She will bring not only an academic insight into new and innovative ways of bringing about reconciliation through social innovation; but will also draw from her practical experience in co-founding the Okwaho Network and Okwaho Equal Source. A leader in her field of entrepreneurship in social development and business, a voice speaking from and to Indigenous culture and community, and an academic who values challenging dominant narratives, Shyra’s contribution to this year’s conference will be compelling and valuable, as we seek to “learn, share and grow” alongside her.

The Global Conference on Indigenizing Entrepreneurship, running June 3-5 2018, will held in Downtown Ottawa, on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabek peoples. It’s scheduled to bring a range of experts together to share best practices, compelling stories, and crucial insights on how Indigenous values, histories, and ways of knowing can transform entrepreneurial thinking.

For more information and to register, click here.

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