Sara Wolfe, Canada's Midwife of Indigenous Innovation
Before stepping into a leadership role with the Indigenous Innovation Initiative at Grand Challenges Canada, Sara Wolfe was a midwife. Sara's background as a caregiver has proven to be a fertile training ground for Canada's midwife of Indigenous innovation.
"Getting 'upstream' means addressing the root of the problems --- racism, discrimination, and systemic oppression: colonization and it’s historic social and economic fallout.
To solve this challenge, we must name it and address it rather than continue to put layers of band-aids on the symptoms." ~ Sara Wolfe
Meet Sara Wolfe, Director of Indigenous Innovation Initiative
Sara is Anishinaabe from Brunswick House First Nation in Northern Ontario. She is a Registered Nurse, a Registered Midwife, and holds a master’s in business administration (MBA) from the Rotman School of Management. Working more than two decades primarily in sexual and reproductive health, Sara was the founder and managing director of Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto and co-led the development and implementation of the Toronto Birth Centre, Canada’s first mainstream healthcare facility to use an Indigenous governance and leadership framework.
Today, she is the Director of the Indigenous Innovation Initiative at Grand Challenges Canada, one of the largest impact investors in Canada. They are an innovation platform dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact®. Through the Indigenous Innovation Initiative, Sara is supporting innovators and communities to identify and solve their own challenges, drive inclusive growth, and improve peoples’ lives through Indigenous innovation. Their inaugural program is to advance Indigenous gender equality through innovation and social entrepreneurship.
Tell us more about your desire to work upstream.
"Getting 'upstream' means addressing the root of the problems --- racism, discrimination, and systemic oppression: colonization and its historic social and economic fallout. To solve this challenge, we must name it and address it rather than continue to put layers of band-aids on the symptoms."
As a midwife, I learned how to anticipate not only a client's clinical needs but also their emotional, social, spiritual, cultural, familial, and mental health needs. Our midwifery group worked to develop clear pathways to access the wrap-around supports needed. We then worked respectfully with them to identify their priorities and ask them how they wanted these supports to be delivered.
In my work at the Indigenous Innovation Initiative, I am committed to leading a strong team upstream, to put community innovators at the centre of all that we do. That looks like a multi-prong, solutions-focused approach to where we listen to the community, bridge access to the resources that are needed, and build internal capacity for us and the Innovators so they can get busy championing the solutions their communities need.
What is your vision for Indigenous Innovation in the next 10-20 years?
It's been said that 'COVID-19 is not a disease; it is a symptom of an exhausted planet. It is in the wisdom and sacred teachings of Indigenous people across the world... healing can occur."* Indigenous ways of knowing and doing recognize a different kind of worldview. Indigenous Innovation is grounded in our understanding of interconnection and the interplay of all and for all who coexist. We learn by listening to all our relations - the land around us, to the animals and how they interact with each other, the fliers, the swimmers, the crawlers, two-leggeds, four-leggeds. Our actions today have their biggest impact seven generations from now. Imagine if every decision originated from here. Imagine what might be possible as we work to dismantle systems of oppression by fueling insights, inspirations, ideas, and innovation unapologetically grounded in Indigenous epistemologies and ways of knowing, doing, and being.
I imagine a future where a collective of caring partners - stakeholders, funders, communities, private and public sectors, academic institutions, economic players - come together to provide seed funding for hundreds even thousands of Indigenous Innovation ideas, allowing the opportunity for these ideas to take form in the world and transition to the community-focused solutions most needed at this time. Solutions that not only benefit families across our country but also act as an integral economic and social engine for our society as we work together to shift the worldview to one committed to the health and wellbeing of all people, to planetary recovery, and the restoration of balance with the land and all things on it.
As a result of our collective conviction to this initiative, over the next 10-20 years, Indigenous peoples will be treated as equals in society, garnering utmost respect for our solutions to solving the world's most pressing economic, social, health, and environmental problems.
We will no longer be sick, poor, criminalized, undereducated, and socially disenfranchised. We will thrive, and society as a whole will benefit from the investment that has been made and continues to be made in Indigenous innovation. Full-circle reciprocity will ignite the reputation of Indigenous Innovators as 'critical and important research and development thought leaders'.
Action steps forward in 2021 toward sustainable solutions
To realize the aforementioned vision, Canada must commit to a gendered response - one that includes a specifically tailored approach for Indigenous women and gender diverse people's needs. A response that connects all of the dots to care for families and communities in this generation, the next generation, and seven generations from now.
- Small-and-medium-sized enterprises play a key role in the Canadian economy.
- Women, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are the foundation of families and communities.
- Between 2013 and 2017, small-and-medium-sized enterprises made up 85% of the net job creation in the private sector. And in 2017, SME's employed almost 90% of the private sector workforce in Canada.
- However, only 1.4% were Indigenous-owned, despite being 5% of the national population. And only 25% of that 1.4% was majority Indigenous woman-owned.
- For Indigenous women and gender diverse people, economic reconciliation is critical to our emergence; and that will require sustainable investment in dedicated economic recovery efforts.
Imagine what would happen if as part of the BUILDING BACK BETTER COVID-19 economic recovery plan, we invested in Indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals who champion Indigenous innovation and position themselves, their families, and their communities to thrive when the Canadian and global economies re-emerge.
The Government of Canada has invested billions in innovation, research and development, and international development – it’s time to direct some of our resources to support Indigenous innovation here at home.
"It is in the wisdom and sacred teachings of Indigenous people across the world... healing can occur."
We have the opportunity to walk forward together to heal all our relations. There is a role to play for each of us.
The Indigenous Innovation Initiative is the platform committed to community-centric innovative solutions grounded in the wisdom and sacred teachings of Indigenous people and led by Innovators who model hope, possibility, and action. Learn more about the Indigenous Innovation Initiative here.
*Maskalyk, J and Courchene, D (2020). 'The real cure for COVID is renewing our fractured relationship with the planet', The Globe and Mail, 20 December