New Hintonburg store trains teens to be entrepreneurs

The Social Market is teaching teenagers, mostly newcomers to Canada, how to be entrepreneurs — and also providing shoppers with a venue to buy local this holiday season.

The Social Market also gives shoppers a venue to shop local over the holidays

Libin Omar holds up Ethiopian and Somali spice mixes at The Social Market in Hintonburg. Omar took part in Thirteen: A Social Enterprise and is now employed through the program as a social media and marketing co-ordinator. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

A new store in Hintonburg is teaching teenagers, mostly newcomers to Canada, how to be entrepreneurs — and also providing shoppers with a venue to buy local this holiday season.

The Social Market opened last month on Wellington Street W. The shop carries products like coffee, masks, scarves, and jewelry that support social causes like food banks and clean water initiatives.

It came about through a program based out of the Parkdale Food Centre called Thirteen: A Social Enterprise, which teaches young people how to run their own businesses.

Michael Nsenga, 17, joined the program a few years ago after moving to Ottawa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He now helps run the store, serving as a youth mentor to help guide new young people through Thirteen.

"Because of training [with] Thirteen I gained the confidence to try do to marketing or business. Joining Thirteen made me feel comfortable and learn more about talking to people," he said.

"This program is a benefit for young people because a lot of young people out there, they don't even know what they're trying to do — especially teenagers."

Michael Nsenga joined Thirteen after arriving in Canada from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The 17-year-old is now a youth mentor guiding new participants. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The program's name comes from the number of students who usually take part every four months, although with COVID-19 restrictions, there are currently 10 participating, divided into two groups. 

"For a lot of people who are just coming to Canada, they might not have those connections. And so to have a place like this ... was important," said program manager Meagan McVeigh.

While Thirteen has been running for a few years, this is the first time it's had a standalone store. Sales from the spices — which represent the various countries the youth in the program come from — go back into running Thirteen, McVeigh said.

She said they've been doing brisk business since the brick-and-mortar store opened. 

The Social Market opened in November 2020 on Wellington Street W. and carries a number of products that support local causes. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"A lot of people have been coming in looking for local products, and being able to have something to offer them that also has a social cause attached to it has been really meaningful to us," she said.

For Libin Omar, who moved to Ottawa in 2016 from Rwanda, Thirteen gave her "a sense of leadership."

"I want to work for the UN," said Omar, who's now employed as Thirteen's social media and marketing co-ordinator. "So this kind of gives me how to work with youth, how to work with kids."

The physical shop is slated to close on Dec. 23, but products will still be available online.

The goal is to keep the space running after the holidays, but details are still in the works, and updates will be posted on the store's social media


Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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