As the first Canadian bank to open a branch on a reserve, it’s no surprise they’re leading the charge across the country.
By Shelley White
This past June 21st, the sounds of singing and drumming echoed through Scotiabank’s main banking hall in downtown Toronto. In honour of National Aboriginal Day, Scotiabank invited the youthful Sun Spirit drummers from Toronto’s First Nations School to lead celebrations with Scotiabank employees and customers.
“It was a historic event,” says Ravina Bains, National Director, Aboriginal Financial Services for Scotiabank. “There was a drum circle and dancing and singing, and it was the first time anything like that has been done in Scotia Plaza.”
That memorable day was a reflection of Scotiabank’s long-standing commitment to Aboriginal communities and clients, says Ravina. “We have a long history of partnering with Aboriginal communities. We are committed to supporting Aboriginal individuals and businesses across the country.”
Forty five years ago, in 1971, Scotiabank became the first Canadian bank to open a branch on a reserve. Now, Scotiabank has Aboriginal banking centres that are located across the country both on and near Aboriginal communities.
“And our commitment goes beyond financial services,” says Ravina. “Our branch employees are involved in volunteering with local community events like powwows, and in supporting and partnering with Aboriginal youth sports teams. We believe strongly in being part of the community.”
She notes that Scotiabank’s long-standing relationship and work with Aboriginal communities has been honoured by groups like the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
“We have a gold level rating from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business for not only our financial services, but also our Aboriginal relations with communities across the country,” she adds.
When it comes to employees, the Scotiabank Aboriginal Network is an active employee resource group (ERG) made up of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal employees who meet regularly and organize cultural events, such as the historic Scotia Plaza drum circle. The group also hosts “lunch and learn” events where employees can come together to learn about Aboriginal culture.
“We have also created programs, like our mentorship circle, which partners new Aboriginal Scotiabank employees with senior Aboriginal employees who offer career advice and support,” she says.
Scotiabank uses a variety of tools for recruitment, including a career website called Aboriginal Talent. The site enables job-seekers to self-identify as Aboriginal and explore different career opportunities with the support of a recruitment consultant.
This focus on Aboriginal recruitment is about ensuring the bank’s employee base reflects the diversity of their customers, says Ravina. “Scotiabank’s culture of inclusion and diversity of talent is a critical success factor in our ability to serve our customers around the world.”
Youth success is also the focus of many of Scotiabank’s initiatives. The bank supports numerous programs aimed at supporting Aboriginal youth, from sports teams to bursaries and scholarships to on-reserve youth entrepreneurship programs.
“The Aboriginal population is one of the fastest growing and youngest populations in the country. And Aboriginal youth across the country have some of the lowest graduation rates and lowest participation rates in post-secondary education,” says Ravina. A recent report from the C.D. Howe Institute found that only four of 10 young adults living on reserves have finished high school, compared with nine out of 10 for non-aboriginals.
“We’ve made supporting Aboriginal youth a real focus here at Scotiabank,” says Ravina.
Scotiabank has partnered with charitable organizations like the Martin Aboriginal Educational Initiative, a charitable organization founded by former Prime Minister Paul Martin that focuses on improving educational outcomes by adapting specialized programs to suit the needs of Aboriginal Canadians. They’ve also worked with Indspire, a charity that has awarded more than $87-million through more than 25,000 scholarships and bursaries to Aboriginal students. “We also have an internship program that’s been very successful with Aboriginal youth,” adds Ravina.
“Young people are our future leaders, and our goal at Scotiabank is to ensure that young people across the country have the necessary skills and resources they need to support their success,” she says. “We are invested in our communities, and young people are the path to any community’s future prosperity.”
Following on the heels of their successful National Aboriginal Day drum circle event, Ravina says Scotiabank plans to continue the celebration throughout the summer.
“The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is on August 9 each year, and we are celebrating by focusing the month of August as Indigenous Awareness Month at Scotiabank,” she says.