When you think of Northern Ontario, your mind may conjure up old-fashioned images of hunters, trappers, fishermen and barrel-chested lumberjacks, because this is the usual cast of characters who populate Canada’s mythic North. If you think about careers in Northern Ontario, all that might come to mind are jobs in industries like energy, forestry and mining. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Today’s north is far different from what it used to be – and from what many people imagine. The residents are just as connected to the world – via media and internet – as people who live in any of the world’s major cities. The towns and cities are vibrant and urban, filled with modern conveniences, shops and businesses.
But even when you think about the Great White North in this 21st century context, you may be surprised to discover that one of the leading business centres for women in the entire country is located in Thunder Bay. It is a non-profit organization called Paro Centre for Women’s Enterprise.
According to the organization’s website, the word “paro” is Latin for “I am ready”.
About Paro Centre
If you are a woman in Northern Ontario who is ready to start a business, grow your business or build new networks, you should know that Paro Centre has helped over 1200 women achieve their personal and professional goals over the past 16 years. Since PARO’s inception in 1995, they have provided training to 1676 women, organized networking opportunities for 4544 women, and provided PARO loans from $500 to $5000, totaling $256,500.
Paro Centre also provides career training, networking and accelerated job placement for women in Northern Ontario. But its primary mission is helping clients achieve financial independence; whether that is accomplished through programs like the “Gateway: A Path to Self Employment”, or by helping them start and grow their own business. The long list of services includes affordable and shared office space, a resource centre that provides access to computers and the internet, plus mentoring and confidential advisory services. Paro even offers start-up loans for new businesses through its innovative Peer- Lending Circles – which was the concept that launched Paro itself.
The organization has a long list of funders and community partners including numerous government ministries at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, as well as foundations like the Ontario Trillium Foundation and corporations like CIBC.
The organization’s successes are celebrated with half a dozen women every year being honoured as Paro’s Women of Distinction.
Peer-lending circles are groups of four to seven women who meet monthly to “exchange advice, provide support, approve and guarantee each other’s loans and monitor payments”. PARO now operates over 30 such circles throughout the Thunder Bay, Greenstone, Patricia and Superior North regions.
Are You Ready?
Whether you come to Paro Centre with the mere germ of an idea or with a full-fledged business plan, Paro can help you take it to the next level.
Prior to Thunder Bay resident Sharla Brown launching her first home business, she didn’t have any plan at all – she simply attended a peer-lending circle meeting with a friend and was inspired to come up with an idea for a home based business. That first business was successful, which led to her starting a second business, Journey to Wellness – which led to Sharla being selected as one of PARO’s 2010 Women of Distinction.
The mentors and advisors at Paro can help you figure out whether your idea is a good one. They can tell you the kinds of information you need to come up with in order to create a business plan; direct you to the resources you need to do the necessary research; and introduce you to people and organizations that can help make it happen.
Paro Founder and Executive Director, Rosalind Lockyer, is delighted with the idea of Paro being used as a model for other organizations that help women achieve empowerment and fulfillment.
“If you just help other women in your community, you’ll have anything you’ve ever dreamed of,” encourages Rosalind. And that advice works not just for women in the north, but for women around the world.