By Danielle Vienneau
Sage Lacerte could have taken a gap year after graduating from university amidst a pandemic, but she didn’t. Instead, she decided to start a business where she could put her Western and Indigenous knowledge to use. Why? Because she was tired of seeing innovative Indigenous-owned businesses struggling to obtain enough capital to scale. “I don’t want to see our people having to beg for money to prove their ideas are worthy of being invested in,” she said. “I wanted to make a mechanism across Canada, and eventually across Turtle Island, that supports our Indigenous entrepreneurs.” SAY Magazine had the pleasure of interviewing this young trailblazer who is breaking down barriers and making space for impact investing.
Twenty-four year old Lacerte is a Carrier woman from the Lake Babine Nation and a member of the Bear clan. She calls Victoria home, which is located on the Territory of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ nations. Lacerte comes from a family of self-starters who are highly engaged in activism and entrepreneurship. Her father is Paul Lacerte, one of the founding members of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, which is the first Indigenous financial intermediary in Canada that facilitates capital to Indigenous-owned social enterprises through the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund (I). Her sister is Raven Lacerte, co-founder of the Moose Hide Campaign. “My sister works really hard to end violence against women and children, and bringing attention to MMIWG. Through her work she raises awareness about gender-based violence and harm-reduction,” said Lacerte. “My dad asked me, ‘What is your passion? What is your gift that will work to support our people?’”
Lacerte has always had a deep commitment to her community, finding ways to empower her people to take on projects, innovations and entrepreneurial ideas. “My whole life I’ve seen some really cool ideas coming out of my community, especially from young people,” she said. “I love the idea of Indigenous youth-led businesses, so I wanted to try to find a way to support that even though I wasn’t trained in commerce or business.” Lacerte graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in Gender Studies. She had worked hard to save up money while attending university and wanted to find a way to use some of the money to support Indigenous innovation.
“I understand that our culture, from the Carrier territory in central British Columbia, is matriarchal, and the matriarchs are the ones who made major decisions for their families. They determine how the money is spent, where community wealth went, and what services and protocols are most important,” she said. “So I told my family that I am going to train the matriarchs (Indigenous women and gender-diverse persons) in our community and resurface the Indigenous concepts of commerce to use as a tool in our baskets.”
Lacerte dove head first into the “how” and applied for the Indigenous Innovation Initiative (I3) Grant. Out of 250 innovators, she was chosen as one of the top three finalists, with really just a concept phase idea that said she was going to train womxn to become investors. Fast forward one year to 2019, and the Sage Initiative was founded.
The Sage Initiative is a national network of Indigenous womxn impact investors—the first and only Indigenous Womxn’s Impact Investing Collective in Canada. It aims to accelerate the re-matriation of the Indigenous economy by building a scalable pathway for Indigenous womxn to become impact investors in Indigenous-owned social purpose businesses. As part of the program, the collective of Indigenous womxn investors commit to invest between $1,000 and $50,000 (either alone or as partners) in these businesses.
Following an application process, the chosen ‘cousins’ become part of a cohort that completes a training curriculum rooted in Indigenous epistemology. Over the course of six months, participants learn about Indigenous concepts of wealth and commerce through a trauma-informed lens that addresses colonial relationships with money and overlapping identities, such as Indigeneity, gender, age and sexuality. The curriculum covers five modules that include: Trauma of Money, Personal Budgeting and Colonial Impact Timeline; Historical and Current Landscape in Impact Investment; Public Market Opportunities; Private Market Opportunities; and Evaluating Impact Investing Opportunities, Due Diligence and Pitching.
“Our fifth session wraps with a closing ceremony and some personal development training,” explained Lacerte. “We learn about how to navigate being a womxn, or a gender-diverse person, and also a racialized person in the space because that in itself can be very challenging in the industry.” On their last day of training, Indigenous-owned businesses have a chance to pitch to the investors. This will provide the participants an opportunity to invest capital in an idea they are excited about supporting.
When discussing the development of the curriculum, Lacerte explained the importance of bringing together facilitators from across Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are currently using decolonial teachings as well as technical investing literacy. “We really had to start from scratch because a lot of the curriculum that currently exists is not really suitable for Indigenous womxn, mostly because it’s filled with misinformation about Canadian colonial history and how our current economy was built.” In order to create a balanced curriculum, the Sage Initiative has facilitators and mentors ranging from social finance experts, academics, as well as individuals from the impact investment space, including Lacerte’s father. “We’ve had a lot of overwhelming support from others who really want to be involved as mentors and sponsors,” said Lacerte.
The Sage Initiative officially launched in October, and they have successfully started their journey with a cohort of 10 womxn investors between the ages of 18-29. Going forward they plan to remove the age bracket because of the overwhelming interest by those over the age of 30. When asked why the Sage Initiative started with this age group, Lacerte said “I felt it was important to launch the program for this age group because I myself am a young investor, and I wanted to bring in others who are at the same stage as I am.”
Furthermore, Lacerte spoke candidly about her own experiences as a young investor and some of the challenges she faced, especially in relation to the guilt she felt. “This was the most important aspect of the training curriculum for me—the trauma associated with money.”
Lacerte became a private investor when she was just 20. “Being a young investor brought up a lot of feelings for me. It made
me remember growing up in poverty, and it made me feel guilty for having investable capital,” she said. “Talking about money makes people uncomfortable; it evokes anxiousness and shame. I felt really proud of myself, but talking about money often made me feel sick, and I wanted to know more about that.” To understand why she was feeling this way, she reached out to Chantel Chapman, co-founder of The Trauma of Money Method. Lacerte explained, “I took Chantel’s course, and it taught me a lot about how our value in our child selves is tied to what we believe our value is as an adult.”
“This is particularly significant for Indigenous womxn because there have been so many racist policies, like the Indian Act, which have prevented Indigenous womxn from owning land, or losing their right to Indian status among other things.” Lacerte confirmed the importance of not only receiving technical training and investment literacy but also being able to manage what gets brought up from that emotionally and spiritually.
The Sage Initiative aims to integrate the idea of “Money as Medicine” and Indigenous concepts of commerce, not only to provide context for participants, but also to inform how they might generate and innovate new business models that are more centered around Indigenous ways of knowing and being. “We are trying to teach people almost the opposite of what you would learn in business school or economics, steering away from the status quo and models of business that are so focused on individualism.” Ensuring that youth feel empowered to invest is also top of mind for Lacerte. “Our young people need to be having those difficult conversations and developing financial competencies so that they are better equipped for their financial future and well-being.
“My first private investment was in an Indigenous-owned green energy company, and I have made a commitment to invest in Indigenous-owned green energy. It’s incredibly important to me, not to just have social returns on our investments (SROI), but also positive environmental impacts. It’s important to always keep in mind that caring for Mother Earth is equally as important as caring for and empowering our communities.”
Lacerte expressed her concern regarding the Trust capital from Indigenous nations, when they formed treaties and Indigenous-owned trusts where millions of dollars is being invested in crude oil because it has the highest return.
“My ultimate impact goal is to form this really rad network of Indigenous womxn, who are fiercely trained in financial literacy and who will eventually choose to become investment managers, some of them becoming involved in Indigenous-owned trusts. They will then begin to inform policies about where capital from Indigenous Trusts goes and hopefully divert those funds away from crude oil and invest in green energy, because need to stop taking from Mother Earth.”
Lacerte’s life is not all about rematriating wealth and investment. In addition to launching her business in the last 18 months, she also became a certified birth worker and Doula—helping to bring babies earth-side. She also ran her first half marathon in the fall and intends to complete the Goddess Run Marathon next year. Recently recognized as one of the Young & Relentless: Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainable Leaders for 2021 by Corporate Knights, Lacerte is just scratching the surface of her potential to instill hope and transform this world.
The spelling “womxn” was used throughout this article to complement Sage Initiative messaging.
Danielle Vienneau, Editor-in-Chief with SAY Magazine, believes in the power of sharing stories to inspire greatness in others. To submit your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.