Keewaywin’s Barb Monias and Homer Vincent are looking to develop a social enterprise — an Internet cafe — to provide youth with a safe place to socialize.
“We’re trying to get an Internet cafe going right now,” said Monias, who started up Crystals Coffee Shop in Keewaywin about two-and-a-half years ago with Vincent. “We’re trying to make a place where kids will hang out.”
“Everybody’s got iPods and iPhones,” Vincent said.
“Why not make an Internet cafe,” Monias said.
“If we have an Internet cafe, they can sit down and drink coffee and chit chat,” Vincent said.
The two social and business entrepreneurs are currently looking for a building to set up the Internet cafe with space for about six tables and four to six chairs per table.
“I have a vision in my head how I want it to look in the (Internet cafe), like with a big canoe,” Monias said.
Monias and Vincent encourage others across the north to start up their own social enterprises, noting they started up Crystals Coffee Shop with just a few coffee pots.
“We started with a regular coffee pot,” Monias said. “We bought three coffee pots, we had a couple of cups, barely enough.”
“No lids,” Vincent said.
“People still came and bought it that first day,” Monias said.
The two partners developed the coffee shop idea while working in Bearskin Lake.
“I was living with a friend and he started up a coffee shop in his own house,” Vincent said.
“When we were going to be moving back to Keewaywin, he threw the idea at us because there was no coffee shop in the community.”
So Monias went online and asked community members if they were interested in a coffee shop.
“I got lots of comments like ‘Go for it,’” Monias said. “We got our Crystals Coffee Chop name from our seven-year-old daughter — she’s our inspiration.”
Monias and Vincent were among about 70 participants from across northern Ontario who discussed social enterprise at the Start Something That Matters Social Innovation and Social Enterprise Seminar, held June 11-12 at the Airlane Hotel and Conference Centre in Thunder Bay.
The seminar included the screening of Not Business as Usual, a documentary film about the changing landscape of business and the rising tide of conscious capitalism, and a number of workshops, including Journey of a Youth Social Entrepreneur, Social Economy in Northern Ontario, Social Enterprise on First Nations, Cooperatives as a Social Enterprise Model, How to Write a Business Plan, Funding Opportunities and Peer Lending Circles.
Bobby Narcisse, director of social services at Nishnawbe Aski Nation and a panel member at the seminar, encouraged youth to get involved in social enterprise initiatives.
“Get involved if you have a plan or an idea or a dream,” Narcisse said.
Narcisse encouraged youth to approach economic development officers in their communities for assistance, noting that he is also available at NAN at 623-8228.
“You just have to go out and try,” Narcisse said. “Your idea may fail, there is a possibility of that, but you can’t be afraid of failure. Sometimes when we hit those roadblocks when pursuing our dreams, those are learning points. We encourage people to get out there and try to make those youth social entrepreneurship ideas a reality.”
Narcisse said social entrepreneurs do not have to start big with their ideas.
“Sometimes it just takes a couple tins of coffee and a welcoming environment,” Narcisse said. “And just getting your friends to come out and support your marketing idea. It just takes small steps like that and it could evolve into something bigger.”
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