How do we create sustainable businesses for Alaska that also protect the Arctic, its environment, and its people? That’s a question on the mind of Yaso Thiru, director of APU’s Institute for Business & Public Policy.
In February, Yaso gave a keynote on the subject at the virtual Arctic Frontiers conference. Held annually in Tromsø, Norway, the conference brings together academics and decisionmakers to discuss key topics on Northern culture, climate, health, and business.
Business may seem like the outlier in the group, but it’s an essential component of Arctic communities. Strong local businesses with sustainable practices can support a community, slow outmigration, and maintain environmental and community health. With that in mind, business education in the North should focus on building small businesses that sustain communities and the environment.
That was the theme of Yaso’s conference keynote. “We need to teach in the classroom concepts and ideas that are appropriate for small and medium enterprises,” she said.
Entrepreneurship education is often tailored to showcase big Silicon Valley companies, like Uber and AirBNB. The venture capital model focuses on how fast a business can make profits for the investor. But Northern businesses must also create prosperity for their community and protect their environment, because their long-term survival depends on it. A slow but steady-growing and sustainable small business is a successful business, although a venture capitalist may not favor it.
APU educates students to think beyond profit, and to consider business impacts on people and place. There’s still room for large value-growth business concepts in the classroom, but Northern communities should think about building business enterprises in the context of the Arctic.
As a member of the University of the Arctic thematic interest group on small and medium enterprises, Yaso collaborates with academics from Iceland, Norway, and Finland to research small business resilience and social sustainability in the Arctic.
“We made a resolution in the Institute of Business and Public Policy last year to include in our business courses information about climate change mitigation and adaptation,” Yaso said. “We want students to think about not just building a business, but how it will impact the world around them.”
At APU, she said, “We provide business education that is globally informed and Arctic-relevant.”