Toronto The Good: The Centre for Social Innovation

13 November 2013,   By ,  

In light of uh, recent events, our fair city has been the ire of many people worldwide. While it may seem like low hanging fruit to mock the current situation, we’re going to go in a different direction. We’d like to introduce you to our newest series: Toronto the Good. We’ll be taking a look at those making a difference in the community; it’s kind of like having Toronto’s very own superheroes.

This week, we sat down with Adil Dhalla from the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) to talk about what they do, their love for Toronto and some cool projects they’re working on.

Let’s take it away!

Can you tell us a little about the Centre for Social Innovation?

The Centre for Social Innovation is a coworking space, community, and launchpad for people who are changing the world, with three locations in Toronto and a location in New York City. We provide our members with the tools they need to accelerate their success and amplify their impact. Together, we’re building a movement of nonprofits, for-profits, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists working across sectors from farming to finance and everything in between. We’re catalyzing new ideas for a better world.

Your model is called “The Theory of Change” – care to elaborate?

It only takes a small group of people to change the world. So what do you get when you bring together hundreds of innovative and passionate people with access to shared spaces and services, community programming, venture support, and a positive work environment? Transformation!

We know that social change is the result of a tremendously complex mix of ingredients, but we’ve learned how to create the environment that best fosters social innovation.

Space is at the heart of what we do, and forms the base of our Theory of Change. Start by creating a workspace that is functional, open, and energizing. Next, foster a sense of community with programming, events, and support. Establish real and virtual networks for innovators to connect and collaborate. Enable people to recognize common goals and to form partnerships around them—they’ll launch new initiatives that benefit the collective good.

Through conscious animation you’ve taken a building full of persistent changemakers and turned it into a social innovation powerhouse. Sit back, grab a drink, and watch the fireworks.

Awesome! So why the CSI? How did it come into existence?

The story of the Centre for Social Innovation begins way back in 2003, when a group of visionary social entrepreneurs decided that something wasn’t working in the social mission sector. Too many organizations were working out of isolated and substandard facilities. They asked themselves some core questions: How can we improve access to office facilities? How can we lower the cost of administration and let organizations focus on their mission? How can we tear down the silos that keep organizations apart? And, how can we best catalyze social change?

Part of the answer came in the form of the Robertson Building at 215 Spadina Avenue in Toronto, which had been recently purchased by Urbanspace Property Group. With generous support from the landlord, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Harbinger Foundation, the Centre for Social Innovation Spadina opened its doors to 14 founding tenants in 5,000 sq ft of space in June 2004.

The model worked. The members were happy, the broader community was drawn to the space, and the small staff team now had the room to begin supporting new projects. When the opportunity to assume more space in the building came up in late 2006, the Centre took over an additional 14,000 sq ft. By March 2007, the Centre for Social Innovation was home to over 180 social mission groups in sectors including arts, environment, social justice, and education. For them—and for us—sharing space together meant more than simply being officemates. It meant sharing ideas, strategies, and experience. It meant collaborating, learning, growing, and becoming resilient in ways never imagined in isolation.

You picked our favourite city Toronto as your home base – why?

As our founding story explains, the fact we started in Toronto was more a product of where our founders called home. With that said, a lot can be attributed to certain conditions that exist in Toronto that likely contributed to the fact we were able to thrive here such as a history of entrepreneurism, a great financial sector, a progressive value system and our diversity, both in people and in places.

That’s all for now folks – tune back in next week when we talk to Adil about what builds good communities and some projects they’re working on.