Presents, Women-Centred Social Purpose Enterprise, Northern Style
By Rosalind Lockyer, Executive Director, PARO Centre for Women's
PARO Presents, a social purpose enterprise, has many reasons for
being. It exists to harness the engine of consumerism for the social
good, for sharing, for working together, and for enhancing the spirit
of community. PARO has a long history of bringing together women
to work with each other and to work with diverse partnerships, funders,
and networks. Across the North, PARO has built successful integrated
programs, and CEDTAP has been a significant partner in this story.
How did PARO Presents emerge from an idea to a reality?
When a well known gift store decided to relocate in 2002, the women
at PARO knew that it was time to act on their dream of opening a
storefront. Conveniently connected through an adjoining back hallway
downstairs from PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, street-level
visibility would provide an added benefit and became a major selling
feature. Management and resources would be close at hand. Also,
staff and artisans could go back and forth to PARO Centre without
walking outdoors during the freezing 40 below days that are common
in Northwestern Ontario during the winter season. The fact that
the available storefront was located in a well-know gift shop hub
and sported PARO colours on the walls and floor sealed the deal.
Excitement for store plans moved up a notch.
After months of meeting as a committee, working together on the
“who, what, why, where, and when” details, they knew that they needed
some expert help. PARO’s Executive Director, Rosalind Lockyer, wrote
proposals and made some telephone calls to bring together the support
they needed. Jacques Carrière of CEDTAP was the first point of contact,
and CEDTAP provided the much needed funds for expert assistance.
Debra Campbell of the Canadian Women’s Foundation agreed to provide
the capacity building funding, a component of the Women and Economic
Development Consortium funds. Debra also helped source the experts,
Joan Pajunen and Donna Geary of Pajunen & Assoc Inc., well known
for their work with retail stores and marketing. Len Ouellet of
Human Resources Skills Development Canada was the project officer
for a Job Creation Partnership that supported coordination and marketing
assistance for the store. Royden Potvin and Pauline Shesnicky of
Thunder Bay Ventures, the local Community Futures Development Corporation
and a long time community partner and investment funder for PARO
peer lending circles jumped in with the final dollars needed to
purchase the point of sale computer and Best Consignment software.
The doors were opened in June 2002. Today, PARO Presents is preparing
a birthday cake for the 3rd Year Celebrations.
“I know it will be a big challenge,” Royden Potvin of Thunder Bay
Ventures remarked looking over the business plan. “But I know how
the women at PARO come together to makes things happen, so we are
happy to support the project.”
About PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise
In January 2005, PARO celebrated its 10th Anniversary. In ten short
years, PARO’s uniquely integrated programs and services have made
one of Canada’s foremost peer lending organizations and a widely
recognized leader and innovator in the Social Economy/Community
Economic Development sector in Northern Ontario and across North
America. In recognition of the significant expansion of programs
and services since 1995, PARO was renamed PARO Centre for Women’s
Enterprise. PARO’s total integrated programs and services are unique
in Northwestern Ontario; in fact, few programs exist throughout
Canada that provide this level and span of holistic women’s community
economic development services. As one of Canada’s foremost successful
peer-lending organizations, PARO offers small business loans from
$500-$5000. Loan access is combined with a myriad of on-going supports
to start-up and accelerate the growth of women’s micro-enterprise
and to help women build sustainable livelihoods. Significant also,
is the fact that PARO’s Board of Directors is elected from the peer
lending circle membership, making it a true grassroots organization.
In fact, in 2002 PARO received an award for Eastern Canada, from
the Soroptomist International of the Americas for “advancing the
status of women”, recognizing the special quality of its programs
and their impact in helping women. In 2004, PARO received the Thunder
Bay Chamber of Commerce Award for Business Excellence in the Not-For-Profit
category. In 2005, Business Development Trainer, Lori Morin received
the Chamber award as Employee of the Year-Service. Lori coordinates
the Making A Difference Program at PARO Centre. And also works with
the team at PARO Presents. PARO Presents store offers a practical
training opportunity and a marketing venue for women who graduate
from the start-up business and employment development.
Beyond the Classroom
PARO Presents offers a venue for Northern women entrepreneurs and
artisans to market their products, but that is only a small part
of the reason that this project was developed. PARO and its members
needed a place where women could learn how to better operate a retail
business, what the “real” costs are, how to better display and merchandise
product, and how to better market techniques. PARO Presents provides
a place for women to go beyond the classroom training at PARO Centre
for Women’s Enterprise to get that “real” experience. Working and
training at PARO Presents means that women who wish to open a retail
store can go in with their eyes wide open.
PARO members active in this collaborative effort, met weekly for
over a year planning and discussing what they needed in a store,
what policies to put in place, working to do all that was needed
to make the dream a reality. They are the champions, and these women
built the foundation for success.
Today the store is led by a Team Leader, Sarah Duncan, and is shored
up by over 60 artisans and entrepreneurs from across Northwestern
Ontario from Dryden to Jellico. Depending on the hours spent working
in the store, the artisans earn a percentage of the revenues. A
weekly team meeting keeps the program on course, and continues the
collaboration. Like PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, the incubator
and resource centre located upstairs, PARO Presents provides a place
for women entrepreneurs to learn from each other, share their resources
and experience, and work together to provide a healthy, equitable,
and sustainable business.
For the rest of the community, PARO Presents offers an exciting
store where people can buy unique, quality products while supporting
Northern women entrepreneurs and artisans. Shopping from community
stores means investing in local people and investing in community,
and this means local money will work for the community long after
it is spent in a local store.
Northern women have worked together to make PARO Presents a beautiful,
comfortable space that encourages shoppers to return. Customers
can watch and participate as artisans at work are showcased in the
“Summer with the Artisans” series. Operating PARO Presents helps
women build leadership skills and build confidence as they take
on ownership and responsibility for the daily store operations.
The women will tell you that these benefits are equally as important,
if not more important, as the monthly cheque they receive for product
sales. PARO Presents is one more wonderful example of PARO’s on-going
story of how community can work together for success and how success
can be valued multi-dimensionally.
For more information, please contact Rosalind Lockyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit the PARO Website at www.paro.ca