Creating Technology to Support Indigenous Rights and Measure Social Impact

Written by Angela de Burger

The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Ian Capstick, Chief Impact and Communications Officer at Animikii

“Love is the one thing that brings everything else together,” says Ian Capstick, Chief Impact and Communications Officer at Animikii, a values-driven Indigenous technology company with products and services focused on website and software development. They collaborate with organizations to implement technology in a culturally informed, respectful way.

All of the work Animikii engages in begins with one central question: what is the loving thing to do? Whether they are fostering equitable conversations, bringing people together by creating respectful spaces, making company decisions, or determining the type of technological tool they can create to solve a recognized need, their values are the starting point for their actions. Developing and maintaining strong relationships and working in partnership is at the heart of everything they do.

Ian says “Animikii’s technology exists to support Indigenous rights,” so they ask themselves big questions about digital sovereignty as they develop tools, focusing on both data sovereignty and technological sovereignty. The intent is to ensure a person, or group, has the right and ability to control their own digital data.

 

Fostering impact-driven work through storytelling

The company has been focused on social impact from its earliest days and Ian says this is due to Animikii’s founder and CEO, Jeff Ward, and his commitment to gearing everything he does in business towards uplifting his family, communities and Indigenous Peoples. Ian sees Jeff live this commitment every day through his words and actions and says Jeff is a role model for his family, for the Indigenous community, and for everyone at Animikii. 

 

Storytelling, both internally (with team members) and externally (with groups such as clients and funders), creates a strong partnership basis for their impact-driven work. When all components of stories are gathered – data as well as narrative details – they can ensure that rich, complete stories can be told in a way that honours the people who have shared them. This storytelling approach aligns with Animikii’s theory of change, creating opportunities to validate whether the information is comprehensive enough to be able to determine related outcomes. 

The deep relationships that have been created as a result of their approach have been intentionally nurtured and developed over their 20 years as a company. It’s fundamental to what they do and how they do it. Ian says their ability to create these strong, long-lasting relationships was one of the reasons that Raven Indigenous Capital Partners became a transformational funder in 2019, enabling Animikii to build out their team and further advance the Indigenous data sovereignty product that was in development. 

Technology as a tool to support rights and measure impact

As a technology company, Animikii develops culturally-informed technology solutions, building tools people can use to empower their communities and lower technological barriers.


As a non-Indigenous person, Ian has learned from his colleagues that there are many different ways of knowing and being for Indigenous Peoples as it relates to data and impact. Before  measuring and assessing social impact with specific tools, it is beneficial to participate in deep conversations and meaningful debate with other people about the social impact objectives. 

With many impact measurement processes being created by Western cultures, he sees his work as holding space for additional perspectives in the conversation by exploring how approaches can integrate elements that respect communities that have been marginalized. He says the Common Approach to Impact Measurement is very helpful in creating shared understanding and he currently volunteers as a member of their Social Purpose Organization Council. 

Another member of the Animikii team, Jonathon Forbes, Operations Manager, is a metrics specialist who manages six core sources of company data, as well as plays a key role in building knowledge and capacity for data and impact measurement. As an Indigenous leader in this space, he has participated in the social impact measurement Community of Practice hosted by Social Innovation Canada to become familiar with the Centre for Social Innovation’s Impact Dashboard

Jonathon and Ian worked with each team within Animikii to learn how they do what they do, gaining insights into topics such as home office stewardship, for example. Based on this information they are able to determine the carbon and environmental outputs by location, enabling them to measure and make decisions about how to offset these impacts where appropriate. As a certified B Corp this is an example of the kinds of issues they approach from their values-based perspective.

Niiwin: empowering Indigenous data sovereignty

Developing technology that respects digital sovereignty is a primary consideration for Animikii. In the article, Move Slow and Empower People: Animikii’s Approach to Indigenous Technology, they say they “see tech as a networked relationship, an ongoing interaction between humans and non-humans, all things that deserve both recognition and respect.” This includes the consideration of both data sovereignty and technological sovereignty.

Animikii’s approach to building custom software is rooted in their values and Indigenous knowledge, through a pathfinding process they developed. This article explains that pathfinding is a systematic approach to impact assessment, product visioning, project planning and fundraising, and outlines this “unique way to design ethical and empowering Indigenous software.”

As Animikii’s technology exists to support Indigenous rights, they consider all of the elements needed to ensure their technology puts rights holders first. Data collection and storage, for example, are activities that must be carefully entered into and conducted so that respect for the rights holders is always maintained.

Ian says “these concepts are straightforward, yet complex, and what Animikii is doing is creating the best data platform we possibly can to empower Indigenous digital sovereignty.”

That data platform is Niiwin and it is the tool they have created to provide a culturally-informed technology solution that empowers Indigenous communities to collect and govern their own data. When building this platform, they knew they had to view it through many lenses and that has resulted in Niiwin being a relational database and a database of relationships. This reflects the “all my relations” Indigenous worldview, where everyone and everything is connected. 

All of their custom solutions for clients are built on the Niiwin platform now. Learning from situations in the past where data from Indigenous communities was not respected nor responsibly collected and held, Niiwin represents an opportunity to transition the governing of data back into the hands of Indigenous communities.

Creating ripples of impact: #DataBack and Indigenous Innovators Initiative

Sharing their leadership through many different initiatives, Animikii is creating social impact through their own activities as well as creating spaces where other people and groups are supported to make their own impact on the world.

As part of their work on digital sovereignty and their #DataBack data sovereignty initiative, Animikii has released an e-book on the topic. It was written for Indigenous-focused organizations and governments to transform data governance through advanced tools, principles and practices. 

Their Indigenous Innovators Initiative empowers First Nation, Inuit and Metis innovators and communities to identify and solve their own challenges, transform lives and drive inclusive growth and health through innovation.

Engaging with rights holders

Ian highlights the importance that is placed on the relationships they have already developed, and will develop in the future. Communication is a vital element of these relationships and they engage with rights holders in many different ways, through a variety of methods that work best for each initiative.

Annually since 2016, Animikii has formally collected the data they measure and published a social impact report that is made available on their website. Their commitment to transparency and accountability is honoured by the information provided each year, profiling their efforts to foster positive change for Indigenous communities. 

Planning to create social impact for seven generations

Animikii has built a strong foundation and is bringing Indigenous technology to the world in new ways. Inspired by the Indigenous principle of planning for seven generations, they are looking to the future with purpose and intent to create lasting social impact.

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