In early March, Corporate Knights’ Editor-in-Chief sat down with former Prime Minister Paul Martin.
They discussed his new initiative, the $50 million Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship (CAPE) Fund.
Toby Heaps: What’s the big picture for CAPE? What would you like to see it accomplish?
Rt. Honourable Paul Martin (PM): Mentors are incredibly important. They are able to convince other people to put up the capital and support them. They have a certain amount of experience. Apart from some very successful Aboriginal entrepreneurs, the opportunity for mentorship and learning is simply not there. And because it's not there, it means that the role models who are going to inspire people—they are not there. So you have this never- ending chain. Our goal was to break that cycle. CAPE can back you with capital. If you don’t have the experience, we will essentially back you, and provide the management skills. And once you have learned the management skills, you will hopefully be in the position to buy us out. That will be our exit from the project—and you will be an entrepreneur and repeat the process for the next young person that comes along.
TH: Americans do four times as much venture capital as Canadians per capita. Do you think that if the level of venture capital in Aboriginal communities is ramped up to what the rest of Canada is getting, that will be enough to make a substantive difference?
PM: How big do we think this will go? I think it could become very big, because the opportunities are there for Aboriginal people in terms of money and land claims. There are opportunities to partner with different kinds of businesses in remote parts of the country, where people would like to have partners who have an understanding of [indigenous] knowledge.
TH: In terms of particular types of investments, it seems that there are a lot of job opportunities with wood pellets, various forms of wind power, etc. Do you see those being in the mix?
PM: Absolutely. Those types of investments could take advantage of the land base. But I would resist very strongly typecasting, or stereotyping. Yes, there is the land base, but an entrepreneur is somebody with an idea that nobody else has. And this person makes it work. So I think it would be a terrible mistake to try and stereotype what these businesses are going to be.
TH: But the idea is for the ownership to revert back to the Aboriginal community within 10-15 years?
PM: Yes. Whenever the Aboriginal management is in the position to take it forward. That’s when we would sell out—and sell it at a profit, by the way.
TH: There is a lot of burgeoning social enterprise within companies on the TSX 60. In order for the economy to be sustainable, do we need these large TSX companies to become full-on social enterprises?
PM: I don’t agree. Social enterprise has to have as its dominant return, a social return. The financial return has to be secondary. I think banks should fund renewable energy, but the dominant motive behind funding renewable energy should be the financial return, not the social return. I believe there is a dominant financial return in renewable energy. But when the government or a bank funds it, it’s not their responsibility to fund a social enterprise.
TH: So what you are saying is, if it's not profitable for a company to be a part of the sustainable economy, then that’s the government’s job to make it profitable.
PM: I think the crisis has made this a relevant topic of debate. This financial crisis is not just going to come to an end, and we won't return to the world we saw before. And because of this, there are going to be a series of debates along that line. If that is what Corporate Knights wants to tap into, then I think you hit the mother lode. CK
For more information on CAPE, go to www.capefund.ca