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Tribes Need MBAs Too

Over the last several decades, tribal nations have seen great economic growth, and the poverty rate for tribal citizens has declined several percentage points. This increase in the overall well-being of tribal nations provides a valuable opportunity for them to encourage and foster greater economic growth and additional entrepreneurial ventures. To this end, tribal nations seeking economic growth can tap into the knowledge and skills that MBA graduates have to offer.

A recent study released by the National Congress of American Indians sought to address the current life trends among tribal nations and to provide forward-looking options to enterprising nations. Because tribal nations exist as sovereign entities, with members of a tribal nation also being citizens of the United States, there can be disparities in the fundamental services and basic economic opportunities available to the citizens of a tribal nation.

A high dropout rate among tribal youth makes it difficult for tribes to source leadership for tribal roles as fewer youth go on to earn college degrees. The smaller pool of graduates from specialized programs challenges tribes as they seek to maintain an infrastructure of core resources and services tailored to the specific needs of a tribe’s community.


As many tribal economies flourish, tribes are becoming financially independent from federal funds, and this independence means they are more able to chart their own financial future. In Oklahoma alone, tribal nations supply five percent of all jobs in the state. These enterprises — owned both by tribal communities and by individual tribe members — are economically productive in their scope and design, and they naturally benefit from the management and direction that experienced MBAs can provide.

As a tribal nation’s leaders stay connected to its cultural heritage, they also seek to create economic stability and opportunities for these tribal enterprises. Smart business owners, working in concert with tribal government, can effectively craft business models and plans that will provide future success and growth for the tribes.

Providing Opportunity

Some tribal communities face a lack of fresh water and sanitation. In others, there isn’t a local grocery store. Many Native Americans don’t have access to the same basic financial services available to non-natives. Educational services within many native communities are scarce or underfunded. As tribal economies provide an influx of capital and revenue, tribal communities must learn how to provide essential services to their residents. As membership in these nations is a matter of heritage and familial connections, it is critical for the business infrastructure of these nations to fully support all of their members. Economic growth and cultural enrichment stem from an invested and engaged membership, and long-term business growth within these nations must consider both the support infrastructure of their whole membership as well as the growth of the outward-looking business model.

With a high percentage of tribal population under age 25, tribes are facing a critical time of transition that requires building infrastructure and creating opportunities for these young people, whether it is better schooling, more options for on-the-job training, better access to funds for higher education, or assistance for basic human needs like food and shelter.

An MBA degree focused on the history and cultural background of a tribal nation can give an individual the knowledge and skills required to deal with the intricacies specific to emerging tribal economies. A tribe flourishes when its children are able to carry on the traditions and the financial vision of the tribal leadership.

Beyond providing educational opportunities and jobs for its youth, tribes should also seek self-reliance in the agriculture, medicine and commercial industries. As they build communities that can fully provide for their members, they move closer to true independence, while still retaining their unique cultural heritage.

Learn more about the SOSU online MBA program with an emphasis in Native American Leadership.


National Congress of American Indians: Securing Our Futures

Cultural Survival: Improving the Quality of Life of Native Communities by Promoting Core Tribal Values

Journal of American Indian Higher Education: MBA Graduates to Take Entrepreneurship Home

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