Francis Neshamba of Nottingham Trent University is visiting Membertou #First Nation in Cape Breton this week. He hopes to study Membertou’s development successes with an eye to helping a poor South African province. (Nic Meloney/CBC) A British expert in international development is in Cape Breton this week to study how Membertou First Nation’s economic successes might help revitalize an impoverished South African province.
Membertou’s impressive economic growth since the 1990s is of special interest to Francis Neshamba of Nottingham Trent University, who’s participating in an innovation and social enterprise conference at the First Nation community.
Neshamba has been working with the University of Limpopo, in a particularly poor area of South Africa, to develop ways to improve the area’s high unemployment and poverty rates, and prevent migration of its people to South African urban centres. Similar colonial experiences
The historical similarities between Membertou and the province of Limpopo are ideal for a formal study, he says.
"From a colonial perspective, [Membertou] ties with African countries in some ways," Neshamba said.
"These nations are in search of enterprises that can effectively promote the welfare of their communities. The context is different, [but] there are many areas where we share a bit of commonality." Membertou recently opened a new $19-million sports and wellness facility. (George Mortimer/CBC) Development is ongoing at Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton. Its economic growth is being studied by a British academic hoping to apply those strategies to the impoverished South African province of Limpopo. (Nic Meloney/CBC) For example, public and private sector funds have often tended to go to the wrong places, to support the personal agendas of elected leaders, rather than to sustainable community projects, Neshamba said.
While that may not currently be the case in Membertou, its history shows poor financial decisions that caused suffering in the community. ‘We were facing bankruptcy’
"In the 90s, our back was against the wall," acknowledges Senator Daniel Christmas, who served as Membertou’s band manager and senior adviser for over three decades. Canadian Senator Daniel Christmas says it is hard to ascribe Membertou’s economic successes to any particular model. (Membertou First Nation) "We were facing bankruptcy and over $1 million in debt. [We] were struggling to make payroll — even social assistance payrolls."
That was then.
Now, Membertou First Nation is the third largest employer in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, with 672 workers whose total annual salaries exceed $15 million. In 2001, Membertou was the first #Indigenous community in the world to receive quality-management certification from the International Organization for Standardization.
Before heading back to the United Kingdom, Neshamba is meeting with Membertou Chief Terry Paul to learn more about how Membertou’s success can be reflected in Limpopo. ‘No magic bullet’
That may not be so easy, Christmas said.
"Numerous people have done studies trying to figure out the Membertou model. There is no magic bullet. There’s a multitude of factors that contribute to the success."
Those factors will be the focus of sustained research planned by Neshamba.
He said a study will compare economic growth challenges in Limpopo province and formerly in Membertou and then look at how Membertou created and applied strategies of skill development, money management and leadership to overcome them.
Paul, whom Christmas credits with steering Membertou toward economic success, says he’ll help as much as he can."We are always honoured when other communities recognize the committed work we have been doing to create meaningful business partnerships, initiate and maintain career-related training programs and education and of course, focus on the future for our youth," the chief said in an email.
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