A successful project dares community members to dream about the possibilities that lie before them.

SBA – Tribal Self-Assessment Tool

A need existed for economic development practices, tools, and methodology and to help Tribes understand the opportunities and competitive advantages available.
The Small Business Administration’s Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA) partnered with our team to create a “Tribal Self-Assessment Tool”.Our staff pulled together a coalition of subject matter experts; lawyers well versed in Indian Law, native corporate CEOs, economists with long-term ties to Indian Country, academics, Native entrepreneurs, and leaders of Native non-profits.

An on-line Tribal Self-Assessment Tool was created to allow community planners and leaders to “walk-through” all of the elements of economic development and assess their Tribe’s strengths and weaknesses.Tribal communities that use the Tribal Self-Assessment Tool will be better positioned to make decisions on economic ventures, will have more Tribal community support from the start, and will significantly increase the likelihood of long-term success.

The Engine of Growth for Native Communities

The Staff of One Fire has delivered more than 15 Tribal Enterprise workshops targeting Tribal and business leaders.

With the understanding that Native American businesses face a unique set of challenges and can own a different set of advantages, participants are introduced to topics that show how Tribal businesses can succeed and bring economic benefits to communities. Topics include:

  • Governance and Leadership Options
  • Identifying Sources of Advantages
  • Developing Strategy and Brand
  • Aligning the Organization Structure
  • Designing Capable High-Performance Teams and Talent
  • Community Buy-In

The Tribal Enterprise workshop takes a “hands-on” approach to anchor learning and brings abstract principles to life. Instructors lead the participants through real-life case studies and use “whole brain” teaching techniques. This training was created with one purpose in mind – to drive real skill and behavior change in participants that translates into tangible results.

Achieving Small Business Dreams

The staff of One Fire has conducted small business workshops for Native Americans that have made a difference in the lives of 1500 potential entrepreneurs and established business owners in 107 communities. The two-day workshops provided aspiring entrepreneurs the knowledge and resources to successfully launch their small businesses as well as support emerging and ongoing businesses. It offered comprehensive information on topics such as business planning, access to capital, basic bookkeeping, human resources, problem-solving, and marketing.

The One Fire staff shaped these workshops to fill the unique needs of Native communities that face challenges unlike any other people in the United States. The instructors supported the transformational process with “hands-on” experiences such as role-playing and business simulation exercises. They used peer reviews and applied models to potential businesses. They presented case studies and showed relevant graphics and videos.

Participants gained more than just learning the fundamental principles of starting and growing a business; they shifted their world view and broadened their perspectives to embrace success.

Context is Everything

Download the Full Paper “Context is Everything.” Native Americans face extraordinary challenges when entering the philanthropic maze created by foundations. While $5.4 billion is awarded in grants across the United States, less than one percent is targeted toward Native American communities, and some of those funds are granted to non-Native controlled institutions with limited participation by native people. The reasons for this persistent underfunding of Native communities are complex and numerous. One common problem is the pervasive negative stereotypes about the lives and work of Native people, even by well-meaning foundation staffs. Another issue is an enormous cultural gap. For example, many Native American communities’ value relationships and network approaches to solving social problems rather than a system that rewards individual achievement and narrowly targeted funding.

The key to understanding Native American concerns starts with the idea of building a respectful relationship over time. That means learning about each Native community and their issues. This is in contrast to a foundation approach where there is a propensity to lump all Tribal people together. When a Native project fails, foundations often become hesitant about funding future Native projects. There are many reasons why individual projects do not succeed. The failure could be that a foundation did not conduct good research on the Native grantee. Yet when one project fails, as one person reported, they “virtually stopped funding Native projects.”

This paper concludes with a series of recommendations about how the foundation community can be a better partner with Native American communities, nonprofits, and tribes.

Native American Leadership

First Nations Development Institute wanted to develop a leadership program that would help Native non-profit leaders excel in the years ahead. They needed insight into the opportunities and challenges facing these leaders operating in Indian Country. The difficulty of the task is that Indian leaders operate in a very unique political and cultural environment. They have limited resources and struggle to balance multiple constituents’ interests and needs.

The director selected our team to facilitate a convening of the top 40 Native non-profit leaders in the United States. We prepared and planned the event, facilitated the framing of key issues, and supported the group in reaching conclusions concerning the direction the program should take.

Our staff was able to help these American Indian leaders identify the critical results, knowledge requirements, and preferred learning styles for a new Native American Leadership program. The results from the work-shop became the basis for the development of a National American Indian Leadership program.

National Congress of American Indians

Tribal leaders wanted to change the process of Tribal, state, and federal policy-making from one of a “reactive, problem-driven” approach to a process informed by research and data. At their request, NCAI launched a national Policy Research Center designed to collect, coordinate, and make available the information, data, and analyses that could serve public policy decisions.

Our team facilitated the Strategy Development process for the Center’s Advisory Council. The council created an alternative approach that allowed for the identification of multiple policy options. This approach is characterized by critical debate in Indian Country, especially among Tribal leaders.

The resulting work of the Policy Research Center will serve to:

  • Organize existing available data into useful formats to improve its accessibility to Tribal leaders, government officials, academics and the public
  • Serve as an information clearinghouse to connect Native institutions through a comprehensive website
  • Connect leading thinkers and institutions so they may develop proactive models for data collection and analysis
  • Identify priorities for research and policy development
  • Educate Tribal leadership, academic entities, Congress, the Administration, and the public by publishing and disseminating the results of the Institute’s research.
Large Oklahoma Native Nation – Economic Development

The Tribal government was paralyzed. Tribal employees were disillusioned and discouraged. In the preceding ten years, the operating budget had tripled, and the number of citizens served more than doubled. Tribal services had deteriorated and had not kept pace with the growing demand.

The newly-elected Chief of the Nation requested assistance to significantly transform the Tribal service organization and its culture. One Fire assembled an outstanding group of organizational and cultural transformation experts to partner with the Nation’s leadership.One Fire won a Ford Foundation grant and initiated a four-year project.

The One Fire team clarified the purpose and direction of the Nation’s government. We redesigned and institutionalized new strategy and planning processes, as well as redesigned the service delivery systems of Health, Education, Housing and Human Services, and strengthened Tribal government leadership. One Fire facilitated the creation of an economic development plan that helped the Nation’s business enterprises by increasing their profits more than ten-fold. Tribal leadership now had the capacity to manage the largest operating budget increase in its history.

Large Alaskan Native Village – Five Year Organizational Plan

The Alaskan Native Village was in a growth phase and needed a comprehensive plan to guide the village forward. Many attempts to create an Organizational Five Year Plan had not succeeded. The Native Village is a traditional Tribal government created by Congress in 1949.

The One Fire team facilitated the leadership of the Native Village through a step-by-step strategic planning and organization design process. The approach consisted of five phases designed to build a comprehensive organizational plan. The project entailed a review and assessment of the existing governmental organization and each of the eleven departments.

One Fire helped developed a first-ever Native Village Five-Year Organizational Plan and 11 departmental plans for the following: Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Gaming, Housing/NAHASDA, Indian Reservation Roads, Realty, Social Services, Tribal Courts, Tribal Operations, Wildlife, Workforce Development, and Economic Development.