Tech company brings conscience to the cutting edge

Robyn Ward (Content Strategist and Client Support), Jeff Ward (CEO), Dakota Lightning (Front-end Designer and Developer) and Mat Harvard (Back-end Developer). | Photo courtesy of Animikii Inc.

Robyn Ward (Content Strategist and Client Support), Jeff Ward (CEO), Dakota Lightning (Front-end Designer and Developer) and Mat Harvard (Back-end Developer). | Photo courtesy of Animikii Inc.

Animikii, a tech company based on Songhees Territory in Victoria, walks the walk as a social enterprise.

Animikii has been using technology to serve Indigenous communities for 13 years, and a recent surge of growth has put them in position to broaden their reach. CEO Jeff Ward, producer Jordyn Hrenyk and designer Dakota Lightning sat down to talk about their projects, their philosophy, and what it means to make social impact the bottom line.

“Our weapon of choice for equity for Indigenous people in Canada is technology.”

Thirty minutes in conversation with Ward and his team is enough to show that there is plenty of clout behind this statement. Animikii does not simply write cheques to support causes. They routinely donate time and mentorship, help develop programs and selectively choose clientele based on the company’s social principles. A few of Animikii’s key projects focus on language revitalization, youth support and economic development in First Nations communities.

Activism in the marketplace

Ward explains that the company’s principles developed partly in opposition to the materialistic and capitalistic practices that led to the dot-com boom and bust. Having worked in Silicon Valley during this volatile time, Ward was motivated to create a socially minded business environment. Hrenyk adds that Indigenous communities have a long tradition of socially conscious entrepreneurship, and Animikii has simply taken its place in that history.

“Indigenous businesses are social enterprises from the beginning,” Hrenyk says, “long before social enterprise was the thing everyone was trying to do.”

A social enterprise is a business whose reason to exist extends beyond making money. Social entrepreneurs use their position in the marketplace to advance a cause. In Animikii’s case, the cause is uplifting Indigenous communities. Their approach involves providing support to established companies from behind the scenes, as well as helping new Indigenous technologists get their footing in the field.

A huge aspect of our business is inspiring Indigenous youth to choose technology or entrepreneurship as a career path,” Ward says.

Animikii creates bursaries for youth interested in business and technology careers; designers bring youth-generated content to life (such as on the interactive website; and recently, Hrenyk helped forge a partnership with Startup Skool, a Vancouver company focused on educating youth in social entrepreneurship. The collaboration resulted in a program tailored specifically to young Indigenous people.

“[Startup Skool] is a social enterprise that helps kids aged 7 to 16 learn about technology and entrepreneurship and get real experience coming up with business ideas and pitching them,” says Hrenyk.

Animikii not only provided scholarships to attend the program, but its employees also helped run workshops and sat in on the Dragon’s panel.

Looking ahead

Hrenyk, Ward and Lightning speak enthusiastically about these tangible additions to the Indigenous presence in Canadian business and technology. They also project a sense of excitement about the current potential for change that exists in this country.

“Now is a really interesting time in Canada. There’s a new relationship developing between Indigenous Canadians and the rest of Canada,” says Ward.

He explains that he was proud to have been involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that Animikii will continue to seek a role in the conversation unfolding between mainstream Canada and Indigenous groups. For example, the company is looking at Virtual Reality (VR) technology as a way to animate Indigenous voices.

Ward says, “We’re working with a developer to help recreate experiences that could help mainstream Canada look at history from an Indigenous perspective, and I think VR really lends itself to that.”

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