American Indian Business Leaders Blaze a Trail to the Future with New Advisory Board

There’s an adage about having a direction that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

A couple years ago, the American Indian Business Leaders, with the assistance of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, spent some time examining where we wanted to go – and how to get there.

The American Indian Business Leaders was founded in 1994 with the mission of empowering Indigenous business students in the United States to foster economic improvement in Native American communities. We’ve grown from one chapter at the University of Montana at Missoula to 120 chapters at universities, tribal colleges, and high schools with more than 250 tribal nations represented. With 2019 marking our 25th anniversary, it was an appropriate time to evaluate where the next 25 years would take us.

Through about a year of analysis and planning with input from respected leaders throughout Indian Country, AIBL learned what programs were most successful, and also, which ones needed improvement. Specifically, we realized that we could only guess at how to prepare our students to participate in corporate America because we didn’t know what attributes corporate America needed.

We’re excited that in the future, AIBL will get those answers straight from the executives themselves. AIBL is building a new advisory board with representatives from many of America’s best known corporations. We expect to hold the first meeting in the first quarter of 2020.

We anticipate having 8-10 members on the advisory board, and I’m happy to share that it will include Sam McCracken, general manager for Nike N7, Nike’s product line that supports the N7 Fund to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in Native American and Aboriginal communities. Longtime AIBL supporter Trina Finley Ponce, the diversity and inclusion program manager at HP, also has agreed to join the board along with Micah Highwalking, senior operations manager at Dr. Pepper.

In addition to advising us on corporate culture, the advisory board will help us cultivate relationships with corporate America that can benefit our students in numerous ways. We’ll be using them as a sounding board to learn what kinds of skills we should be helping our students develop. That feedback is important as we prepare our students to work in corporate America. We also know it’s important to hear from people in a diverse range of businesses as each business and industry has its own corporate culture.

We also anticipate that the advisory board will act as a bridge to greater diversity for corporations wanting to be inclusive of Native Americans and our culture.

We at AIBL are proud of our first 25 years supporting Indigenous business students. We look forward to a future with even greater opportunities.

Prairie Bighorn Blount is the executive director of American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL). She grew up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in eastern Montana and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe. Before joining the AIBL organization, she worked in Washington, D.C., providing contract management services to help support economic development within American Indian communities.

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