Canadian Ecotourism Services, also known as CES, is celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year! We thought that this would be a great opportunity to hear from Clinton Belcher, the owner and CEO of the company, to learn more about the evolution and growth of CES throughout the years.
January 2017 Interview with Clinton Belcher, owner/CEO of CES
Question 1: A 20 Year Anniversary for CES can’t have you not reflect on the evolution and growth throughout the years… let’s travel back a bit and touch upon what inspired you to create CES?
Answer 1: Jerry Maguire – haha – Well, I would have to say that it’s the deepest desire to honestly make a difference and change people’s lives and make a positive impact. The projects are done in a very personal and human way that was extremely meaningful for our clients and helpful for myself.
Question 2: How was it like in the beginning years? Do you recall your first client?
Answer 2: In the beginning there was a lot of learning and a lot of challenges in understanding the culture and learning how to try to take mainstream ideas and methodologies and employ them in the communities. I spent a massive amount of energy creating community based and grassroots solutions and coming up with ways of making it work – instead of using off the shelf solutions.
A lot of thought and time was put into using solutions that would benefit communities and be useful at the community level…which ultimately as a business owner, made it not profitable. For me it was passion over profit, to do the right thing first, then the money would come.
My first client was Vernon Tuesday from Big Grassy First Nation. Vernon taught me a lot of cultural values that impacted the way I did business and we ended up having a personal relationship for a good 15 years before he passed away.
Vernon ended up coming to our Christmas parties, he became part of our family. He always kept me in check of doing what’s right for the communities first. He taught me the real meaning of integrity and trust. He really taught me those two things. He also was the one that got me down the path of coaching and advising.
He also exposed the challenges that communities have with bureaucracy and trying to meld into mainstream businesses and how to develop businesses that work with the mainstream business world.
Question 3: Being involved in the business of travel, I’m sure you had some great opportunities and have visited some incredible places through CES. What is a unique travel experience that really stands out for you?
Answer 3: It was Easter Island and working with the Rapa Nui because that was my first international exposure and recognizing the similarities and values of Indigenous people. And second to that was going back to South Africa and working from where I came with indigenous people.
Question 4: I’m sure that things have evolved a lot throughout the years. Describe how the company has changed throughout the years, and if there was a particular change that really stands out.
Answer 4: I would say the biggest change we had was doing things our way with the best interests and learning about the people we work with. When we first started, we had to fit in the mould of funding and what was traditionally done, both as trainers and consultants. What I found now is that we really developed these systems that are indigenous and we continue to build them and we continue to learn from them and it’s all because we worked for the communities and with the communities and not for the bureaucracy.
Question 5: Now back to you – how have you changed throughout the past 20 years?
Answer 5: I think that I’ve become a better listener and I’ve learned how to adapt, and I welcome change. I think I see more opportunities when there are challenges. I thrive on solving and providing and coming up with solutions that will work and ultimately make a difference. I thrive on challenges and the stress that comes with these projects as crazy as it sounds.
My best moments are when things are challenging and stressful. I don’t know why but that is who I am, which never allows me to be complacent, which leads to always adapting and challenging ourselves. We then become better for solving problems.
Question 6: I’m sure you have many… What was one of your most memorable experiences with a client?
Answer 6: I would say one of my most memorable experiences has been working with Titus Shecapio in the Cree Nation of Mistissini. It was over a 12 year relationship of coaching and training him and watching him develop and turn into a community champion and now a leader in the community. He started from a frontline position and working with him and watching him grow and seeing the results… it’s been amazing to be part of.
Working with the community of Mistissini in general has been amazing. From their Chief, to working with Conrad now – it’s been my most memorable client and experience working with them. We have a unique relationship – they believe in letting us do what we do, and they believe in what they were hoping to achieve. As a result we got great things accomplished.
One of the unique things about some of the clients we have, is that we develop this trust and friendship and we don’t forget the balance of life. But when it comes to the tasks and the work we’re held accountable. When you can have both of those things, that makes life good. There is a natural balance of work and play.
Question 7: Your Staff – in 20 years, I’m sure you’ve worked with a variety of different and interesting people. Can you share one of your favourite memories working with your team or is there anything you would like to reflect on?
Answer 7: My favourite experience was and is the way our team worked and how we took every project like it was our own. It made me proud to see how everyone took it on as their own business. And further to that, I’ve admired the way that each team member has grown and built their capacity and has added value to their own personal lives while accomplishing great projects.
I never had employees, I’ve had team members and we are all on equal playing fields. I always respect what my team brings to the table. And I’ll always stand up for my team.
Question 8: Is there any particular moment that made you proud of what you created over the past 20 years?
Answer 8: I would say, that it’s our use of technology and cultural tradition. I think that this is something that I’m proud of – such as our AIM (Authentic Indigenous Moments) project, it’s revolutionary. We’re always trying to up the game.
Question 9: 20 Years in Business is a huge accomplishment – what was the key to CES’s success?
Answer 9: I would say it’s the human element and humanity – that’s the key to our success. If you do everything with a little humility and humanity, I believe that is what has kept us going and is truly my drive. It’s humanity always remembering it’s not just a project, there’s always people behind everything we do – remember we are all just people, we need to be treated with respect the same way, and we all deserve to have a good life. With humanity and humility – profit has never been my driver, it’s the human element. If you do those things right, the profit will come.
Question 10: What does the future have in store for CES?
Answer 10: I think that we are going to have an impact on a wider reach and I think that it will be National and or International, and that’s by using our methodologies and our system and certainly the word of mouth. I believe we will set a bar for other consultants and firms to work towards for helping indigenous communities prosper.
I think now after 20 years, I really recognize how important our work is. I love coaching and I love advising and being in a mentorship role – I’m really enjoying giving back that way. I feel like it’s philanthropy in a sense, we help communities with incentives to get started, but it’s developing a relationship to help reach goals – I don’t even see it as work. It’s just what I should be doing.
Every person that comes into my life provides me with a value. I feel that I want to do more and return something to them because of what they have provided me with.
Stay tuned for some more announcements, stories, and new programs for 2017! For more on CES visit us at www.cesclients.com.