Dual MBA, analytics graduate sees opportunity to help Indigenous communities through business
Spring 2021 MBA and master’s in business analytics graduate Christian Hopkins brings a wealth of experience to his new role as a business advisor for the KU Small Business Development Center.
Hopkins, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, learned the importance of personal finance as a teenager. After his grandfather sold his Native cuisine business, Hopkins signed up for an entrepreneurship program and relaunched the business, called First Light.
“I saw that a lot of my habits had to change in order for me to operate the business — I couldn’t spend my money like how my friends were,” he explained.
Hopkins’ experiences managing finances for himself and his business showed him how powerful a deeper understanding of finance could be for the Indigenous community. After earning his bachelor’s from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Hopkins took a year to evaluate his next move, but he didn’t really consider master’s programs at KU until he connected with Dee Steinle, executive director of MBA and M.S. programs at the KU School of Business. Steinle and program staff explained how a graduate business education could help Hopkins achieve his goals of serving Indigenous communities by teaching financial literacy skills, which he sees as the foundation for entrepreneurship and economic development.
Commerce and business have long been part of Indigenous culture, Hopkins shared, but they may look or operate differently than in other cultures. He also noted differing values — for instance, many Indigenous communities have deep ties to land and water that may be threatened by business interests. Fighting those battles and, in turn, preserving resources and traditions, requires business skills.
“We need a way to sustainably preserve those rights, and that’s where I see opportunity,” Hopkins said. “I see opportunity where Indigenous people can utilize entrepreneurship to preserve cultural values.”
Entrepreneurial skills can also be applied to support traditional Native arts, which are coming under threat of cultural appropriation as companies are outsourcing traditional arts, he explained.
“Tribes can use entrepreneurial ventures to help preserve traditions,” he said.
Hopkins is well-positioned to help. He serves as chairman of his tribe’s economic development council in addition to helping Kansas business owners in his new role at the SBDC.
“I see this position as an opportunity to helping the broader community in pursuing their entrepreneurial passion,” he said. “I have always wanted to share what I know to help entrepreneurs and this position allows me to do that. I am able to make a positive impact and hope that it will continue to expand.”
REDW Native American Scholarship in Accounting
During the spring 2021 semester, Hopkins was awarded the REDW Native American Scholarship in Accounting. Presented by public accounting and advisory firm REDW and administered by the American Indian Graduate Center, the scholarship supports Native scholars pursuing a degree and eventual career in accounting or finance.
“For them to choose me is very humbling, and it makes me excited to know that I have the support of people who are rooting me on toward my goal of helping Indigenous communities,” Hopkins said.