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Welcoming and Supporting Entrepreneurial Newcomers

By Sulekha Sathi

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Local entrepreneurs and library staff celebrate at Toronto Public Library's Newcomer Entrepreneur in Residence launch event

The Toronto Public Library is honoured to participate in, share and learn from the ULC Entrepreneurship Learning Cohort. A key learning so far has been the value of taking a focused approach to the delivery of small business and entrepreneurial services.

TPL’s Newcomer Entrepreneur in Residence (NEIR) program was developed to respond to and reflect the growing need for and interest in programs to support and encourage newcomers. Our vision and goal have been to support economic prosperity for those we serve in diverse communities and to be part of a network of services supporting vibrant local communities.

The NEIR program encouraged successful entrepreneurs to apply and share their skills and interests. They worked together with local staff to develop and deliver group programs on a range of topics, offer individual consultations to customers seeking in-depth feedback on their business plans and highlight library resources to meet customer needs.

Our vision and goal have been to support economic prosperity for those we serve in diverse communities and to be part of a network of services supporting vibrant local communities.

Our launch event on October 3 at the flagship Toronto Reference Library was the opportunity to introduce and share the experiences of the entrepreneurs selected for this residency and to promote the programs they would deliver to newcomer communities.

One of the main themes of the evening was celebrating diversity through inclusion. We were honoured to have our Indigenous Elders in Residence begin the event with a land acknowledgement and ceremony honouring and reflecting the deep Indigenous traditions. Through this ceremony, they welcomed everyone and honoured newcomers through connecting past, present and future communities together. It was an aha moment for many in the audience — and we appreciated receiving a number of comments both in person and via social media on connecting communities through respect and inclusion.

Another aha moment occurred during the launch event when a member of the audience asked the entrepreneurs to identify their recommended steps to entrepreneurial success. When each entrepreneur shared their ideas and experiences of success, which were also paved with a number of restarts, many in the audience recognized that the path to success as an entrepreneur is varied and diverse.

The path to success as an entrepreneur is varied and diverse.

Our journey through the NEIR program with our entrepreneurs, staff and customers has included a commitment to being open, aware, responsive and reflective of the needs and interests of diverse and newcomer communities.

Through this program we have been able to increase capacity and ensure geographic equity by offering and delivering relevant and responsive entrepreneurial programs in two library branches serving large newcomer communities.

A key goal and success measure has been to ensure that every aspect of the design and delivery of the NEIR program aligns to the values embedded in the library’s mission, vision and values — which include diversity, inclusion and equity.

The response to our work has been a resounding “yes”!

Sulekha Sathi is a library service manager at the Toronto Public Library. She also serves as co-chair of the library’s Small Business Workgroup. For more information, contact Sulekha at ssathi@torontopubliclibrary.ca.