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Supporting Next-Generation Entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation

Client: Change Labs
Location: Navajo Nation, USA
Catapult Service Line: Education
Thematic Area: Entrepreneurship

Challenge

In 2008, The Economist dubbed the Navajo Nation “Capitalism’s last frontier” highlighting the barriers and challenges inhibiting residents from starting or sustaining a business on tribal lands. In 2010, the unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation, which crosses Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, was estimated between 40 and 70 percent, significantly above the U.S. average of 9.6 percent. Despite resource­-rich land and a viable workforce of 180 thousand people, the growth of Navajo small businesses is less than half the U.S. average growth rate. In addition, the Navajo Nation faces significant social challenges. As an example, 50 percent of homes lack modern plumbing and 20 percent lack electricity.

Many of these socioeconomic and environmental problems could be addressed through local business service providers, yet the lack of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and mentor networks on the Navajo Nation makes tackling the barriers a daunting task for people who may be inspired to start a business.

Work

In response to this challenge, Catapult partnered with local entities on the Navajo Nation to design a hands-­on event called “Change Labs” to engage current and potential Navajo entrepreneurs. Our work includes:

  • securing support from local partners to identify stakeholder groups and workshop participants
  • designing creative workshops led by business leaders from Silicon Valley and the Navajo Nation
  • organizing community dialogue sessions on hot topics facing Native American entrepreneurs
  • setting up mentor meet­u-ps to allow participants to explore branding, business model, legal structure, fundraising, and other business issues
  • assembling an Tech Expo, featuring products and stories of social entrepreneurs from around the globe tackling issues similar to those faced on the Navajo Nation
  • featuring a storytelling panel with Native American business leaders who established successful and novel organizations

Results

Catapult has hosted three sold-out Change Labs on the Navajo Nation since 2014, attracting more than 300 participants, including students, entrepreneurs, creatives, and community organizations. The majority of participants are from the Navajo Nation, but some attendees travel from as far away as New York. Catapult collects data after each workshop on participant knowledge before and after the session:

  • nearly all participants indicated an increase in knowledge after each workshop
  • several participants who meet at the event collaborate on future projects
  • when asked to jot down how the day made them feel, the majority of participants felt hopeful and inspired

Catapult hosted Change Labs 2017 with support from the Kellogg Foundation and initial support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Collaborators

University of New Mexico­ Gallup, Native American Business Incubator Network, Navajo Technical University