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The mother of inspiration

Foregrounder | When Canada’s Arctic Inspiration Prize is awarded this week, it will help make lifting an unfortunate burden somewhat easier
A million in time saves lives

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If you are a Canadian organisation considering whether to throw your hat in the ring for the 2017 Arctic Inspiration Prize, Kevin Kablutsiak, its executive director, says there is one thing you must keep in mind: “your organisation must address the root cause of a problem faced by people in the North.”

Aside from that, there is no single characteristic that can be said to have defined the 11 winners of the prize, which was first handed out in 2012.

“What the Arctic Inspiration Prize really comes down to is that we want to reward teams that are doing things to help the lives of Northerners,” he says. “Aside from that, we start with a clean slate each year.”

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To get a sense of the range of applicants the Arctic Inspiration Prize attracts, have a look at the eight organisations that are in the running for a share of this year’s prize, to be awarded on December 8. The areas they work with include: Inuit tattooing, solar energy, nutrition, trail-biking, computer science, sea-ice monitoring, community health and social services, and education and training.

As many of six of these can receive part of the C$1 million ($750,000) prize. Most years, the money has gone to a handful of three or four organisations. The one exception was 2014, when the nominating committee broke form and gave the entire sum to one group, Foxy, an organisation that focuses on the sexual health of young women in the Northwest Territories.

The money, says Candice Lys, the project’s executive director, was a godsend. “It would have taken us years to raise that much,” she says. Winning, she adds, has made it possible to for the organisation to plan for the long-term, rather than thinking on an annual basis when finding and spending funding.

So far the money has gone to improving Foxy’s existing programmes, as well as to adding new ones, including, this year, one aimed at helping boost the confidence of young men.

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As a newly started organisation at the time (Foxy was founded in July 2014 and received the Arctic Inspiration Prize in December of the same year), the other big benefit winning had, according to Ms Lys, was the boost of confidence it gave.

“The faith that the Arctic Inspiration Prize showed in us went a long way,” she says. “Internally, it helped motivate us. Externally, it showed we were a credible organisation. That’s gone far.”

Representatives from other winners of the award echo her sentiment.

“When people started taking note of us they also became aware of the problem we were working with,” says Lynne McCurdy, an audiologist and the leader of Better Hearing in Education for Northern Youth.

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She explains that, until her organisation began, few in Nunavut were paying attention to the impact that hearing difficulty in children was having on their schooling.

“It was so common that people had stopped paying attention to it,” Dr McCurdy says. “Winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize meant that communities started talking about hearing loss, and that experts from the North and the South began looking into what could be done about it.”

For her organisation, winning C$300,000 in 2015 has acted like a magnet when seeking funding elsewhere. “We would have found money from additional sources regardless,” she says, “but being able to say we’ve won the Arctic Inspiration Prize has made things go faster.”

Another place the Arctic Inspiration Prize has shown its worth is in filling the gap between federal and territorial authorities. One such beneficiary was the Tri-Territorial Recreation Training Project, another 2015 recipient that received C$600,000 for a programme that seeks to train recreational leaders as a way secure community well-being.

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As the name suggests, the programme is active in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“Cross-territorial projects have special challenges,” says Caroline Sparks, the project leader. “Normally we would have had to apply for funding in each of the three territories. That in and of itself takes time, but on top of that we would need to take into account the differences from one territory to the next.”

Despite the enthusiasm for the contributions the Arctic Inspiration Prize makes, its necessity is unfortunate, Mr Kablutsiak says.

“The prize was started by two immigrants who had worked in developing countries. When they arrived in Canada, they saw similar problems in the North and wanted to encourage people who were helping the region help itself.”

The hope is that an ounce of inspiration will be worth a pound of cure.