Building Enterprising Communities

The Benefits of Business

Images courtesy Marie Prebushewski, Inner City Renovation, and Brian Hydesmith
and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company

"[It's] like putting back the Indian in me. The forming of the Big River First Nations co-op has been a revitalization of identity, language, culture, and spirituality.” — Artisan, Ohpahow Wawesecikiwak Arts Marketing Co-operative

Images courtesy Marie Prebushewski

“We get a better community and people get a better way of life.” — Larry Morrissette, social worker on contract to ICR

Images courtesy Jean Paul, contracted by PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise,
Inner City Renovation, and Brian Hydesmith and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company


Community Economic Development

Going Local – Economic Solutions from the Inside Out

Economic development is often discussed in terms of stimulus packages, tax incentives, and cash injections. These methods rarely yield long-term stability and often result in temporary growth, large industry, or outside investment. Community economic development focuses on the needs of the whole community and uses internal resources to create lasting results.

Community economic development (CED) centres on local solutions to local problems, with communities using their own resources, skills, and abilities as the starting point for growth. CED involves the entire community in creating a long-term plan that includes environmental, economic, and social outcomes. It promotes local ownership and local capacity building so the benefits of economic growth stay in the community.


Images courtesy Marie Prebushewski

Ohpahow Wawesecikiwak Arts Marketing Co-operative

Ohpahow – Taking Flight!

Artisans on the Big River First Nations Reserve in northern Saskatchewan are using traditional Cree skills passed down through generations to paint, sew, and carve their way to cultural revitalization and stable incomes.

The Ohpahow Wawesecikiwak Arts Marketing Co-operative grew out of a community strategy to achieve self-reliance. Drawing on time-honoured skills and traditions, the artisans are preserving and promoting language and culture as well as bringing economic development to the region. Learning to market their art collectively, the artisans have gained knowledge about technology, customer service, networking, marketing, and the co-operative business model, which has increased their capacity to achieve their goals.



Images courtesy Marie Prebushewski

A Catalyst for Renewal

When a community values and uses its own resources to address local social and economic issues, just one successful development can often be a catalyst for others. Buoyed by a sense of pride, accomplishment, and skills improvement, community members see possibilities for renewal in many areas.

The co-op is helping to improve economic and social conditions in the community as well as addressing cultural concerns. Members have had early success selling their products at trade shows. They have started a community garden to address the issue of food safety. They are developing a worker co-operative to offer employment opportunities. The achievements of Big River First Nation have become an inspiration to nearby communities, who now look to it for guidance in their own development activities.


“I expect this project to help the community and the people. I think this will preserve our culture and maybe educate people about our culture and break down some barriers and stereotypes facing our people today.” – Artisan, Ohpahow Wawesecikiwak Arts Marketing Co-operative

Images courtesy Marie Prebushewski

PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise


PARO is a Latin term that means “I am ready.” This is a fitting motto for the innovative organization that has enabled hundreds of women across Northern Ontario to build the skills and confidence, and acquire the funds, to become successful entrepreneurs.

PARO helps women start their own small businesses. The organization offers training in important skills such as how to write business plans, apply for loans, and manage customer service. PARO also sets up peer networks that provide personal support and access to funding. PARO’s goal is to give women the confidence to be independent and self-sufficient in both their businesses and personal lives. An added bonus is how this contributes to stronger families and communities.


Image courtesy PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise

Peer Lending Circles: Women Helping Women

People need money to start businesses or expand them, but not everyone can meet the banks’ requirements – minimum loan amounts, good credit history, and collateral. PARO uses an innovative financing solution to help women access money for their businesses.


Peer lending circles provide members with advice and support for their businesses, using a nontraditional lending model to access capital. Members review and approve one another’s loan applications, give references for each other, and are collectively accountable for loan repayment. Capital comes from PARO’s partners in the local financial community.

Giving women access to financing for their micro-enterprises increases the entire community’s capacity for economic self-reliance.


“Our members have found increased confidence in themselves as business women in our community through their interaction with one another and the PARO organization as a whole. The loans … helped some of us expand, begin our business, or improve on what we have already established.” — PARO Peer Circle

Images courtesy Jean Paul, contracted by PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise

Northern Ontario Women's Economic Development Conference

Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things

The NOWEDC conference attracted more than 250 delegates from Northern Ontario and across Canada. Its goal was to support sustainable community economic development in the region by showcasing and encouraging women entrepreneurs. The conference focused on business development, community growth, and the creation of sustainable livelihoods.


Workshops, panel discussions, keynotes, and other activities helped women think about their own potential and about business opportunities. Participants were enthusiastic about the possibilities for northern-based solutions and eagerly absorbed practical how-to advice based on the real experiences of successful female business people and development experts. Delegates shared their knowledge and experience and came away focused on finding innovative solutions to the unique economic challenges in the North.


“I want to thank all of those women at the conference who put hope in my mind and heart. I will never forget the lessons I learned.” — Madison Saunders, research assistant, CESD Program, Algoma University College

For more information about this project, see the final report: Women and Community Economic Development in Northern Ontario

Images courtesy Jean Paul, contracted by PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise

Financing Social Enterprise

How Good Ideas Become Good Business

All businesses require financing in the start-up phase, and they need more to grow and develop. Social enterprises are no different; they need money to get rolling too. What’s different is where it comes from.

Social enterprises are often financed with innovative funding models. Government agencies may recognize the value of their goals and provide a grant. Private ventures and non-profit organizations may do the same. Credit unions sometimes assist them by certifying their loans and guaranteeing their credit. The public supports them by using their businesses. Inner City Renovation and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company used a variety of innovative financing models throughout their growth and development.


“We refer to it as social enterprise because we have multiple bottom lines. It’s not just financial. Obviously, we have to manage for financial sustainability, but we also have to achieve our social objectives.” — Marty Donkervoort, president, CEO, and general manager, ICR

Images courtesy Brian Hydesmith and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company and Inner City Renovation

Inner City Renovation

We’re Different Because We Make a Difference

Inner City Renovation (ICR) is a construction company that offers people the opportunity to acquire the training and skills to build better lives. Employees, who are low-income, inner-city residents, receive on-the-job training to become certified carpenters. ICR empowers employees through policies that emphasize respect and the value of a fresh start. Employees, in turn, develop the confidence and pride to overcome their past challenges.

The employees are not the only ones who benefit. More than 125 completed projects are changing the face of Winnipeg’s North End, making it safer and more attractive. Inner City Renovation is now a profitable company that provides over 25 full-time jobs and has earned a reputation for quality work that comes in on time.


“We go out of our way to create opportunities for people who might otherwise not be employed.” — Marty Donkervoort, president, CEO, and general manager, ICR

Images courtesy Assiniboine Credit Union and Inner City Renovation

Inner City Renovation received start-up funding from charitable organizations and government grants. It also won significant financing with its strong entry in a business-plan competition sponsored by a private social venture capital firm. In the words of CEO Marty Donkervoort, “It was a charmed beginning.”


In its earliest stages, ICR relied on grants to maintain the business and its social objectives. Inner-city nonprofit housing development corporations supported the company by providing it with renovation contracts. Growth was limited once ICR got into the commercial renovation sector as no financial institution would provide performance bonding. Thanks to The Co-operators, a co-operative insurance business, ICR is now able to bid on larger commercial contracts that require performance bonds.

Images courtesy Inner City Renovation

Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company

Organic Grains! Organic Goodness!


The Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company grinds fresh flour in-store to create cinnamon buns, breads, cookies, and other treats. It’s a symbol of the company’s commitment to food security, organics, fair wages for staff, and fair payments to farmers.

In the early 1980s, a group of friends began talking about sharing resources and helping one another. They formed a bread co-op and baked for each other. Discussion soon turned to ethical foods and good stewardship of the land. In 1990 they opened a bakery, planning to purchase organic grains directly from farmers at fair prices, to pay employees decent wages, and to bake healthy breads. The business succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

Images courtesy Brian Hydesmith and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company



Tall Grass went to a bank to finance the purchase of their first bakery. When they explained their plan — to charge more for their bread in order to pay farmers fairly — the banker told them it was absurd and refused the loan.

Tall Grass received an outpouring of love money — loans from family and friends — that supplemented the cash from their own pockets. Most of their loans were low interest or no interest and some were forgiven. It turned out that people were indeed willing to pay more to help achieve the social objectives of the business. To everyone’s surprise, the bakery sold out in ten minutes on opening day and within six weeks had met its three-year production goal.



Images courtesy Brian Hydesmith and the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company

Co-ops: Building Enterprising Communities

Co-operatives and Credit Unions: One Hundred Years of Community Growth

There are co-ops in every region and in virtually every sector of the Canadian economy. Co-operatives circulate money within the community and have a proven track record as successful community builders. Compared to traditional business models, credit unions and co-ops are twice as likely to still be open and flourishing five, ten, and fifteen years after start-up.

  • there are 8,800 co-ops and credit unions in Canada
  • more than 17 million Canadians are members
  • co-ops and credit unions employ over 150,000 people and control more than $275 billion in assets

“Whether it be building facilities and developing people, offering members guaranteed quality products, or generating equity and cash back, the Co-operative Retailing System is building stronger communities that will enhance economic prosperity and quality of life for this and future generations.” – FCL President Glen Tully, Co-op President’s Newsletter, August 2009

Affinity Credit Union

Affinity Credit Union has more than 95,000 members and serves thirty-seven communities throughout Saskatchewan. Affinity’s partnership with the Community First Development Fund is making a difference in people’s lives. Community First is an innovative charitable organization that operates with major sponsorship and support from Affinity. It is committed to reducing poverty through community economic development. The organization provides low-interest financing for economic initiatives, investments that have proven valuable in promoting sustainable growth.

Assiniboine Credit Union

Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU) serves more than 100,000 members and employs 500 people in 24 branches in Winnipeg, Thompson, and Gillam, Manitoba. In 2006, ACU partnered with the North End Community Renewal Corporation to develop the Community Financial Services Centre (CFSC). Its goal is to provide access to affordable financial services to underserved individuals and help them establish a relationship with a mainstream financial institution. Referred to the CFSC by a network of community organizations, clients have access to financial counseling, budgeting workshops, and referrals to other resources. ACU staff are available twice a week to open new accounts, deposit cheques, pay bills, and set up direct deposit payments for CFSC clients, almost 300 of whom were full members of ACU as of November 2009.

Anishinabek Nation Credit Union

The Anishinabek Nation Credit Union (ANCU) is the first entirely First-Nation-owned financial institution in Ontario. Using the co-operative model, ANCU opened in 2001 in response to a limited access to financial services, which was affecting economic development in the region. ANCU now services forty-three First Nations communities. Member owned and controlled, the credit union tailors its services to meet individual community needs. This has resulted in both personal and community capacity building, local infrastructure development, and significant community pride.


Whether pooling resources or banding together to provide needed services, co-ops and credit unions have gained a reputation for being innovators. Their commitment to first- class customer service has made them open to new practices. Not surprisingly, it was a Saskatchewan credit union that made our money accessible around the clock. Sherwood Credit Union, now known as Conexus, opened Canada’s first ATMs in two Regina locations in 1977.