Senator Murray Sinclair, Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, once said, “Education is what got us here and education is what will get us out.”
“This wisdom is our guiding light,” said Shannon Loutitt, CEO of the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau (IISB).
At the IISB, one of SAY Magazine’s long-time partners, educating others on Indigenous perspectives and knowledge is what they do. Building relationships with clients so their speakers can go forward in an honoured way is their business. IISB champions build bridges of understanding and help make positive change in their clients’ current practices, policies and mindsets. With that said, Loutitt wanted to do more—to expand the IISB’s reach and have a bigger impact on education. The responsibility of educating the future generation does not only belong to the school alone, and so they set out on a path to partner with like-minded organizations.
In early 2020, with no concept of what the year would bring, IISB went on a search for partners to help them expand and grow, taking the educational component of the business to a new level. That’s when they hired educational consultant and student liaison, Jeff Elliott, which led to discovering Riipen.
Riipen is an organization that brings together businesses with universities around the world. Their mission is to immerse students in real-world industry projects that will help equip them with work-ready skills.
By mid-February, IISB began working with one of Riipen’s dedicated associates, Maria Dmitrieva. She instantly understood the significance of IISB’s mission and worked tirelessly to create distinct projects for the Riipen website to engage students in work placements. Immediately, IISB experienced a surge of interest from universities, from Australia to the United States, and right here at home in Canada. “The response was beyond encouraging,” said Loutitt.
By the summer of 2020, IISB had fully embraced the realities of a virtual business world. In fact, they were more than ready. The virtual world came as a blessing in disguise. IISB was able to utilize the limitations of a new mode of operations and turn them into strengths. One of these blessings was being forced to connect with students virtually, as this now became a necessity for the educational institutions on Riipen.
In July 2020, IISB welcomed their first virtual intern, Sarah Fornataro, an entrepreneurial student from Australia. The enthusiasm and skill she brought to the IISB team was incredibly valuable. She helped update their website, reviewed and created social media campaigns, worked with speakers, and so much more. Her work exceeded IISB’s expectations. Just prior to her internship, Fornataro had begun her own personal journey to reconnect and discover more about her own Indigenous heritage. She found that working with IISB gave her the confidence and inspiration to continue down that path.
The next phase over the summer was to connect with universities for the Fall 2020 semester. IISB created some great projects and published them on the Riipen website, which worked to connect them with schools in Canada and the United States. IISB engaged with two amazing professors, one at Lethbridge College (Alberta) and one at Arizona State University.
IISB was hopeful that the classroom experience would be as good as their internship experience had been. The question was, what would it be like to work with a whole classroom?
“Our goal was for these students to walk away with accurate information and a positive story of Indigenous Peoples and our perspectives,” explained Loutitt. “We did not anticipate what would come next.”
With the intention of providing them with Indigenous engagement education before they began their real work, IISB led the students in a task of creating personal introductions. Loutitt shared her “Indigenous lens,” teaching students the significance of building relationships first before “getting down to business”. She encouraged them to use their hearts, to be authentic and vulnerable when speaking with Indigenous Peoples. “The impact this had on the students, and our friends at IISB, was beyond transformative,” said Elliott.
“Getting to be involved with the IISB project was one of the best and most unique experiences of my collegiate career,” said student Paul Reid. “By getting to know my speaker, I not only learned about Indigenous sovereignty and a plethora of history, but a door was opened to a culture different from my own, and for that I am grateful.”
Riipen has taken “Making Education Work for You” to a new level in working with IISB, building stronger ties with the education system. IISB not only achieved their goals of educating future leaders, but they transformed their business and the lives of their staff in the process.
The staff at IISB are looking forward to working with more universities across the globe in 2021. The projects between IISB and Riipen will continue to grow and positively impact the growth of both organizations, while at the same time inspiring these future leaders to engage in meaningful work and learn more from Indigenous Peoples worldwide.