P A R O
Centre for Women’s Enterprise,
Celebrating 25 years of ‘Justifiable Pride and Accomplishment’ - and still pushing forward
By Sherry Hanes (November, 2019)
PARO: Latin for - “I am ready.”
In a personal and informative interview with Rosalind Lockyer, Founder and CEO of PARO – Centre for Women Enterprise, Thunder Bay, Ontario, it goes without saying, Lockyer is one of the most dedicated and passionate, boundary breaking forerunners, advocating for women in business for 25 years now. PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise has played a paramount role in helping women become the entrepreneur they know they can be, effectuating immeasurable and superlative results for themselves but also, within their communities, for their families and in particular, growth in economic development, globally.
It is no secret that women in all countries deal with insurmountable and devasting, old-world beliefs, when it comes to their status roles, they must play in society and family, and in a lot of cases, it is law, that women should never be in business, EVER! These of course, as anyone should realize, are damaging notions and suppressive practices, that not only damage women as a gender, but seriously damages advancements in economics, for country and home. The old adage that ‘women should be in the kitchen’, is just another ego bending tactic that seriously needs to be dissolved. Anyone who believes in strong economic foundations, promoting growth, understands that, that is exactly what success in business is all about and has absolutely, nothing, to do with gender…well? As a matter of fact, it does…it has been mentioned in business circles that women in business, and in partnership with their male businessmen counterparts, have made extraordinary contributions to the ‘bottom line’, if you will.
It is also known, that women who have ventured on ‘the road less travelled’, supported by not only women, but also, some of our independent thinking, male counterparts, have literally and vastly, advanced some major economic frontiers. Take Elizabeth Arden for example, who was highly and equally respected as a person of business by Harry Selfridge of London, England. Elizabeth Arden had blazed the trail for women in, not only business but, did you know that she also affected acceptance of the social norms for cosmetic restrictions and stigmas, but also serious change in fashion for women. Arden was the first woman to ever wear a pair of ‘slacks’, (women’s dress pants), changing how the world viewed the idea about women’s apparel, so that women could perform daily chores and their jobs more effectively, when it came to safety and comfort, and all the while, retaining that feminine yet ‘fashionable’ aesthetic. As for cosmetics, Arden was the woman who changed the old degrading stigma of wearing cosmetics publicly for women…to making it acceptable and attractive for all women, because prior to this, it was considered indecent display, if a woman was to wear make-up publicly, as that would set her with the social stigma of being a prostitute, permanently.
In the history of women, who have become an integral part of the business world, either as an independent merchant or as a leader in corporate or political operations, women have proven beyond any business barometer, the invaluable contribution they have made and continue to make, to economic development on every level. Any women, who’s focus is on the betterment for all, is the one you will want to have on your team for direction, innovation and support.
Women of ‘yesterday’ did not have it easy making their mark in the world of business, but today, even though there is still much to be done for accepting women in business, PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, (a not-for-profit organization) invites all women to join them in creating independence in business for themselves, attaining justifiable pride and accomplishment through peer lending groups, guidance, support and financial assistance. For 25 years now, PARO has remained ‘ready’ for women that have the fortitude, the drive and the guts to push it all to the line and go for the dream that they intuitively know will be a struggle, but push forward, rejecting their adversaries.
Sherry: “Good day Rosalind. I would like you to talk to me a little about PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise and your involvement in this great organization.”
Lockyer: “To do a good business, one has to build relationships with people, it’s about serving people and it’s about them getting to know you, and them liking to work with you and that’s how you do business with them and how you get to know them. We have been trying a new style for events. The new event style we have held, ‘Anything but Business’, has been a huge success and help people to get to know about PARO and will help women to network with each other. And instead of key speakers talking all night, there will be entertainment, like music or a band and nice food and even being 25 years in the business, you can change things up for the better, you have to change with the times and be flexible. Young people today have a different view on life, they don’t want to work 24 hours a day and be serious all the time so, this type of event gives them the opportunity to relax and just enjoy, while making just a much progress in networking in business.”
Lockyer, who just came back from a press conference for presenting the 2019, PARO Alumni Award to Susan Cooper-Rochon of Perfect Fit Lingerie and Fashion, was excited not only to present the award but, to share that PARO was there to help Susan get started in business and that Susan has never looked back. Success in business for Susan, is the result of a supporting community and family. It all started with Susan walking through the doors of PARO, who worked with Susan throughout the twelve years, implementing a great business plan, every step of the way.
Lockyer strongly believes that when large businesses are failing, it is the small businesses that keep the economy going and the small business will survive because they provide good customer service, for which the customer will always return. It is a formula that works and is the backbone of our economy.
Lockyer: “Increasingly now, there are more and more women in business and when I started 25 years ago, people appreciated the fact that many businesses were home businesses from women. Women were doing a lot of home businesses so therefore, they figured that those businesses weren’t as strong or vital or as important unless it was a retail outlet. But many of the businesses that women do, they don’t need to have a retail outlet. Working out of their home, allows women to do all that they are responsible for around family. Sometimes it’s child care and sometimes it’s elder care or volunteering in the community, supporting the kids at school and so on. All of that activity is really important to the community. Now today, 25 years later, no one would ever say that a home business is not as important as a retail business because they understand the differences and a home business is making a lot more money than retail businesses depending on what it is and they have fewer expenses. Their revenue could be equal to a retail business but they don’t have the expenses so, that is one of the big changes and I think women lead the way, and PARO did too, lead the way in demonstrating there are different ways to do business and they all need to be appreciated. Then the other thing was that when I started first, people would say about women, ‘Oh! What kind of business do they do? Crafts?’ But women do all kinds of businesses, like for example today, we gave the Alumni Award to Susan Cooper-Rochon who own the Perfect Fit Lingerie and Fashion and that is such a popular store in our neighbourhood and she was built on a service that is doing a good job for her clients. Last year’s Alumni Award winner was this year’s sponsor for the award event and that sponsor was Redhead and The Chef, Jennifer Biron, who baked the cake for the event as a gift in respect to the 25th Anniversary of PARO. In addition to the cake, cookies that were made special for the event and were presented to the attendees.”
There are many varieties of businesses that PARO supports, and one business is based on social enterprises, which teaches non-indigenous people how to better work with indigenous communities and people. That is a much, needed service and therefore it is important to know that women doing businesses is not just crafts.
Lockyer: “In the 25 years PARO grew from a very small organization, here in Thunder Bay, and now we’re all over Ontario. We have our centre here in Thunder Bay, we have two offices in Ottawa, we have one in Bellville and soon, we are in the plans now, opening one in Toronto. So, in the meantime, we’ve got women in business, we call them Better Business Growth Advisors, we look for women who are doing their business well and have good qualities so that they can go out on the roads and by-ways and support other women in business, and then of course, we have our staff. So that’s been a huge expansion in our 25 years and it has also been a wonderful ride. Lots of challenges but lots and lots of fun finding the solutions together. This is what makes an organization like this work. We’ve got our 140 plus peer lending circles, those are small groups of women who help each other and they go through the good times and the bad times and they help each other through it all and we provide them with the loans and half the loans, they don’t have to repay for the first two stages and then they keep getting loans as they need them in the various stages. But then we have a lot of other loan and grant programs that we can help them apply for. These small circles of women create a big circle of women, not only supporting each other but doing good things in the community and that helps our economy at the same time as providing social support in the community as well. Women are really interested in how they can support the community and working with the indigenous women in the First Nations communities, that is the first thing they are interested in is, how is my business going to work in my community? How is it going to support my community? And we can learn from that because anyone doing a business, is providing a service to people. You’ve got to realize ‘we are all in this community together’. It’s all about serving the people and serving the community. That’s what it’s about!”
Thoughts of retiring for Lockyer are not even in the cards. Lockyer explains, “I don’t retire! For me, this is, … it isn’t work, … it’s a mission to help women and to empower communities. So, in the sector we call it ‘Women’s Centre - CED’ Community Economic Development, but in doing this, there’s a great joy and lots of rewards.”
Sherry: “How did you first come to doing this…?”
Lockyer: “I think I was always a bit of an activist. I was a ‘roll up your sleeve’, kind of activist. Even in university, I was always interested in ‘like…why were women excluded from things? Even though they do really well in university and school, we always seem to be not in the high places. You know what I mean? It was very much so when I was in university, it was a man’s world. I mean, things have changed a lot in those years and rightly so, but we still have a way to go. When a woman realizes and says, ‘I can do anything I want to do’, but in most cases they can do anything they want to, until they actually try to do it, and then they start to see the very, subtle nuances, that keep the woman in her place and that is when she has to have the strength and she has to have the support, the strength that has confidence in her own intuition, own skills, her own abilities and the values that she wants to put out there in the world and she has to have people to support her. One of the projects we do, we do in partnership with women in politics and we’ve been trying to increase the number of women in politics and get elected again, it’s a slow steady race more and more women are learning. Now, women who are running, even when they get in the high places, I mean if you look at social media, you’ll see some of the really nasty sexist remarks that they get and that is NOT o.k. Women need people that are going to support them. We have to educate our communities that when women entrepreneurs or women politicians are out there, it’s to the advantage of all. We all have mothers and most of us have sisters and aunts and we will possibly have children and we’re not going to want our family members to suffer from that kind of sexism and abuse and domestic violence is still at an all-time high and we have a way to go. One thing that I feel is that if a woman has money in her pocket, she has more choices she can make. And to answer your question as to why I chose this, that really was it. There was a time when I was working in a woman’s centre, one that dealt mostly in abuse situations, supporting women that were being abused, and you know I heard the stories over and over, and the biggest problem is that they have no access to the money and this is why I sort of, I started a small project that at the time was called ‘The Community Women’s Loan Fund’ and that became ‘PARO a Women’s Community Loan Fund’ and then it became ‘PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise’, so in its evolution now we’re a very vibrant and very sustainable organization that is spread all over the province. It is not a one person show, everyone has their place and their gift to give and we encourage the women to give back every day to each other and to their community.”
Sherry: “Who was first on board with you?”
Lockyer: “Well. You know we had Sheila Fortes, she did bookkeeping for various organizations. And then we had Pat Puttus, who moved to Toronto and later had a freight forwarding company that did shipping overseas. And then there was Wendy Baldwin and she was a designer and made clothing, manufactured clothing, and she moved to Southern Ontario as well. Debbie Poole-Hoffman and she had a graphics business which she still owns today. So, those were the first four officers of PARO.”
PARO started out having five peer lending circles, which was great even 25 years ago and today there are over 140 peer lending circles and still growing…It is a model that really works.
PARO Centre for Women Enterprise, which is located at 105 May Street North, also has PARO Presents Gift Store, 111 May Street North, presents a lot of wonderful artisans. PARO Centre for Women Enterprise will be holding a special 25th Anniversary Celebration on November 7, 2019 at the Valhalla Inn, in Thunder Bay. Buffy St. Marie will return as the special guest speaker at the event, appearing by special request. A notably wise woman, who shares an incredible story of strength and conviction. The event commences at 9:30 A.M. with guest speaker at lunch time and registration is at 9:30 to 10:00 followed by the opening ceremony followed by a work shop in the morning showcasing working with banks in business, as well as a work shop in exporting as many women are becoming more involved in exporting and people at exporting conferences want to business with women in exporting.
Join PARO on November 7th, 2019, and help celebrate their achievements that help us all.
PARO - Centre for Women Enterprise – Celebrating 25 years of ‘justifiable pride and accomplishment!