Ottawa, ON – June 15, 2016 – Robin Whitford found herself starting over at 40. A crisis counsellor by training, she helped countless families. But her job took a daily toll on her. She was burned out, depressed, and knew she couldn't continue doing what she was doing. So, Whitford enrolled in a course at EcoEquitable of Ottawa and found a brand new direction. She learned about digital entrepreneurship and started her own sewing business.
“I don't have a business background. I could use a computer for work, but I didn't know how to harness social media for business, use spreadsheets or other business accounting tools,” said Whitford, now 41, and owner of a home-based business called Sew Crazy. "I've always been interested in making things and didn't fully realize I could make a living off of something I had being doing as a hobby. Without having started that program, I never would have been motivated to do the hard work required to start my own business.”
Dozens of women – many of them from multicultural communities – have started over by taking EcoEquitable's Enabling Online Apparel Entrepreneurship program. With funding from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the program has allowed hopeful entrepreneurs develop their business ideas and grow their digital entrepreneurship skills.
CIRA's Community Investment Program provided financial support for a one-year pilot program that began in June 2015. EcoEquitable used the funds to provide individualized training, support and mentoring.
“Before getting CIRA's CIP funding, women with dreams of starting their own businesses would come to us and ask for advice, but we simply didn't have the resources or the programming to assist them as well as we would have liked,” said Tara Templin, EcoEquitable's Executive Director. “What CIRA has done is made the Internet more accessible to immigrant women and women experiencing barriers to joining the workforce. We are all extremely grateful.”
With CIRA's support, EcoEquitable was able to tailor a curriculum specifically for online apparel businesses. Participants not only got design and sewing support, but also the digital skills training to access the most up-to-date online business, marketing and sales resources.
“Digital literacy is increasingly a key determinant of success, across all business sectors, in Canada and around the world,” said David Fowler, CIRA's director of marketing and communications. “CIRA supports aspiring entrepreneurs and, indeed, all Canadian businesspeople in their online dealings. The Community Investment Program is just one tangible example of how we are building a better online Canada and creating economic opportunity.”
CIRA's investment in EcoEquitable is helping women aged 19-64 to break down barriers and generate sustainable income for themselves and their families. Five of the 30 emerging entrepreneurs supported by CIRA will be among those recognized during the ‘Sewing for Jobs' graduation ceremony at EcoEquitable's Ottawa offices on the morning June 15th.
Templin says CIRA's support will have lasting consequences: “This grant was not only instrumental in getting 30 women trained in 2015, it helped us secure additional funding for future years. So this will literally help us empower female entrepreneurs for years to come.”
The women who take part in the program in the years to come will benefit from the lessons learned during this year's pilot. One of the key findings was that one size does not fit all; EcoEquitable will continue to customize its online content curriculum and provide individualized support based on each participant's level of education, training and computer literacy.
Robin Whitford says she's learned a most important lesson: “Life's not about just surviving. It's about making choices that are new and exciting. It might be scary, but it's exciting. Success, now, for me is about happiness. I'm doing something that makes me happy every day.”
About CIRA's Community Investment Program
Through the Community Investment Program, CIRA funds projects that demonstrate the capacity to build a better online Canada. The CIRA team manages Canada's country code top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. A Member-based organization, CIRA represents the interests of Canada's Internet community internationally. To date, the Community Investment Program has supported 78 innovative projects across Canada with grants totalling $3.2 million.