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CPA Canada launched its first financial literacy program in the north last May. The sessions are delivered to First Nations, Inuit or the Métis Nation groups, targeting different audiences including small- and medium-sized businesses, elementary and high schools (Grades 4 & 5, 10 & 11), and community groups. (Hero Images/Getty Images)

Canada | Financial Literacy

Due North: Making financial literacy a priority for remote communities

CPA Canada’s financial literacy education program is hoping to drive change for Indigenous entrepreneurs

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With an area so vast some communities are only accessible by plane and resources limited with spotty electricity and dial-up Internet, bringing financial literacy programming to Canada’s remote northern communities is challenging to say the least.

There are those logistics to combat, along with finding the appropriate ways to connect with the Indigenous communities and offer information and training that is relevant to them.

Adapting its content, forging strong partnerships and recruiting volunteers, CPA Canada launched its first financial literacy program in the north last May, with plans to expand deeper into the region.

“It’s about understanding the communities that we serve,” says Li Zhang, CPA Canada’s principal of corporate citizenship. “Partnerships are really key: building up our partnership within the industries —mining, forestry—[and] building up their workplace programs.”

CPA Canada partners—including Lester Landau Chartered Professional Accountants, Agnico EAGLE Mines Ltd., Atuqtuarvik Corp.—help establish a rapport and trust with the communities, discern the right audience, establish their needs and set the stage for the financial literacy sessions. The sessions are delivered to First Nations, Inuit or the Métis Nation groups, targeting different audiences including small- and medium-sized businesses, elementary and high schools (Grades 4 & 5, 10 & 11), and community groups. Topics range from complex skills including building healthy balance sheets and dealing with lenders and investors for business, to the basics such as setting budgets and managing credit versus cash for students and residents.

“We have to be very careful not to be irrelevant in the information that we present,” explains Zhang. “People don’t care unless they can see the immediate relevancy to their situation.”

“We can sharpen the skill set of Indigenous entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses.”

To date, CPA Canada and its partners have held 26 sessions in remote regions including those in Nunavut’s Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet and the capital cities—Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse. Some sessions were conducted in collaboration with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Aboriginal Financial Institutions in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

This alliance between CPA Canada and BDC was formed in 2015, and they have since conducted more than 100 sessions across the country, with plans to do more. Their work together in remote communities speaks specifically to entrepreneurs.

“We can sharpen the skillset of Indigenous entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses,” says Ryan McLean, Vice President, Interior, North, and Indigenous at BDC. “BDC is happy to work alongside CPA Canada in delivering these sessions to entrepreneurs across the country.”

lester landau staffShawn Lester (fifth from left) and the staff of Lester Landau Chartered Professional Accountants, who helped with the financial literacy sessions. (Photo submitted)  

Volunteers also play a crucial role in the success of these sessions. Members take upwards of a week out of their lives, traveling to hard-to-reach areas to help facilitate training. One such volunteer, CPA Eitan Dehtiar, speaks to a few of the challenges faced including training material that is relevant in an urban but not rural setting, scattered literacy levels amongst students and scheduling sessions to make the best use of time on site. “A big piece of it is adapting the material. What is presented in Toronto doesn’t work in a place you have to fly into for half the day,” Dehtiar explains. “The logistics and costs are very different from delivering in a major urban centre.”

Moving forward, CPA Canada plans to expand in the northern region, build on its partnerships, volunteer support and adjust its programming, as necessary. “(We want) organizations that share a similar mindset and goals,” she adds. “So, we are not stepping on each other, but we share the same values.”

The end goal: a financial literacy program that can transform communities and change mindsets for generations to come.

As Dehtiar shares: “If you take a look at all the challenges that people are dealing with, it’s amazing how many of them go away with financial independence. Understanding the financial components of your life … it reduces the stresses they have, their family situations (improve) … it totally changes people’s lives.”

A step ahead

Further recognizing the importance of improving financial literacy in Canada’s remote communities, the National Steering Committee for Financial Literacy and Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader, Jane Rooney, announced in May the establishment of a working group—which includes CPA Canada’s Director of Corporate Citizenship Doretta Thompson—that will address the financial literacy needs of Indigenous Peoples including First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation.

Rooney and Simon Brascoupé of AFOA Canada (formerly the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada) will co-chair the group, which will share information, collaborate and develop new programs, and identify research priorities. AFOA Canada has three key certification programs. One of them is the Certified Aboriginal Financial Manager (CAFM), which provides a pathway toward the CPA Canada Advanced Certificate in Accounting and Finance, and ultimately a CPA designation.