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 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?
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.
September 2012 represents the newest chapter in our evolution. We’ve just 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!). We're excited by this new challenge and the potential to create a bridge between communities that are too often disconnected.
And now New York City! Well, we didn’t really see this one coming, but the entrepreneurs in us could not turn down the opportunity to take our model of shared workspaces for social innovators front and center to the world stage. Want to learn how CSI Starrett-Lehigh happened? Read the story here.
CSI is coming to New York to support the city’s fast-growing community of innovators, entrepreneurs, enterprises and non-profits working to make the world a better place. The new CSI Starrett-Lehigh will be a shared workspace, dynamic community, learning hub and catalyst to accelerate the success of New York’s social ventures.
We're improving our systems, tweaking our model, and building on our previous successes to step up our game across all of our locations. We can’t wait to connect our amazing CSI Toronto community of social innovators to CSI Starrett-Lehigh's entrepreneurs and creative class. New Yawk, eh!
For more on the CSI Story download Emergence: The Story of the Centre for Social Innovation.