Dave Veale interviews Lynn Francis, Director, Elsipogtog Economic Development as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
This is a woman who has dedicated herself to making the community – her community – a much better place.
“Private enterprise is alive and well within northeastern New Brunswick’s Elsipogtog First Nation. Next to the First Nation government, private enterprise in the community is the second-largest employer. All signs are that the economy within the First Nation is thriving, growing and diverse in a manner that is complementary to the local industry as a whole.” (from the Elsipogtog First Nation brochure)
I had a very insightful conversation with an extraordinary leader, Lynn Francis.She is a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation and director of Elsipogtog Economic Development.
As part of her role as director she is also the vice-president of McGraw Seafood 2008 Inc., McGraw Seafood was purchased by the Elsipogtog band to work in conjunction with the Elsipogtog Snow Crab Industry and as a vehicle to create job opportunities. Francis also contributes her business knowledge to the Elsipogtog fisheries management team. Elsipogtog Fisheries is one of the largest fisheries operations in Atlantic Canada.
In 2007, Francis received the Economic Developer of the Year Award at the Ulnooweg Atlantic Aboriginal Awards Show in St. John’s, N.L.
I began our conversation by asking Francis to look back at what she’s done since 1996 and describe the initial steps in creating economic growth in the Elsipogtog First Nation.
A: The first five years were solely based on doing research and gathering tools, resources, contacts and getting familiar with the different programs – federal and provincial programs, as well as aboriginal programming. We looked at the needs of the community and looked at what’s out there and merged those two together.
Q: What happened as a result of the information gathering?
A: We have a flurry of activity in the community now. We have a trades orientation and skills program going on in one building, we have fisheries management training going on in another, we have youth attending essential skills training and we have another group working on their GED. We also have clients coming in who are interested in starting a business. So now, after 15 years, looking at everything that we have worked so hard for – it’s very exciting to see what is happening.
Q: Tell me about the people who have been directly impacted in your community.
A: I’m thinking of an individual who has become completely self-sufficient – he has a good job, he has his home and he provides for his family. Ten or 15 years ago he was sitting at my desk and he really had no idea what to do with his life but he knew he wanted to do something.
Then there’s the guy who already had a business but he was ready to close up shop. He needed some direction. He felt like his business was going under and he couldn’t sleep at night. He was able to get the help he needed and his business still exists today.
Q: You received the Economic Developer of the Year in 2007. What were some of things that went into you receiving that award?
A: My focal point was to really examine the barriers in the community relating to both employment and business development and then get involved with the different committees relating to it. I got involved with the Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Network and the Joint Economic Development Initiative and the aboriginal tourism development strategy. I realized that, in order for my community to gain the resources and tools required, I had to be out there promoting the community and informing government agencies about the real barriers that the community members are facing.
Q: As you gathered information on barriers for people, what were you finding?
A: An example was a program that provided grants for individuals under the age of 29. We realized that most of the individuals that were interested in the program were in their mid-30s. An adjustment was made and the program raised that age limit to 35. Another barrier was getting financing. Changes were made to programs to overcome this obstacle as well.
Q: So, these well-meaning programs just needed some tweaking?
Q: Did you ever picture, when you started in 1996, that you would be where you are now?
A: I knew I would be a leader of some sort.
Q: How did you know that?
A: Since I was a kid I said to myself, “You know what? I want to get my education and experience outside this community and then I’m going to come back and I’m going to make a difference.”
Q: You mentioned barriers earlier – what barriers did you have to overcome to get where you are today?
A: I ran into some obstacles along the way. There was one time when I was going to college further north of here and I was looking for an apartment. This woman, the landlord, said, “Are you an Indian?” I said, ‘”Yeah.” And, she said “I don’t rent to Indians”. I was really shocked and a part of me felt like going back to the community and shutting myself out from the world. I told my dad and we talked it over and then I realized I had to move on. That is just one person I met up with on my journey, but it is an experience that I have never forgotten.
Q: What have you learned about yourself through this process, as a leader in the community?
A: That I am dedicated. I have learned to be patient. There are a lot of things that I’ve learned about myself, actually. I’ve also learned how important delegating is and that I can’t do it alone. I have had to learn to manage my time carefully and just develop a structure within myself and be disciplined.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: When I see a child I think “this child is going to have needs; this child will probably want a job or start a business in the future.” It’s the children that inspire me – to ensure that they have a good future.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence? A leader’s job is to…
A: To “be there” for the people that you work with that share your goals and your vision.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>