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More than Scholarships

Foundations don’t seek recognition for the work they do. They are uncomfortable in the spotlight, preferring instead to shine it upon their hard-working nonprofit partners.

But sometimes an event designed to show gratitude to a funder can become much more that. Here at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we had a chance to experience this firsthand during the recent Johnson Scholarship Day celebration at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Students at a tableJohnson Scholarship Day gave JSF staff a chance to meet more than 100 students who are recipients of PBA’s Johnson Scholarships. In total there are more than 800 academically talented and service-oriented Johnson Scholars at PBA, a Christian university of about 3,850 students in West Palm Beach, Florida.

This was the second year the university has hosted Johnson Scholarship Day. It was special to JSF for several reasons, but three in particular stood out to us.

First, it was a chance for JSF to get to know the students. During PBA’s Johnson Scholarship Day, we had a chance to enjoy refreshments and sit down with college students, a famously busy lot. They told us about their hometowns and their future plans. They also shared what the scholarship means to them.

Students wearing johnson scholarship day shirtsMany of them spoke about financial need and how the scholarship helped fill in the gaps in their financial aid. Some said the scholarship gave them encouragement to stay focused on their studies. As Johnson Scholar Primose Lataillade told us, “It teaches us that people believe in us.”

Second, it was a chance for the students to get to know JSF. Our founders, the late Theodore R. and Vivian M. Johnson, came to know PBA through their personal friendship with PBA Founding Board Chairman Dr. Donald Warren.

PBA President William M. B. Fleming Jr. described Mr. Johnson as a remarkable man who loved PBA students. Because of Mr. Johnson’s admiration for the university, PBA has been a grant recipient – one of the Foundation’s largest – since JSF’s inception in 1991.

JSF President and CEO Malcolm Macleod gave the students additional insight into Mr. Johnson, who shared Dr. Warren’s belief that a school like PBA had the potential to slow what many perceived at the time as a moral decline in America. “He felt that this was a great investment in society,” he said.

Sharon Wood at Johnson Scholarship DayThird, it was a chance for JSF to see the return on not just one but two of its investments. During the event, we learned that at least one of the students in the room was well acquainted with JSF long before she ever set foot on PBA’s campus.

As a student at Palm Beach Gardens Community High School, this student spent all four years in the Johnson Scholars program, a college readiness program that is a partnership among JSF, the School District of Palm Beach County and Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County. Students who complete the program receive a college scholarship. For this young woman, that scholarship enabled her to continue her studies at PBA.

To us, stories like hers and the others we heard are what Johnson Scholarship Day was really about. We are proud of all of our Johnson Scholars at PBA, as well as those at other colleges, universities and schools throughout Florida, the United States and Canada.

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at

Investing in Indigenous Business in Canada: Key Opportunities and Challenges

Aboriginal business opportunities are arising at a revolutionary rate but the capacity (knowledge and experience) to take advantage of these opportunities is generally acquired on an evolutionary and generational basis. How do we reconcile the two?


  1. Joint Venture Partnerships with domain-experienced companies can be one way to overcome capacity challenges allowing Aboriginal companies to take advantage of opportunities more immediately and the other joint venture partner to access business on a preferential basis. CAPE Fund (a grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation) has found that at least in our country, Corporate Canada has been slow to react to these opportunities and when they do emerge, they are structured to flow cash to Indigenous communities with little opportunity for the transfer of business knowledge and the creation of Aboriginal employment.
  2. Cape LogoIn modern society, business is supported by a complex “ecosystem” which includes access to knowledgeable capital from a variety of sources, a well-educated and trained labor force, experienced management and governance resources and advanced infrastructure (IT, transport, power, water, education, health care, etc.). These are not a “given” in most Indigenous communities.
  3. Politics play a great role in the affairs of Indigenous communities. While many communities make great efforts to separate business and politics by establishing appropriate governance structures, the temptation to mix the two frequently leads to bad or uninformed decisions negatively affecting business. These complications are avoided when we invest in Aboriginal entrepreneurs as opposed to community-related businesses.
  4. For generations, Canadian federal law has encouraged the creation of structures, which encourage dependency and foster dysfunctionality in Indigenous communities. One example of this is the two-year election cycle mandated by the Indian Act for most First Nations’ chiefs and councils. When a First Nations elder was asked by a CAPE representative if a particular Nation would be committed to a project requiring five to 10 years of development and millions of dollars of investment, the response was “Yes, but can we abandon the project in two years if a new Chief is elected?”


  1. Aboriginal youth represent the fastest growing demographic in Canada. Over 50 percent of Indigenous people in Canada are under the age of 25.
  2. Canada is facing a labor shortage, which is forecast to worsen in coming years.
  3. It is now a legal obligation for corporations to consult and, where possible, accommodate our Indigenous peoples when their traditional territories are to be impacted by commercial development. This has given rise to impact/benefit agreements negotiated between developers and our Indigenous peoples, designed to mitigate environmental impacts and provide economic benefits including jobs, Native business creation and profit sharing.
  4. Sean Manitobah MukluksThe rise of successful Aboriginal business and Aboriginal entrepreneurs can lead to the creation of role models who can inspire and motivate Indigenous youth to stay in school, work hard, pursue an education in business and become productive members of their communities and Canadian society in general. One example of such an entrepreneur is Sean McCormick, CEO of Manitobah Mukluks, one of our most successful investments.

We are seeing the emergence of a number of successful Indigenous businesses in Canada, notwithstanding enormous challenges faced by our Indigenous peoples brought on by almost a half of a millennium of marginalization and abuse. Ultimately our goal should be to assist our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to find justice and substantially improve the quality of their lives in all respects. Business creation and growth is only one piece of a great puzzle representing the true holistic solution required. It is, nevertheless, an important vehicle for our Indigenous peoples to generate the wealth necessary to improve quality of life and provide meaningful employment opportunities for their benefit as well as our country’s at large.

Peter Forton is Managing Director of CAPE Fund (Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship), a $50 million, socially responsible investment fund, established to encourage Aboriginal entrepreneurship and capacity building in Canada. The Fund is the vision of former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and his son David and is backed by 18 of Canada’s leading corporations as well as three international foundations.