Toronto the Good: The Centre for Social Innovation (Part 2)

21 November 2013,   By ,  

We’re baaaack with Adil Dhalla from the Centre for Social Innovation! Last week we talked about who they are and how the Centre for Social Innovation is a hub for social entrepreneurs. This week we chat about their projects and social entrepreneurs.

What makes a good social entrepreneur?

Whether social or not, a good entrepreneur is someone who is inspired to solve a problem, is able to create the conditions for other people to collaborate with them and has an almost superhuman amount of will to make it work. The only additional distinction for social entrepreneurs as that they are seeking gains in both profit and purpose.

What are the 3 things essential to building good communities?

There are three things that are essential to good community building: an intention to build community in the first place (sounds obvious, but not as commonly practised as one would think!), designing for serendipity and of course, social capital. The latter is something I’ve been thinking a lot lately because I believe social capital is the true wealth of society and is always earned and rarely inherited, thus making it elusive without intention behind its creation.

An overarching point is that all three things are products of your culture and culture is something we’ve taken very seriously since our inception. We’ve long understood culture to be something special and only recently has it really begun to be considered a competitive advantage that’s too important to be left to chance.

How can the community get involved with CSI?

You can apply for space or if you don’t need space but want to be a part of the community and reap all the benefits, via our Community Membership program.

If you’re at the early stages of your project, you could also apply to become an Agent of Change, where you get free space and mentorship for a year and also a pathway to funding. Our next application period will be early in 2014.

Finally, we also have a Desk Exchange Community Animator (DECA) program, where people trade us a day of service in exchange for free space. Our next application period to become a DECA will be early in 2014.

Now, on to the really juicy stuff – can you tell us a little about some of your most current projects and programs?

On the coworking front, we opened our doors to our fourth location this year in New York City. This is a big step for a relatively small Canadian not for profit to become a [tiny] multinational and the stage couldn’t be bigger. Nearly six months into operations there, I’m thrilled to announce that we are well beyond our projections in terms of membership and have an incredibly vibrant community down there including folks from organizations like the NY Department of Education, Kiva and UpWorthy.

On the community front, this fall we’ve hosted four Community Summits at each of our locations. The Summits are a member only opportunity where we run an afternoon of facilitated exercises to foster strategic connections, catalyze social innovation and have a tone of fun. The whole idea is to uncover what the needs and assets are in a community and then we (CSI) play matchmaker. There’s nothing quite like it!


On the launchpad front, this year we introduced CSI Catapult, which is a micro loan program where we provide funding in increments of 5-25K dollars to our members. Our whole purpose is to see our community succeed so we’ve been focused on this for some time but Catapult is a massive step for us because it’s first time we’ve ever removed the barrier of funding for our community.

We know you can’t play favourites, but what are some social initiatives we should be on the look out for?

There is a ton of movement in the sharing economy right now, which most people would be familiar with via some of the big players like AirBnB and Autoshare. But I think there is so much more in this realm to come and we certainly are seeing that in our community. For example, the Toronto Tool Library opened up their first library in Parkdale earlier this year and recently open up their second library (with a maker space) on the Danforth. If you’ve ever bought a tool for one job and now it sits in your basement or garage, you’d love the TTL!

Another trend we’re seeing is around market manipulation and transformation. This year we launched CSI Catalyst, which is a crowdfunding project for projects that are focused on changing the world. Catalyst is part of an emerging trend that includes new financial instruments like CSI’s Community Bond, alternative currency (i.e. Bitcoin) and platforms like Catalyst that are challenged the status quo of markets and giving more and more power to the people.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, we’re seeing a ton of momentum towards people searching, finding and creating meaningful work. I think is so important because especially in the startup world, there is a lot of romance around he profit that flows when you build something and while that’s important, the reality is that not everyone is going to get rich but we still need people working towards solving big problems. One organization at CSI that comes to mind on this point is Good Foot Delivery, which provides door to door delivery service in Toronto via couriers with different forms of disabilities. Good Foot isn’t a bank-breaker, but it’s incredibly important and such meaningful work. The more that people are focused purpose rather than profit, the better our world will be.

After all, it is up to us!

Thanks for speaking with us Adil!