An Example of Social Entrepreneurship in Action: The Case of Dine'Hozho

This section utilizes the case of DineHozhcS to provide an example of a Native American social enterprise whose aim is to impact change in an area that has little federal and/or tribal support. DineHozhcS (Dine Innovative Network of Economies in Hozho) is a grassroots organization that compromises eight local Navajo communities, commonly known as Navajo chapters, in the western region of the Navajo reservation in Arizona, USA. DineHozho is working in collaboration with Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust (a regional non profit conservation organization) and with technical assistance from Arizona State University’s School of Community Resources and Development and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability to create a social enterprise.

In Navajo philosophy, the basic concept of Hozho is Dine people’s highest aim in life and for their ecosystem. The pursuit of Hozho is captured in ceremonial songs and prayers and is also frequently used in every day speech. According to Witherspoon (1975), “a Navajo uses this concept to express his[/her] happiness, his [/her] health, the beauty of his[/her] land, and the harmony of his[/her] relations with others” (p. 570). DineHozhcS communities include: Leupp, Birdsprings, Tolani Lake, Cameron, Coalmine Mesa, Bodaway-Gap, Tonalea, and Shonto. These communities are located in a geographical area where Navajos had been exiled from their land for nearly 40 years under “The Bennett Freeze”1 (Roberts et al., 1995). Bennett’s order effectively halted all economic development on the affected lands, causing severe hardships for mostly Navajo residents residing in the Bennett Freeze area. Demographic snapshots of the nation indicate 43 % unemployment rate and the medium household income of $20,005 which is alarming given that the tribe is situated in a wealthy country. The Obama administration recently lifted the freeze however the resolution of this issue has given rise to an increase in outside investors imposing profit driven ideas that ignore Navajo cultural and sacred sites. For instance, the infamous Grand Canyon Escalade proposed project, a multi- million-dollar resort at the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River, is regarded by recently elected Navajo leaders as a direct violation of the Hozho principle not to mention the negative environmental impacts associated with it.

Proposals such as the above mentioned, in part, imbue the community to find ways to create entrepreneurial opportunities which enhance community well-being and by so doing reduce the imminent threats of profit driven foreign investors. On December 29, 2014, the Navajo Nation Council (legislative body of the tribal government, equivalent to Congress in United States government) passed CD-63- !In 1966, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett, imposed a land freeze by stopping all development in western Navajo reservation in Arizona. A land dispute between the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe covering some 1.6 million acres. The imposed development ban affected both tribes, but it severely devastated the Navajos more due to the larger population and larger land base. The land freeze resulted from competition for control of the resources—water and coal— needed to generate power for burgeoning southern California and Arizona. In this competition the coal and power-generating giants and the federal agencies had an advantage over both Navajo and Hopi tribal government, an advantage that was maintained by the division between the two tribes. On a more careful analysis, this divide-and-rule pattern imposed by the federal government goes back to 1930s, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs established the Hopi tribal government that recognized an exclusive use area in the middle of the much larger 1882 Executive Order reservation on and around Black Mesa for the Navajos.

14 Resolution that authorizes the creation of low-profit limited liability company (L3C) statute, which allows organizations to use the new legal for-profit structure that enables social benefit outcomes. Prior to this, only nine states and two American Indian tribal governments (Oglala Sioux Nation and Crow Nation) had adopted L3C legislation; however, this has now changed with Navajo Nation becoming the largest American Indian tribal government to allow L3C incorporation.

Accordingly, DineHozho has created an opportunity-driven movement of social entrepreneurship that is unique to Dine lifeway given that it collaborates with local Navajo chapters, a handful of nonprofit organizations, and an existing quasi-Navajo enterprise, to forge partnerships with government, private sector and communities in order to collectively explore social and sustainable solutions. The structuring of DineHozho as a social enterprise with a non profit and for-profit component is poised to benefit the eight Navajo communities. The “hybrid” setup of the DineHozho provides new business opportunities that embrace and incorporate traditional knowledge (e.g., rug weaving, traditional herbal medicines, traditional Hogan architecture, traditional agricultural knowledge, traditional dance and music choreography). Additionally, given the nation’s strategic location in a tourism dependent zone of the state, DineHozho has strived to help stakeholders identify sustainable tourism opportunities that embrace the intangible richness of Dine culture. DineHozhO’s multidimensional approach that encompasses social, cultural and environmental capacities within the context of sustainable tourism is a model that stands to capture a new entrepreneurial spirit in an era of federal and tribal government cutbacks.

A key component for DineHozho under the newly adopted Navajo L3C is the potential to attract significant program-related investments (PRIs). PRIs are investments by private foundations to further the foundation’s social mission, and thereby promoting assets building and wealth creation for low-income communities in western Navajo region. Through PRIs, DineHozho is exploring opportunities for “impact investing” via philanthropically committed capital for land conservation and eco-tourism opportunities. Other outcomes that the organization aims to engage in include provision of training in sustainable development across a variety of reservation-based industries and provision of a number of capacity building workshops for emerging social entrepreneurs. Linking the example of DineHozho to Atler’s (2006) social enterprise models, it can be argued that this L3C adopts the Entrepreneur Support Model as well as the Market Intermediary Model. In the case of DineHozhO, the former offers business and financial support services to local individuals and Navajo based organizations. The latter model helps individuals or organizations working with DineHozho to gain access to markets (e.g., tourist markets). In the wake of government cutbacks, poverty stricken communities have had to devise their own approaches to enhancing community well-being. DineHozhO is thus a quintessential example of a grassroots social enterprise whose mission is to contribute to social change through social entrepreneurial activities. Despite decades of unjust underdevelopment, western Navajos are beginning to emerge as economic drivers of their own future, with DineHozho providing a place for traditional knowledge and ways of seeing the larger world in an economy based on social justice and sustainability. The power of social innovation and community-based self-determination are part of an ecological imperative.

 
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