Instructor Dorothy Tootoo is currently co-leading a five-week creativity for entrepreneurship program in Rankin Inlet.
photo courtesy Dorothy Tootoo

Her enthusiasm is obvious as Dorothy Tootoo talks about helping to head up a new pilot program currently taking place in Rankin Inlet.

Tootoo, of the Arctic Buying Co., is co-leading creativity for entrepreneurship, a five-week cross-cultural, international entrepreneurship course which is being piloted by the University of Minnesota.

The youth who make up the class taking part in the program are as near as Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Manitoba and as far away as different cities in the U.S. and India.

The class, which began on Feb. 3, is a combination of self-directed study with live zoom videoconferences in English and Inuktitut.

One of the numerous special attributes of the class is that the University of Minnesota actually encourages families to register for the course together.

That has led to entire families signing up with kids, their parents, and even some grandparents joining in with the learning and creativity the course has to offer.

Creativity for entrepreneurship is being touted as a terrific experimental approach to new educational opportunities by those involved with the project, paid for with funding from both the University of Minnesota and the United States National Science Foundation.

The university cites the objectives of the course as diagnosing personal creative capabilities by performing activities in the virtual and physical world, learning through practice and reflecting the blocks that inhibit creativity, developing self-directed learning capabilities and making cross-cultural connections.

Tootoo said the process began with an invitation to participate in a project involving Global Dignity Day, which then went to ArcticNet — a network of Canadian centres of excellence that brings together scientists, engineers and managers in the fields of natural, human health and social sciences with their partners from Inuit organizations, Northern communities, federal and provincial agencies and the private sector to study the impacts of climate change in the Canadian North.

She said everything kind of grew from that into what it is today.

“It’s so true that when you become involved with different organizations and people, and you kind of gel with their way of thinking, everything quickly becomes about inclusivity, diversity, equity in people and all of that,” said Tootoo.

“It has kind of evolved to where we also have space with the University of Minnesota and two professors in particular, Dr. Aparna Katre and Dr. Olaf Kuhlke, who has already spent a lot of time doing research in Arviat over the past number of years.

“He was telling Jamie Bell (formerly of Nunavut Arctic College and the Nunavut Research Institute in Arviat) and I about this project where they wanted to experiment and create an entrepreneurship program that included different ways of learning, while looking at ways to make the process easy for people to understand and participate in while having a voice.

“They’ve actually created another new experimental approach to exploring our cultural entrepreneurship, so, with that in mind, they’re also introducing us to an international audience to explore what that means and how people can learn to be entrepreneurs.”

Tootoo said there are some in the class who don’t have access to social media and they’re ironing out everything as they go along on how to communicate, still be connected and various other topics.

She said it’s been a challenge but it’s also a really good learning experience for everyone involved, including herself.

“Whenever we have problems, we just submit them back to Dr. Katre and Dr. Kuhlke and they say they’ll set us up to have a chat in the university’s chat room. It’s been just incredible.

“I am stunned at how much help there has been through all this program and how it connects us. They’re making every effort to try and keep us connected and they’re always there to help when things are screwed up.

“The experimental approach to exploring this entrepreneurship course is terrific because, really, it’s centred around families coming together and learning in this digital environment and I don’t think this will be the last of it because it’s so exciting.

“Those in the course will take away a real sense of inclusion and we will all come away from this with a new appreciation of creativity. The message we keep getting is that we are shaping this course, so we are really co-designing, or co-developing across, really, an international audience.”

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