Made on Haida Gwaii: Investing in social good

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Source: J. Lavoie

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This week we resume our 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. This series of articles, which we first featured throughout 2012, showcases the stories of talented young person who call Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada's North. Watch for new installments of Made in Haida Gwaii coming this week and later in July.

Co-launching his first social enterprise in elementary school -- a local bottle recycling venture -- Joseph Lavoie is motivated to use business for creating positive social change. A recent double major graduate in Finance and Business Management from the University of Northern British Columbia, Joseph recounts his role as co-founder of Joe's Bottle Depot as a catalyzing factor in his entrepreneurial journey. Over 15 years later, Joe's Bottle Depot continues to foster sustainability and cleaner streets on Haida Gwaii.

Recognized as an emerging leader and social change-maker, Joseph was honoured as one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty by Youth in Motion in 2005. A budding entrepreneur, Joseph has worked on a number of non-profit and for-profit ventures including serving as President of Volunteer Prince George, an organization which supports volunteers and the growth of local community service initiatives.

Although some regard formal education as unnecessary for entrepreneurism, Joseph views graduating university as a worthwhile experience, "I think everyone should have the opportunity to attend -- it gives you a different perspective on life," he says. Striving to maintain a balanced lifestyle, Joseph has excelled in varsity and indoor soccer, even playing a memorable game against the Vancouver Whitecaps!

"I was lucky to grow up in an environment where individuals could really shine -- I had quite a bit of opportunity to do things that most kids didn't," says Joseph when reflecting on his Haida Gwaii upbringing. "I was pretty blessed to be sheltered from the mainstream negativity of the outside world," he says. Although many individuals from the islands have excelled, Joseph points out what was missing for youth, "I would've liked more opportunities for youth leadership while growing up," he says.  

Joseph acknowledges his father as a central role model and mentor in his life. "With only a Grade nine education, my Dad is self-taught in all aspects. When I bring him [business] topics he can explain them to me because he understands," Joseph says.

Strategy-focused, Joseph is mindful of the tools that young entrepreneurs need to develop, "Building a foundation now will help me to make less mistakes and improve my future work," he says. To strengthen his toolbox of business skills Joseph works as a Business Advisor for TD Bank, "I see statements from start-ups to large companies and deal with social enterprises to business accounts," says Joseph.  

Although eager to make his way in the entrepreneurial world Joseph says that working as a Business Advisor has offered a valuable glance into corporate life, "It's been tough because you're not your own boss -- implementing change is a much slower process."

For Joseph the bigger picture includes getting back into business, "The North has so many different opportunities -- eventually I want to get to a point where I'm back in business and investing in innovative and interesting things," he says -- noting the importance of environmental and green energy projects. Another future goal, Joseph hopes to become politically engaged, "You never know what role you can come into -- I could see myself giving back in a political or board membership role," he says.

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April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North.

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