As the pandemic has fundamentally altered business and consumer behaviour, organizations around the world have been forced to adapt to the new normal. For the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance (SCNATEA), this means moving all business-exchange activities online to a new virtual platform, allia.
Launched October 5, the matchmaking platform is named for the alliance-building that has been integral to SCNATEA’s mission since its creation in 2002. The non-profit organization’s usual networking events, orientation missions, conferences and other activities are – much like everything else since last March – on pause.
“This platform will provide, in the particular context we have been experiencing for several months, a means for its users to maintain contact with their business partners from the Cree Nation, Jamésie, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nunavik, as well as elsewhere in Quebec and Canada,” stated SCNATEA board chair Ted Moses.
Although its development was instigated by the pandemic, the Secretariat views allia as an additional tool to expand their existing capabilities. While distance has always been a challenge for Cree companies, allia provides another avenue for accessing international opportunities – after all, it’s just as easy to communicate online with the other side of the world as the other side of town.
“It brings people together without the obstacle of what we’re living now,” asserted Chantal Hamelin, director general of SCNATEA. “It’s great we were able to reinvent ourselves, but nothing will replace our face-to-face meetings. Now we can expand through the world – we have no boundaries.”
Created in partnership with Montreal-based technology company PairConnex, the platform is designed to connect organizations with compatible businesses based on the similarity of their objectives. After submitting the annual registration fee of $300, members answer 15 questions about their preferences, interests and networking goals to establish a profile. An automatic analysis then generates a list of personalized recommendations.
“It’s kind of a Tinder for businesses,” Hamelin told the Nation, referencing the popular dating website. “It does the work for you and then you decide if you take the meetings or not. Let’s say you and I have 75% compatibility – I can check your profile and how we connect. If I want a meeting with you, I send you an invitation.”
Accepting a meeting proposal sent by text and email will lead a user to a video-conferencing app called Whereby, which pops up from the platform at the appointed time. There are also exclusive webinars and other connection opportunities intended to nurture sustainable relationships between Cree companies and other northern Indigenous or non-Indigenous businesses.
Hamelin provided an example of another application of the platform. A Cree community seeking an electrician from a “red zone” near Quebec City to finish a project before winter was able to make the necessary connection via allia.
With close to 100 members already having joined the platform via alliab2b.com or the Secretariat’s website, Hamelin hopes to double that figure by year’s end as news spreads of their Business Exchange Day happening December 9. Along with exclusive content, Hamelin has invited the Grand Chief and Quebec ministers of forests and Indigenous affairs.
“The Business Exchange Day will bring one day of additional information,” shared Hamelin. “We’ve invited the Grand Chief to speak about the ‘Grand Alliance’, the private housing initiative and the Cree Free Trade Agreement. I know they’re doing a community tour [regarding the trade agreement] right now, informing the communities.”
The Cree Nation Free Trade Agreement intends to build a multilateral framework for promoting local economies while leveraging the market in Eeyou Istchee. Expanding economic participation and mobility through cooperation is a way to overcome the isolating effects of the Indian Act.
While Hamelin misses facilitating meetings throughout Eeyou Istchee, she is excited about allia’s potential for helping Cree businesses. As people become more comfortable with using the platform, there will be further focus groups, in-depth discussions and other networking activities aligned with the organization’s mission of communicating and promoting exchange.
“We want to keep doing what we do best,” explained Hamelin. “We need to find other ways to connect but we’re ready with this platform to bring people together. Hopefully people will love this program and tell others. Let’s dream big.”