Today, there are a number of phone help lines geared to Indigenous people, including national crisis lines for Indigenous women, residential school survivors and those seeking mental health support. As the country works toward tackling the long and complicated process of reconciliation, the Canadian government has teamed up with Indigenous-owned and -operated company Donna Cona Inc. to set up these telesupport services and hire qualified counsellors to answer the calls.
However, this important set of services is just one part of what the Ottawa-based company does. Donna Cona’s core business is to provide business management consulting and IT services for organizations that operate in the private and public sectors. The latter group plays a key role: many of the company’s contracts are with federal and provincial governments. In fact, one of its most exciting projects to date is the deployment of a virtual IT infrastructure across remote communities in Nunavut.
Despite having a full plate, Donna Cona spends a lot of time giving back to its community through sponsorships, in-kind services and scholarships. Recently, as part of a government contract it had won, it developed an online chat service for the Hope for Wellness Helpline to reach a younger Indigenous population.
“Typically, we wouldn’t veer off what we normally do, but being an Indigenous company, it’s something we thought we should get involved with,” explains Barry Dowdall, Donna Cona’s president.
This dutiful commitment to the Indigenous community takes many forms—the company name, for instance, honours the Iroquoian chief Donnacona, who met French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534 in a historic encounter you may remember from seventh-grade history or the famous Heritage Minute—but it does more than earn them some good will. Business-wise, it makes for a culture of employees who truly believe they’re working to achieve real change.
That’s the kind of thing that makes people stick around for a long time. Not only does Donna Cona boast a high staff retention rate, it’s already handed out 15- and 20-year service awards—not bad for a 23-year-old business. It has a particularly good record of retaining Indigenous employees, who make up 38% of staff.
Happy employees are part of the reason why Donna Cona has been profitable from day one. It enjoys steady growth of between five to eight per cent annually. And the company makes a point to spread the wealth to employees through a profit-sharing plan paid out every quarter. Since it’s always been in the black, it has never missed a payment. Dowdall adds that on a subconscious level, the profit-sharing plan makes employees feel more directly invested in the company’s success.
“We just felt it was important to reward our staff,” says Dowdall. “And it provides a bit of incentive for them to make sure they do their part.”