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‘Really exciting’

Business student spends summer leading SmartICE project on North Coast

By Susan White

For one Memorial business student, a summer job also means contributing to the well-being of her community.

Shawna Dicker, 20, is entering her third year of the bachelor of business administration (BBA) program this fall, but she’s also been the northern logistics co-ordinator for SmartICE in Nain since April.

SmartICE is an award-winning social enterprise. Along with partners like C-CORE, it developed a SmartBUOY that integrates state-of-the-art technology with traditional Inuit knowledge, primarily to measure sea ice thickness and give insights into local ice conditions. The buoys will be built at the company’s northern production centre in Nain.

Building communities

But beyond building buoys to help people across the North safely navigate sea ice, SmartICE also seeks to build communities through youth development and job training programs.

“A lot of people are very interested and very excited about what we’re doing,” said Ms. Dicker, who is Inuit and originally from Nain.

“SmartICE wanted to ensure that employment would be in Nain for our youth, which is really, really exciting. It not only gives me experience and work in a business environment, but it gives other people in the community experience as well.”

The SmartICE team in Nain, Labrador.
Photo: Submitted

The company has been running an eight-week pilot project with seven youths between the ages of 18 and 29, teaching them how to make the buoys while also offering certifications such as First Aid and Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and developing job-related skills such as resumé and cover letter writing.

‘Connections made with people’

Ms. Dicker has been involved in many aspects of the project, from recruiting and mentoring the participants to managing the centre’s logistics related to travel and shipping.

She’s also broadened her understanding of how a social enterprise works and the impact it can have in a community.

“I have learned what social enterprise means, and I’ve seen first-hand how that affects not only the company, but the community as well where it is very community based,” she said. “It’s not always just profit and the margins of business. It’s also the personal and the connections made with people.”

Carolann Harding, executive director of SmartICE, says that focus on community is a cornerstone of the organization.

“I’m excited to keep working for SmartICE because they highly value Inuit and their knowledge.” — Shawna Dicker

“It’s always an interesting balance to marry the needs of a business with the guiding needs of a social enterprise to make sure that our social mandate and our social impact is there,” she said. “It’s not just about getting buoys made. We’re also trying to help people.”

Ms. Harding says having someone leading the northern production centre who’s actually from the community has been “critically important.”

“It’s important for SmartICE to have as many people from Nain employed in Nain,” she said. “There’s nothing like having someone in the community who knows the community.”

A second cohort of the youth program will run in the fall with production of the buoys slated to begin in late October. To date, about 20 orders have been received.

‘Constant learning, innovation and teaching’

Ms. Dicker will return to St. John’s to resume her studies in September, but will also keep working for SmartICE.

“I’m excited to keep working for SmartICE because they highly value Inuit and their knowledge. It’s an enterprise of constant learning, innovation and teaching that contributes to various issues in the Arctic,” she said.

“With SmartICE being a social enterprise, these barriers are overcome in many different ways that benefit the community. Being able to see the different aspects of a social enterprise and what it all means is very interesting and heartwarming where this is something new to the community and those who participate.”

Funding for Ms. Dicker’s internship was provided by Venture for Canada, which helps Canadian youth gain entrepreneurial leadership skills through placements at Canadian startups.


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