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Indigenous Innovation Initiative will award up to $250K to projects for gender equality

The newly launched Indigenous Innovation Initiative is seeking project proposals that advance gender equality in Indigenous communities, and can award up to $250,000 per project.

“We know that the solutions to a lot of the challenges in any community lie in the people who are closest and living through those challenges,” said Sara Wolfe, director for the Indigenous Innovation Initiative for Grand Challenges Canada, which runs the program.

It aims to promote social entrepreneurship and innovation, and is supported by $10 million in funds through the federal Department for Women and Gender Equality Canada.

With matching funds, the program has the potential to inject $20 million into communities and kick start “groundbreaking” projects, said Wolfe.  

The program is meant to bring seed funding to help Indigenous women and gender-diverse people overcome the barriers they face in business and entrepreneurship. 

The goal of the innovation fund is economic reconciliation and gender equality, she said.

Indigenous peoples have always been innovative.– Sara Wolfe,  director for the Indigenous Innovation Initiative

“The impact of poverty in our communities is often hitting women much harder … but we also know that Indigenous women are incredibly resilient and when they do have the tools and supports given to them, they tend to thrive and they tend to put all of their heart into what they’re doing,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe hopes it will spark a new generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs. 

“Indigenous peoples have always been innovative. The very fact of our existence has shown that we’ve always known how to be innovative — pre-contact and since contact,” she said. 

Funding to Indigenous innovation proven success

In 2017, the Wachiay Friendship Centre in Courtenay, B.C., was involved in a fund that started with a group of grandmothers and bloomed into a successful social enterprise. 

The grandmothers wanted to share their knowledge about traditional plants, medicines and gardening with community members.

The Indigenous Innovation Initiative team with Indigenous community mental health providers at a gathering in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Sara Wolfe)

They started selling tea, which generated new revenue. They reinvested that in a screen printing press for the packaging, taught youth how to use the press, and with some innovation money, opened up a community radio station. 

“Sometimes it’s about taking those traditional teachings, that historical knowledge and applying it to a new context,” she said. 

Moving money into communities right away

Grand Challenges Canada is looking for projects that can start right away, so it can start moving money into Indigenous communities as soon as possible, said Wolfe. Economic investment is needed now more than ever, she said. 

The projects can be up to two years in length, and applicants can request less than $250,000.

The first round for applications launched this week and there will be a second round in the fall. The organization is also creating workshops for people to develop their ideas and apply to future rounds of funding. 

Applicants can be any organization registered legally in Canada, and any person can apply, so long as the proposed project will advance gender equality in Indigenous communities.

Projects do not have to be revenue generating when they apply, nor do they have to come to the table with existing matching funds. 

“The bolder the idea, the more potential for impact, the better. We’re not looking for the safe solutions, the safe businesses that are already worked out. We’re looking for ideas and inventions that can be transformative,” she said.

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