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Our story

The genesis of CSI began in 2003 in Toronto, when a group of entrepreneurs—Tonya Surman of the Commons Group, Margie Zeidler of Urbanspace Property Group, Mary Rowe of Ideas That Matter, Pat Tobin of Heritage Canada and Eric Meerkamper of DECODE—began imagining a new model for shared workspaces for social innovators.

The Questions

The group knew that the social mission sector faces capacity and resource challenges. As a result, too many organizations were working out of isolated and substandard facilities. Our questions were: How can we improve access to office facilities, lower the cost of administration, and let organizations focus on their mission? How can we tear down the silos that keep organizations apart? How can we best become a catalyst for social change?

The Answers

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. Once the decision to go ahead was made in January 2004, the Zeidler family stepped up and offered to pay for the leasehold improvements in a 6,000 sq. ft. space on the first floor. The Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Harbinger Foundation stepped forward with core operating grants to help with start-up and operational costs. Tonya Surman volunteered for six months to get the project off the ground, and the Centre for Social Innovation Spadina opened its doors to 14 founding tenants in June 2004.

The Results and Growth

The model worked. The members were happy. The 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. In March 2007, the Centre for Social Innovation had become home to over 180 social mission groups in sectors ranging from arts and environment to social justice and education. For them – and for us – sharing space together meant more than simply being office mates. It meant sharing ideas, strategies and experience. It meant supporting each other. It meant working together to build our profile and to connect with new communities. CSI members collaborate, learn, grow and become more resilient in ways never imagined in isolation.

CSI 2.0, 3.0 ...

In 2010, the Centre for Social Innovation bought a beautiful brick and beam building. This was a massive step, fuelled by our innovation in social finance - The Community Bond. With the support of our community network, we purchased, renovated and filled the Centre for Social Innovation Annex, a 36,000 sq ft building filled from top to bottom with world-changing social entrepreneurs.

In September 2012, we opened a 10,000 sq ft space in Regent Park, Canada's largest public housing community, currently undergoing Canada’s largest community revitalization. We wanted to know what it would mean to take our model into a community in transition – a community comprised primarily of newcomers from around the world (we’re talking 85 spoken languages here!). CSI is rapidly becoming a community, innovation, and entrepreneurship hub in Regent Park.

CSI Starrett-Lehigh

And now, New York City! Quietly minding our own business in Toronto, we were approached by a passionate (and persistent) entrepreneur with a few ideas of his own. He was determined to make a connection between the Centre for Social Innovation and RXR Realty, one of the leading and most forward-thinking realty companies in New York City and the broader tri-state area. It quickly became clear that this was a match made in heaven. The Centre for Social Innovation would be the perfect complement to the growing tenant community of creators and innovators at the recently purchased Starrett-Lehigh building. Working together, RXR Realty and the Centre for Social Innovation are bringing the new space to life.

Still curious? Want to know all the behind the scenes details? Download "Emergence: The Story of the Centre for Social Innovation".