blogger counters

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Interview with Raylene Whitford, Canative Energy. Innovators and Visionaries Series

Improving the lives of indigenous peoples, establishing economic development programs, linking native peoples across country boundaries, and launching environmental restoration efforts are just a few of the projects launched by Canative Energy's Proyecto Fenix in Ecuador. Welcome to an interview with Raylene Whitford, head of Canative Energy in Ecuador.

1.  What is your name and your background?  Raylene Whitford.  I am a Métis Canadian from Edmonton.  I am a Chartered Accountant and have an MBA in Oil and Gas Management.  I currently live in Ecuador and run Canative Energy, a social enterprise dedicated to economically empowering indigenous communities impacted by the energy industry.

2.  What is Proyecto Fenix?  Proyecto Fénix is the name of Canative Energy’s first proposal to the national oil company of Ecuador.  We proposed to work directly, hand-in-hand, with a number of communities who were given resources by the government in compensation for the activity in the area.  We are currently focused on communities in the Oriente.

3.  What motivated you to launch this visionary project?  I received a tonne of support from my community at home when I was going through university.  As I was the first in my family to go to university, and only 17, I found the transition very difficult.  I nearly failed out of the faculty of engineering when I received a bursary for my studies. It was a bursary set up by (now) one of my mentors – Herb Belcourt as part of a foundation called Canative Housing. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone would actually give money to a failure, but I took it anyways, changed my courseload and started studying subjects I actually liked: Business.  It was so important to me to know that my community believed in me, even when I felt like I was at my worst

 I carried that feeling long after I moved to London to train to be a Chartered Accountant, and by chance, I got to meet Herb as he was passing through London.  I couldn’t believe it. To be in the presence of someone who did so much in his life!  He told me one thing I would never forget; he said, “Go, see the world, get experience you couldn’t get at home, and then give back to the community”. That stayed with me.

 Fast forward to June 2017 – I had moved to Ecuador (for some “crazy” reason… I was actually following my gut) and I was searching for the reason I felt like I needed to be there.  I was heading back to Canada to speak at the Indigenous Energy Conference on the topic of Indigenous Women in the sector and I met someone for a coffee (who very shortly after that meeting took a powerful political position). I remember asking them about the indigenous peoples in Ecuador’s involvement in the sector, and he told me that it was very limited. They did have employment in the sector, they often worked as underpaid subcontractors and often without the appropriate PPE.  I was disappointed.

The conference was such a juxtaposition: over the two days I met so many successful and awe-inspiring indigenous people who were contributing to the sector and helping their communities. I was convinced that I could return to Ecuador and make a meaningful change.

 A few months later Canative Energy was born!  Over a period of six months we made for trips to the Amazon and met 11 communities were affected by the activities in the oil sector. Are the community has had similar issues they were given resources by the government but they didn’t have the business knowledge on how to monetise them.   That is where I saw the opportunity.

4.  Do you see similarities between the indigenous peoples of Canada and those of Ecuador?  What are they? First of all they look the same!  Every time I go to the Amazon am dumbstruck by how similar the people I need there look like my family at home.   The communities which we met and have worked with have the same values the same hopes for their children.  The same hopes that only the indigenous people of Canada halve but also any parents around the whole world.

Clean water is an issue unfortunately for both groups. As well as access to education. From what I’ve seen and from the communities that we are working with their 100% committed to developing businesses in order to secure their future income, and not rely on government handouts.   There is real wish to  live a prosperous life whilst respecting the traditional ways.

 5.  How will you provide education that will help indigenous businesses thrive?   In each project are can you give team have defined certain milestones which we will meet during the project. Some of these milestones relate directly to for example holding workshops where are we will educate their members of the community in areas such as strategy, planning, accounting etc.   However most of the education, as I expect, will be informal because we will spend up to 50% of our time working hand-in-hand with them in their communities.

6.  Please describe a few specific projects. We have two major projects at the moment.   One is and ecotourism hotel which the government gave to the community in compensation for a activity on their land.   Up to 90 families rely on the income from this hotel, however it served 20 tourists last year.   We are working closely with the community to identify the market segment that they wish to target, develop a marketing plan, input the appropriate processes and systems in place in order to execute that plan.

 The other community recently received a barge from the government in order to offer transport services on the river.   This community was only recently affected by the industry activities therefore the community is only beginning to understand what is going on around them. Our challenge is to not only build a sustainable river transport system but also to identify other opportunities for the community to provide services or sell products which are outside of the energy industry.

 7.  What are your next steps?   The next step is to show that we can do what we said that we can do!  The Canative Team is fully committed and is working hard to make sure that we have everything that we need to succeed. The team is incredible and is the determining factor to success -  they have the energy, the commitment and heart to make meaningful change in these communities.

Blog Archive