Connecting Alaska Natives to Opportunity

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Growing up in the village of Togiak in southwest Alaska, BBNC shareholder Arlen Ayojiak knew the isolation that so many rural young people feel. As much as Ayojiak cherished his village life, he hungered for connection to the larger world, which the World Wide Web—then in its infancy—provided. A natural at technology, he began building a professional skill set that would launch his career. He also began to see how his newfound expertise could help him make a positive difference in his community.

In 1998, Ayojiak founded Yuit, a company that serves a wide range of clients with a blend of custom software solutions, strategic communications, and creative services. After nearly 20 years in business, Yuit (which means “people” in Yup’ik) has released a product that Ayojiak calls “a game-changer” for Alaska Natives. Bundling Ayojiak’s innovative tech skills, his knack for optimizing efficiency, and his desire to make a positive impact, eLisnga (pronounced ee-liz-nga) is a new tool that can help Alaska Natives connect to a vast network of opportunities.

Designed exclusively for Alaska Native Corporation shareholders, eLisnga—named for a Yup’ik word meaning smart, talented, and skillful—works on smart phones, tablets and computers. By taking 10 minutes to complete an online profile, shareholders can connect immediately to an array of job postings as well as scholarship, cultural exchange and volunteer opportunities tailored to the strengths and goals of each individual user, at no cost whatsoever.

Who doesn’t know firsthand the hard work and stress of looking for employment? Career fairs, cold calls, daily scans of Craigslist … Many jobseekers upload profiles across a gamut of Internet platforms—from Indeed to LinkedIn to Monster—often encountering the same positions from site to site. eLisnga marks the end of these repetitive searches: the site gathers all these job listings, and more, in one place, maximizing the efficiency of shareholders’ efforts to find work. Not only that, but in rural Alaska, where competition for on-site jobs is high, eLisnga connects shareholders with remote work possibilities that, until recently, weren’t even part of the job market.

While eLisnga is easy for shareholders to use, the thought, effort, and experimentation that went into its development is staggering. Leading up to the product’s launch last fall, Ayojiak and his business partner, Andre Horton, met regularly with BBNC’s Shareholder Development Manager Carol Wren for more than a year, examining carefully how eLisnga would most effectively serve the needs of shareholders. All told, eLisnga was in development for three years.

In the four months since its launch, eLisnga’s user base has soared to 10,000 Alaska Natives across the state and beyond, with representation from all the Alaska Native Corporations. Ayojiak notes with pleasure the several hundred users from Bering Strait and the Arctic Slope—some of the most remote places in Alaska, where finding work can be toughest.

Finding work is one aspect of eLisnga, but there’s much more. Ayojiak explains, “It’s great for the 17-year-old in school hoping to go to college next year because they can use it to search for scholarships.” A professional with a job can look for grants. And Ayojiak hopes that eLisnga can revive the lost art of mentorship. “There are so many Alaska Native people that are successful who could provide mentorship to other Alaska Natives. When you think of eLisnga in that manner, there’s a lot of different opportunities.”

If eLisnga streamlines shareholders’ efforts to find opportunities, it does the same for recruiters, making it easier than ever to find qualified Alaska Native candidates to fill their positions. Open to any private entity, eLisnga currently serves XX companies, including BBNC. Speaking for our corporation, Carol Wren said, “We’re really excited to have eLisnga going. BBNC has had a shareholder hire preference policy for a long time, but this allows us to be more proactive and identify upfront positions for shareholders—and also fill our work source need more quickly with shareholders.”

Judging from the product’s strong start, eLisnga is on track to meet Ayojiak’s goals —to eventually serve 80 percent of Alaska Natives and all 12 Alaska Native Corporations. The prospect of expanding to Native communities beyond Alaska seems likely as well. Enabling more Native people to connect to meaningful opportunities is what it’s all about for Ayojiak. “Giving back is our heart here,” he said.

Right now, BBNC is giving out prizes to shareholders who join eLisnga by March 31. Contact BBNC Shareholder Development for information at (907) 278-3602.