by Tor Gjertsen, UiT/The Arctic University of Norway

Earlier this month the UArctic Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development and UiT/The Arctic University of Norway organized a seminar on local business and community development for Avjuvarri Indigenous Region in Kautokeino. The main objective of the seminar was to identify the areas where the advantage of cooperation between the two municipalities that form the indigenous region, Karasjok and Kautokeino, were greatest, and the obstacles, visible and invisible, for achieving closer cooperation between the two most important Sami municipalities in Norway. Focus was not only on cooperation between the business community, but also public and voluntary sector of Kautokeino and Karasjok.

The seminar marked the first step in a three phased regional development process, and the result of the whole process depended very much on the outcome. It was successful both in identifying the most advantageous areas of cooperation in the business, public and voluntary sector between the Sami municipalities and the obstacles that had to be removed to facilitate cooperation. The success of the seminar is explained by the careful selection of participants and the organization form that were used, a combination of group work and plenary discussion. This way the seminar decided on the main priority areas, objectives and participants in the regional development workshop and business schools that would follow in the regional development process just started. The business schools are meant for people who want to start their own businesses, but also for established businessmen and –women, who want to develop their businesses and/or create new businesses through spin-offs. By joining these two groups the new entrepreneurs can learn from the more experienced ones, and hopefully be able to build local and regional development partnerships together, where representatives of municipal authorities and regional development agencies can be invited to participate.

Apart from local business people, politicians and bureaucrats, representatives of voluntary organizations in the two Sami municipalities, and of regional development agencies such as UiT/The Arctic University of Norway, Sami University College, Finnmark Estate, Innovation-Norway and Young Entrepreneurship – Finnmark participated in the seminar in Kautokeino. The success of this new initiative of business and community development in Avjuvarri Indigenous Region depend to a great extent on a continuous support from these agencies. Neither Avjovarri nor the municipal authorities of Karasjok and Kautokeino have the administrative, human and economic resources that are necessary to deal with the social and economic challenges of the region. By joining forces with business and voluntary sector at a regional development workshop in Karasjok in the end of February 2015 the local and regional authorities in Avjuvarri Indigenous Region hope to establish a partnership for the development of the region.  

Development workshops and partnerships – part of the solution

Avjuvarri Indigenous Region, the first indigenous region in Western Europe, was founded in 2006 by the Sami municipalities of Kautokeino, Karasjok and Porsanger, with improvement of public services, apart from community and business development as the main objectives. At the same time the UArctic Thematic Network on Local and Regional Development was established by Finnmark University College. One of the first tasks for the newly established network was to organize a development workshop for municipal employees in Avjuvarri Indigenous Region on inter-municipal cooperation, service development and identity and image building. It should take 8 years before the second Avjuvarri development workshop, on community and business development, was put on the network’s agenda. In between the network organized 6 local development workshops in small, remote rural communities in Finnmark and 32 in rural regions of northern Russia, mainly in Arkhangelsk, Komi and Yakutia. Time has not been wasted, the extensive international experience acquired by the network will no doubt benefit the participants of second Avjuvarri development workshop, on business and community development.     

New businesses based on Sami language and culture

In the fall of 2011 the Department of business administration at Finnmark University College got an application from Maze community association in Kautokeino for a business school especially for people that wanted to start new businesses based on traditional Sami culture. Unfortunately there were not enough participants in the small rural community to organize an applied course program. With the whole Avjuvarri Indigenous Region as recruitment base for this and other training programs for new and old entrepreneurs the situation today is much more favorable. There is also a much stronger focus on Sami language and culture as a potential source for new businesses. It is highly prioritized by the Sami Parliament and the Sami University College. Innovation and entrepreneurship are already included in both undergraduate and graduate study programs, including reindeer herding and dudji (Sami handicraft). The Sami University College as well as UiT/The Arctic University of Norway are strongly committed to the new project and process for social and economic development in Avjuvarri Indigenous Region, mainly through knowledge and competence building. It is a late but hopefully relevant answer to the call for help from the community association of Maze.