Prairie Post (East Edition)
SE Alberta business making effort to support Indigenous entrepreneurs
A Medicine Hat business is working to support and amplify Indigenous entrepreneurs through experience and resource sharing, and is challenging other businesses to do the same.
Sweet Pure Honey co-founders Stella Sehn and Sheldon Hill have long believed ethics a vital aspect of business practice. But after receiving a Better Business Bureau ethics award in 2016, Sehn says they began questioning if they were doing all they could to operate ethically – particularly in regards to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's interim report which included 94 calls to action, with specifically directed at businesses.
“It really left me questioning, ‘Are we an ethical business if we are not honouring the calls to action?'” Sehn told the Medicine Hat News. “So, I reached out to the leaders in my community, to the heads of business, (but) found no one was really listening and no one wanted to take the initiative. (So) I thought, ‘What can I do with the power I have being a public brand in the city?' And I felt I have a voice and platform I can use to amplify Indigenous entrepreneurs.”
Sehn began by creating the Honey Money fund in support of Indigenous entrepreneurs, to which 10 per cent of Sweet Pure Honey's sale profits are allocated. Sehn then began connecting with Indigenous entrepreneurs in the region to offer support, both financial and experience-based.
“What seems simple to people who grew up (exposed to) or who are networked with boards and organizations can be a real barrier for people trying to start a business without people helping them,” said Sehn. “People are like, ‘Oh, it's only a banner,' ‘It's only business cards,' but (there are) all these other factors that come in … And if you don't come from an entrepreneurship background, if you don't have mentors, you have to learn on our own.”
Earlier this year, Sehn connected with Ina “Old Shoes” Fairchild, a local Indigenous artist and newly established entrepreneur working to expand her business Something Wonderful Studios. “I recognized there were a couple things that I needed in order for me to be able to progress as a small business,” Fairchild said. “(And) that was limiting to me.”
A full-time student in Medicine Hat College's Applied Health Science (Paramedic) program, Fairbanks struggled with obtaining the finances to create, promote and sell her merchandise, as well as the time to learn the ins-and-outs of business.
“Stella has kickstarted more opportunity because of her help,” said Fairbanks. “Not only did her help allow me to be able to reach different markets and sell my product at a faster rate, but she also, through her work connections, has given me my family back.”
Sehn also used her connections in the community to help Fairbanks' husband Mekethia find employment locally. Prior to meeting Sehn, Mekethia worked in
Lethbridge and was commuting several times per week.
Mekethia has now been able to pursue his entrepreneurial interests by establishing music sample-based production company Aboriginal Entertainment and launching himself as a musician and producer under the name Alchemy the
“All the businesses need to start making this a priority: supporting Indigenous voices and Indigenous entrepreneurs,” said Sehn. “So, look around your organization, look around your business … We all have the power to make changes (with) the power we have.”