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This theme explores how students, faculty and staff are change agents: disrupting the status quo and contributing to an evolving understanding of our world.

By Pamela Gill

Newfoundland and Labrador faces many challenges with respect to the development of a sustainable economy without the reliance on natural resources.

However, the research of two Memorial business scholars may help the people of this province to understand what they can do to meet and overcome those challenges.

History, research and data

Dr. Jacqueline Walsh, chair, Grenfell Campus’s business administration program, and her co-researcher, Dr. Blair Winsor of the Faculty of Business Administration on the St. John’s campus, are creating a story based on history, research and data to explain why Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture of entrepreneurship and innovation is among the lowest in Canada.

“We are creative, we are social and friendly, we are persistent and hard working — so why aren’t we excelling entrepreneurially?” — Dr. Jacqueline Walsh

“The first stage is figuring out why exactly our province’s culture may be hindering the creation and sustainability of innovative new firms,” said Dr. Walsh.

“Our province has all the qualities that should support such a culture — we are creative, we are social and friendly, we are persistent and hard working — so why aren’t we excelling entrepreneurially?”

As Dr. Walsh sees it, the best hope for our province’s economy, population and social programs is the creation of new, diverse business enterprises.

Dr. Jacqueline Walsh
Dr. Jacqueline Walsh
Photo: Submitted

Key source

Startups and small firms are an essential source of innovation and their role is even more pronounced in small regional economies found in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In such areas, entrepreneurship is the key source of regional development.

The research Dr. Walsh is conducting, and the paper she is co-authoring with Dr. Winsor, applies the Hofstede “model of cultural dimensions,” which includes five dimensions: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation.

Dr. Blair Winsor
Dr. Blair Winsor
Photo: David Howells

According to the authors, this model is the most widely used framework for determining whether a region has a culture conducive for innovation.

Typically, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a history of tolerating class distinctions, some examples being blue collar versus white collar, management versus union, rich versus poor and urban versus rural.

These distinctions limit the flow of information and the sharing of ideas, as well as working interdependently in order to survive, says Dr. Walsh.

She says the distinctions diminish individualism and self-determination, and sustain a stereotypical “feministic” society (a nurturing and conflict avoidance society as opposed to a society driven by competition, achievement and success).

She also says that avoiding uncertainty by seeking larger, pension-granting employers and preferring the security of long-term employment and unionization and focusing on the past and traditions, as opposed to preparing for the future and embracing change, are also factors.

Overcoming the barriers

Despite the fact that preliminary findings suggest that Newfoundland and Labrador has a weak culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, Drs. Walsh and Winsor believe strongly that working together as a community, these cultural barriers can be overcome.

“People are talking about the issue and want to be part of the conversation. This is the first step to changing a culture.” — Dr. Jacqueline Walsh

“People are very interested in our research,” said Dr. Walsh.

“Anecdotally, everyone has a story to tell that relates to our findings. We are happy that people are talking about the issue and want to be part of the conversation. This is the first step to changing a culture.”

She and Dr. Winsor suggest that the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation should be introduced to children and young adults as a part of the regular curriculum, provincewide.

“It could and should be a mandatory course.”

“Part of the solution”

In addition, they recommend face-to-face and grassroots gatherings, brainstorming sessions, social interaction, role models, mentors and local and global networks as key factors that support entrepreneurship.

“We are seeing much more of this happening all across Newfoundland and Labrador, and we are encouraged by peoples’ interest and desire to be part of the solution,” said Dr. Walsh.

“Ultimately, we are trying to put research behind this issue. If we’re going to fix this, we need to know where to start. The one thing we know for sure: it takes a community to raise an entrepreneur.”

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