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PARO Presents, Women-Centred Social Purpose Enterprise, Northern Style
By Rosalind Lockyer, Executive Director, PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise

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 PAROParo Center Logo 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 or visit the PARO Website at


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