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Women Leaders in Business: A champion for equality and entrepreneurship

Thunder Bay's Rosalind Lockyer empowers Northern Ontario women to realize impactful lives
Rosalind Lockyer
PARO founder Rosalind Lockyer

Even though Rosalind Lockyer has received international praise for her work, making her family proud is all the accolades that the Thunder Bay-based founder and CEO of PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise needs to prove that she’s lived well and impactfully. 

Founded in 1995, PARO is now in its 27th year of working toward gender equality and equity, helping women in their entrepreneurship journeys through empowering and supporting them. She calls it her life’s mission.

“It was a mission that needed to happen,” Lockyer said. “We’re not finished yet, because there is still a lot of abuse and inequality. If even one woman is being abused, all of us have to be vigilant, helping to make sure that all women have money in their pockets, to be able to be independent, and get the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Lockyer has been honoured with a number of awards for her work, including Northern Ontario Business’s 2005 Influential Women Award for her public sector leadership, an honorary doctorate from Lakehead University this year, and being named one of the women of the decade in community leadership by the Women’s Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 in New Delhi, India.

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“I never expected any awards and was really quite touched,” said Lockyer. “I almost deleted the WEF email, because I thought it was spam. It’s lovely and validating to know that my work is being recognized locally, regionally, and halfway around the world.”

PARO (Latin for “I am ready”) has been called the largest peer lending network in North America with more than 150 PARO circles across Ontario.

But Lockyer’s story started humbly. 

Born in Newfoundland, she began her entrepreneurial journey selling apple dolls with a partner. They lovingly carved the heads of the dolls, made bodies, and dressed them like characters such as witches, fishermen, princesses, and even one of Pierre Trudeau. They had a salesperson in Toronto who sold their dolls nationwide.

“It became quite a trend, and we were hired by the school board to teach others how to make them as well.” Lockyer said.

“Aside from Aunties’ Attic Handicrafts, I was also a teacher in Newfoundland, and my husband and I owned a number of Mary Brown’s chicken franchise restaurants in Northern Ontario after we moved to Thunder Bay.”

The Lockyers' built their lives around a lifestyle they wanted, which is what she recommends to all entrepreneurs. For her, it involved helping to create successful lives for their children. 

They moved from Newfoundland to Oshawa so that their daughter could pursue ballet at the National Ballet School in Toronto. Their son was a nationally ranked ski jumper, and now a successful entrepreneur. 

“What’s most important is figuring out what lifestyle you want,” said Lockyer. 

“If you want to travel, or work from home looking out at a lake, that has to be the essence of whatever you are developing; then, build a business that will suit you long-term. PARO has a lot of experience with making sure people factor in their values, dreams, and desires when building a business, since those are different from person to person.”

Lockyer learned from each opportunity life sent her way, but she noticed systemic challenges that women faced in business.

Then life intervened with her cancer diagnosis and almost three-year treatment, and the Lockyers sold their franchises. 

Lockyer likes that she’s been given the name of social entrepreneur.

“Business should be more than earning money, I think all our businesses should be about supporting each other and working together.” she said. 

“I challenge PARO entrepreneurs to think how are they going to support other women, and their community, without negatively impacting the environment. It takes more than money to have a successful life.” 

Lockyer learned that you can’t be happy just doing everything for yourself; you need to have support and impact, and aim to make the world a better place. She recommends entrepreneurs think about that early on, and build sustainable businesses that will last and have a positive impact on the community and the world. 

Speaking of support, she’ll be celebrating 54 years of marriage this year.

“Imagine if everyone worked a bit here and there on the problems they see as the most relevant,” challenged Lockyer. “I try to influence society in a way that we can impact systemic change for women’s equality. Others can help with that too, or focus on the environment, poverty, or racism… whatever drives them. Evil would have no place in the world if we all were putting all that good out there.”

Women Leaders in Business is a series of monthly articles profiling women entrepreneurs and leaders who are making their mark in Northern Ontario and are contributing to the betterment of their community's and this region's economy.