SAULT STE. MARIE -- The NORDIK institute is looking to support aspiring female entrepreneurs in the north.

The Algoma University-based research institute has developed two online programs geared to women interested in launching social enterprises in the north.

Social enterprises are revenue-generating businesses whose primary focus is on social development, with profits being devoted toward that social goal, or back to the community.

For instance, the Sault's Grocer 4 Good was started by Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen, with the goal of employing people who are on the autism spectrum or have intellectual challenges.

"I've worked in the private sector before and while this doesn't pay as well, for me, it was my calling," Vezeau-Allen said. "That's the same for many of my colleagues across the board. There isn't anything they wouldn't do to help out their community." 

NORDIK Institute researcher Krista Bissiallon said the programs will be offered to women around the province, with help from the federal government.

However, Bissiallon says the focus in the north will be on helping Indigenous peoples.

"That's something I've made a mission of myself, as an Indigenous woman," she said.

"They're already doing community work anyways, and we really want to elevate the work that they're doing, to hopefully help them make a sustainable livelihood."

Bissiallon said there's a parallel between women and women-identified folks, in terms of movement building.

"They're usually at the forefront of those kinds of processes, so this just makes sense," she said.

Bissiallon points to the COVID-19 pandemic as a prime example of how that happens.

"A lot of our frontline workers, like nurses, typically share the burden of care right now," she said.

Vezeau-Allen says she's a big supporter of programs that help women get into business -- especially those that offer mentorship opportunities.

"Those are absolutely crucial, for just about anyone," she said. "I always look to other people to assist me, in terms of their experiences, what they would do in this situation or that."

Grocer 4 Good is currently closed due to the pandemic, but Vezeau-Allen says she hopes to be able to reopen within the next four to five weeks.

Meanwhile, the application process for the first 16-week program has begun at the NORDIK Institute, with the second to follow later this year.