THUNDER BAY – BUSINESS – After 20 years in business, PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise (PARO) has many reasons to celebrate. Today the organization is hosting its ‘Exceeding the Vision’ event in Thunder Bay, to officially commemorate 20 years in Northern Ontario. Starting as a small peer lending project in 1994, PARO has recently been deemed as ‘one of the strongest peer lenders of small business loans in North America’ by IMPACT, a document created by Northern Ontario Business, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and Employment.
Over the past two decades PARO has helped 9,981 entrepreneurs start or grow a businesses, through training, counselling, access to grant and loans, marketing and mentoring. The organization itself has expanded from its Thunder Bay head office, into the region with satellite offices now located in Chapleau and Bruce Mines, making a significant economic contribution in the region. Since 2009, PARO has assisted entrepreneurs to leverage over $4.1 million in grants, with more than $2.5 million coming from PARO programs. This number translates into an economic impact of $910.6 million, according to the Local Economic Multiplier Effect (LEM).
“PARO is definitely having an impact in the region. The organization is all about people;” says PARO Executive Director, Rosalind Lockyer. “I truly believe PARO’s most important impact in Northern Ontario is that we offer hope to so many Northerners. Hope, so that women can follow their dreams and create businesses and employment, and then have the confidence to continue to excel with ongoing support from PARO.”
Women from all across Northern Ontario are gathering at the Exceeding the Vision event today. Exceeding the Vision is PARO’s way of celebrating with the community. Participants are engaging with hundreds of Northern women in business, taking part in a tradeshow event, and even have the opportunity to listen to a keynote address from singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. “A MultiMedia Life” traces Buffy Sainte-Marie’s experiences and observations from her start in the music industry during the 1960s to present day. During her presentation Buffy discussed her career highs, including her appearance on Sesame Street, earning an Academy Award and creating the Cradleboard Teaching project, as well as the lows of struggling with music dyslexia and dealing with the backlash that comes along with fame.
Power panels featuring successful women from across the region were also a main draw at the event. The power panels focused on “What’s Hot and What’s Not” in regards to four different pillars: Procurement, Productivity and Profitability, Youth and Social Entrepreneurship, and Circles, Clusters and Leadership. Panelists including Sharla Brown- Keynote Events, Stephanie Ash-Firedog Communications, Daria Smeh- Loyal Team Environment and Barb Courte-Ellinesky-North Star Drilling Ltd. shared what they have learned from their experience.
“That’s the reason that people come to PARO, and stay with PARO, not only for their own success, but to seed the success of others. PARO is a place of collaboration where women help one another to see their strengths, help achieve their goals, and celebrate success;” says PARO President, Levina Collins.
Celebrations will continue tonight with the PARO 20 in 20 Awards taking place. The top 20 PARO women from the last 20 years will be announced. Women who will be celebrated will be those who have seen much success and have devoted their time and efforts to grow their business and empower women in Northern Ontario through PARO. Recipients of awards will encompass PARO’s values of cooperation, ownership, integrity, responsibility, simplification and peer support.