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How Are You, Really? A Call to the Community

Through conversation and programming, our CSI Community Animator, Marcus Huynh, has spent the last year invested in the health and wellbeing of our community. For Mental Health Week, he wanted to share a few words about what this experience has taught him, what he hopes for our community, and how he is here to support. 

We’ve seen the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health in our personal and professional lives. The way we work and live has changed. The way we lead has changed. The way we socialize and connect with loved ones has changed. The way our kids learn at school has changed. What we see in the media has changed. We see the discrimination and racial inequities that continue to be illuminated and how the pandemic have disproportionally impacted marginalized communities.  

 As social changemakers, we place a lot of responsibility on ourselves to do more and respond more urgently during moments of crisis. At CSI we say, “It’s up to us.” And while that remains true, it’s important to acknowledge that working amid uncertainty, grief, loss, and isolation whilst balancing the needs of relationships, home, and financial pressures affects our mental and emotional capacity and can take a significant toll on the wellbeing of our community. Burnout, and it’s more conversational counterpart, screen fatigue, are real. If you’re feeling exhausted, you’re not alone. We hear you. 

So, as Mental Health Week comes to a close, it’s a great reminder to check in, especially given the current state of the world – and to acknowledge the work doesn’t stop once the week ends. I am writing this as a call to our community to continue to check in, reflect on where we’ve been and to offer an open door for anyone who needs an ear. We all need to listen, keep the conversation going, and break down the stigma surrounding mental health, together. The more we can inject these conversations into our lives and our work, the better, as it affects all aspects of our lives!

It’s essential for us as changemakers to reflect on community health as we work together to build the Next Economy. It’s also “up to us” to ask ourselves and those around us: How are you really doing? What’s causing you stress? What support do you need? As a community, where does our mental health fit into our work? And what is your role?

As CSI Spadina’s Community Animator, my work involves building and connecting the community. These simple questions help me check in and insert more opportunities for dialogue to better understand what’s beneath the surface. The most important part of my work is checking in on the community, meeting them where they’re at, and listening to the pulse of the community’s health.  

In March, as we entered one year of the pandemic and the anniversary of CSI first closing its spaces, there was an opportunity to pause and reflect. We made various CSI programs and touch points available to highlight the importance of mental health and to engage CSI community members along different intersections of their wellbeing journey. We have such incredible members working in mental health and emotional wellbeing and we wanted to broadcast and bridge their work with the needs of our community! We collaborated with CSI members, like Pedro Afif (Psychotherapist) and Ronit Jinich (Mindfulness Without Borders), to provide workshops on Psychoeducation to help us understand how stress shows up and how we are responding to our mental health during this time. We offered various modalities and different ways to engage, particularly since everyone is at a different place in their own mental health journey. 

Often mental health and emotional wellbeing support comes in less direct forms: during the past year, we also hosted community virtual gatherings known as our “Toasts”, which were an opportunity for our members to simply show up wherever they were at, even as the world was changing around us, connect with some friendly virtual smiles and faces, and cheers to each other. For me, these were some of the most memorable and impactful moments of reconnecting with our community virtually. They provided the opportunity to witness connection and remind ourselves that we are all human, that we are in this together, that there is support and there is hope.

Over the last year and a half, I’m reminded that mental health care is different for everyone. Some people may be looking for someone to talk to or seeking resources, others may be navigating different ways of coping, or simply noticing the symptoms that show up from stress and anxiety. Whether it’s having someone to share challenges with, attending a session or conversation to gain insights, reading an article, or asking for help, people need to seek out and be offered support that suits their needs, including counselling or therapy. On that note, mental health is a two-way street, and we all have a role! Sometimes a loved one will come to us for support, and sometimes we’re the ones who need support.

Let’s continue to have these conversations, get real, and provide each other (and ourselves) the support we need as a community. 

I’ll start: How are you, really?

And while we continue the conversation, here is a list of government funded resources and services in Ontario, including telephone counselling, internet-based CBT, online guided programs, local community services and learning resources:  

Tender care: keeping CSI green during the pandemic

Plant wall

What is it we like to say when the snow is (hopefully) gone and the April sun hits? Oh, right! “Spring has sprung!” With greenery making a comeback after a distinctly isolating winter, it feels like the right time to spotlight a few of CSI’s unsung heroes: our plant caregivers, Veronika and Deenie. Over the last year, they have spent many hours watering, pruning and taking care of CSI’s countless plants, and their work should not go unnoticed. Let me explain why.

Plant from the Plant Drive sitting on windowsillThere are many plant parents at CSI. Our plants, like our pets, have a way of adopting us. Take the twenty-five year old grapefruit tree that spends its winters in the Annex office, for example. Plants have a storied history here (more on the grapefruit tree below). In fact, we once did a Plant Drive in 2011 as a fundraiser to grow CSI, but that’s another story. Suffice to say, leaving our beloved coworking space deserted was difficult enough without the added melancholy of bidding our dear plants adieu. That’s when Veronika, our Greenery PECA, and Deenie, our CSI Annex Caretaker, stepped in. 

And while a fervent attachment to a few succulents may seem silly to some, in a year of incredible uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss, it’s comforting to know at least some things are being taken care of. Thank you, Veronika and Deenie!


Plant from Plant Drive sitting on deskSo, what does caring for an entire building’s plants look like? 

Veronika is our Greenery PECA. A PECA is a Project Exchange Community Animator (you can learn more about that on the Exchange Animator page). She is in charge of “greening” our space through special projects and initiatives. Deenie calls her “our resident plant lover extraordinaire” and for good reason: Veronika can often be found tending to her planted trees in the alley or feeding the indoor plants worm compost she makes from all of our food waste.


Turns out, taking care of an entire building’s plants in a pandemic requires a whole new level of commitment as it makes for a pretty intense fitness regime. Veronika told us she’s “grateful that despite my gym being closed for months and months, I am able to get exercise lugging water up and down five flights of stairs regularly.” When you put it that way, we’re very grateful, too. 

Deenie is our tried and true CSI Annex Caretaker. She was kind enough to take over for Veronika from March to September in the early stages of the pandemic. Her master key certainly proved useful! Many CSI members would have lost their personal office plants otherwise, not to mention a few of CSI’s rather finicky hibiscus trees Deenie says she had to save. 

Yucca Tree on second floor of Annex officeAny Favourites? 

Deenie admits, “my favourite plant is a twenty-five year old grapefruit tree I grew from a seed. My daughter and I loved to peel and  eat grapefruit like an orange. We were sharing one when she was nine. We found a seed that had a little green trying to poke through. Now, this tree is too large to winter inside my home but enjoys a sunny welcome inside the Whole Note office on [the CSI Annex building’s] fifth floor. 

Veronika says, “my favourite is the Yucca tree in the second floor meeting room that was donated by Trainer’s Gym. It has branches winding in many directions, crossing over and under each other. Members have suggested I cut the branches and re-root them so that they can grow straight, but I tell them that the tree reminds me of the CSI logo in its defiant messiness. Sometimes life is not linear, and is a bit haphazard, but that is what makes it interesting. The tree is a reminder that the path to a goal is important, not just the goal; that adaptability is of value, and that life can take you many ways before you flourish.

Hanging vines in the CSI Annex location.

Veronika’s words are a helpful reminder as we make our way through the third wave of the pandemic. It’s comforting to know that eventually when the path is cleared and we can finally re-enter the space, our community will find a lot of life, fresh-faced and blooming, ready to welcome us back. We all have Veronika and Deenie to thank for that.


Putting up my Hand

This International Women’s Day we’re proud to share a piece written by our Director of Partnerships and Co-Chair of our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility committee (IDEA), Raissa Espiritu. Raissa’s personal story highlights her experience growing up as a woman of colour in Canada; the societal barriers she has encountered and her struggle with identity. We are so grateful to Raissa for sharing her words with us, words which strengthen the drive for racial and gender equality across sectors.

I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and grew up in a small town called Dundas, a suburb of Hamilton, Ontario. My parents came to this country from the Philippines so that I could have a better life. 

My parents were both well educated in the Philippines, but their degrees were not recognized in Canada. I remember them working as research assistants in a lab at Dalhousie University. Eventually, my dad was able to get his degree in Chemical Engineering and my mom was offered a role in an Oncology lab at McMaster University run by one of her former Dalhousie students. That’s when we moved to Ontario.

A true immigrant success story; my parents worked for the same organizations until they retired. I remember hearing quiet conversations in their shared dialect, spoken to hide things from my sister and me. They didn’t think I could understand when they talked about how they felt their education and skin colour prevented them from exceeding in their roles, or about how the cultural hierarchy at their workplaces fostered nepotism and hiring for likeness.

Little Raissa sitting on a kitchen table.

Three years ago I would have told you that there was nothing wrong with my upbringing. All my friends and the people I grew up with were white. I cannot recall how many non-white people I knew. My family was lower-middle class. At school, I was told I could be a leader, that I could be anything I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and be outspoken. There was nothing that could hold me back from living my dream. At home, there was different food, different rules, and high expectations of me – obey, don’t talk back, be lady-like, respect authority, work hard, and have good grades. 

Three years ago, if you’d asked me whether my bicultural upbringing had an impact on the person I am today, I wouldn’t have had an answer. To me, it was just “normal.”
Three year old Raissa holding her baby sister.

In August 2019, I started my Executive MBA at Ivey Business School. I felt that my accomplishments up to that point had no real meaning, and that, as a woman of colour, for me to succeed and thrive in this world, and become the leader I wanted to be (that I was told I could be), I had to go to business school. Business school held the promise of making me more outspoken, unleashing my inner leader, and, most of all, getting people to take me seriously. 

At school, I forced myself to raise my hand in every class. It was hard and uncomfortable. I was worried about hostile reactions to what I would say, or even worse, being wrong. I was fighting against decades of my upbringing and lived experiences. I recall talking to a friend about how nervous I would get to put up my hand. How I always found it hard to get all of my thoughts organized before speaking, because I felt that my remarks needed to be perfect, that I had only one shot to prove myself.

I don’t know when things changed for me, maybe when I was forced inside due to Covid-19, with nothing to do but think about… everything. Or maybe it was after the death of George Floyd, as the Black Lives Matter movement pushed forward. I started to look at everything in my past in a new way, and found it wasn’t normal. I finally began to recognize the battle within me, and I didn’t like my past memories coming to the surface. 

For the majority of my professional career, I’ve been a fundraiser. I raise funds from both ultra-high net worth individuals and corporations for the causes I’m passionate about. However, in Canada, #philanthropysowhite. For more than a decade, I’ve witnessed myself morph and change to fit into this culture. At times it has pushed me to depression. At other times, it has caused me to work harder to climb the proverbial ladder.

Raissa at graduation.

I recall working on a third-party fundraising event where my colleague, a black woman, and I, coordinated a tennis tournament in one of those big Toronto houses on the Bridle Path. We watched the guests play tennis all day to raise money for a cause while they drank cocktails, got massages, swam in the indoor and outdoor pools, and ate lavishly catered meals. This memory symbolizes inherent white privilege to me, juxtaposed against the two racialized women who had been picking up tennis balls all day, trying to earn a decent wage. We did so with obedient smiles. 

Raissa Espiritu, Director of Partnerships at the Centre for Social Innovation

Once I recognized this battle, I started to put up my hand in class more. 
I started to stick up for myself more.
I leaned on, and supported, the other womxn in my class more.
I became more vocal about the social injustices that were happening around me.
I started to tell my stories and share my experiences more.
I cut through all that stuff I was raised on, and I stopped caring who was in the room.

And you know what happened?

My classmates validated and valued my leadership. They chose to be allies. I became Valedictorian of my class. Opportunities began presenting themselves, and, right now, I feel such an abundance. It only took my 40 years of life, a lot of grit and support, and I still don’t think I deserve it. It’s still hard to put up my hand.

This is a long story, with – right now, at least – a happy ending. I know there are people with similar stories who have not been given the opportunities I have, whose stories don’t end happily. Not everyone has choice, the ability to pursue higher education, or even the luxury of self-reflection. I know intersectionality and privilege come in many forms; this is my story.

What I want to convey is that, when you’re working or interacting with someone, a colleague, a classmate, a new acquaintance, take time to understand their context. 

Recognize how another person shows up is different from how you show up. These differences signify the privilege. How will you use yours?

As a woman of colour I’m asking you to listen. Educate yourself without burdening us. Use your privilege to stand up for us and help lift us up. My hope is that you will empathize and validate our identities so we can spend more time being ourselves, and less time as the two-dimensional characters we have been playing to fit in. 

What if this were all possible, and every racialized person felt supported, validated, valued? If we truly embraced cultural differences, equity, and diversity in our communities and at work, more of us would have the opportunity to use our skills and experiences to the fullest, to be unleashed, to be ourselves, to be truly outspoken and heard, to feel worthy, to be recognized, to put up our hand.  

Raissa Espiritu is the Director of Partnerships and Co-Chair of the IDEA Committee at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Ontario. She makes the change she wants to see using her ambition and tenacity to solve the world’s biggest problems. She is a bridge-builder, changemaker, consultant, advisor, director and serial entrepreneur. She has a background in basic science research and an MBA from Ivey Business School. She has many interests and is currently focused on investing for good, femtech, and championing diversity & inclusion. 

CSI’s Director of Programs Recognized as Emerging Leader by The Globe and Mail

Climate Ventures members

We are so honoured and delighted to announce that CSI’s Director of Programs Barnabe Geis has been selected as one of 50 changemakers and leaders by The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine. We’re thrilled that social entrepreneurship and social innovation are becoming more and more accepted and mainstream!

The award is in recognition of his work launching and leading many of CSI’s programs focused on supporting early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators, both for profit and nonprofit, working to build the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, equitable and prosperous for all.

Barnabe Geis
Barnabe Geis, CSI's Director of Programs

These programs have included educational courses such as Social Entrepreneurship 101 and Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals, both run by Peggy Sue Deaven, that have supported over 300 aspiring entrepreneurs, and accelerators such as our national Earth Tech program, run by Shea Sinnott, supporting cleantech companies working on climate and water solutions.

In 2018 Barnabe created CSI Climate Ventures to support the entrepreneurs and innovators working on climate solutions. Climate Ventures has accelerated 121 early-stage entrepreneurs that have earned and raised nearly $32M and sustained 376 jobs while participating in our programs.

“We are so proud of the work that Barnabe and his team have done, helping to prove that the Next Economy is possible,” says CSI’s Co-Founder and CEO Tonya Surman. “Over the last 10 years, Barnabe has stepped up to grow several of our Next Economy programs; from local to highly scalable, social and environmental, for profit and nonprofit, including companies such as Mommy Monitor and Flash Forest. It’s his tenacity and belief that ‘it’s up to us’ to use the power of enterprise to solve many of the world’s most challenging issues that make Barnabe worthy of this recognition.”

“This is truly a reflection of all of our work at CSI, from program managers, staff and the leadership team, to our partners and funders,” Barnabe says. “It’s been a privilege to get to play a role in the journeys of amazing entrepreneurs and innovators tackling pressing social and environmental challenges and proving that change is possible. I look forward to growing our programs to support many more ventures over the next couple years.”

Supporting social entrepreneurs at the early-stages to get their solutions and business models right is crucial to their future success and impact, and to fostering a resilient economy that will serve people and the planet and address the challenges of our time, from the climate crisis to rising inequality. CSI is developing an inclusive “acceleration ramp” to take hundreds of entrepreneurs across the country from idea to impact.

The Report on Business Changemakers Award

Changemakers is a new editorial award program produced by The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine. Its intent is to showcase the emerging leaders transforming business today.

Barnabe is in good company: the other Canadian leaders recognized by The Globe and Mail include Remi Desa, CEO of Pantonium, Thomas Benjoe, President and CEO of FHQ Developments, Atrisha Lewis, Partner at McCarthy Tétrault, and Kristina Menton, Director of Operations, Flight Test & Propulsion at Opener LLC.

“As the Canadian economy recovers from the pandemic, many people are seeking ways to make business more sustainable, inclusive, innovative and fair,” says James Cowan, editor of Report on Business magazine. “The 50 Changemakers on our inaugural list serve as inspiration and instruction for any business leader seeking to effect meaningful change.”

A community of changemakers

The people, groups, and organizations that make up CSI are all working toward meaningful change. If you want to support this work (or you’re working on a project yourself), consider becoming a CSI Member.

Why health care institutions need to build trust with the Black community in the fight against the pandemic

Hospital building with a blue cloudy sky in the background

Bria Hamilton is a Master’s student in the Environmental Studies program at York University in the Urban Planning stream. Her research is focused on Black feminist geographies and the use of these theories to disrupt normative planning practices.

Bria also works with CSI on the Every One Every Day: Toronto program as a Neighbourhood Asset Mapping Researcher. This op-ed was originally published in The Globe and Mail. We’ve republished with Bria’s permission.

“I don’t want to get the vaccine.” I have heard variations on this sentiment numerous times from my Black friends and family members regarding the incoming COVID-19 inoculations. In this specific instance, it was my Jamaican-born grandmother, who has lived in Canada since 1974.

I set aside my initial discomfort surrounding anti-vaccination rhetoric, which often cites unfounded side effects of vaccines. After I asked my grandmother why she felt this way, she hesitated before telling me that she did not trust the vaccine, she was not sure how it worked and she felt the trial phase was too quick. She had heard from her friend that multiple people had died from the trials; her friend had heard this information from their friend, and so on.

My grandmother, my mother and I have all had extremely negative experiences with Canadian medical care. The most atrocious story was the removal of my grandmother’s uterus without her permission during unrelated surgery.

These stories of medical racism are commonly shared within and across Black communities, many of whose members do not trust medical institutions to care for us. This mistrust is certainly not unfounded: the histories of Canada and the United States are riddled with enslavement, institutionalized racism and over-policing of Black bodies.

The Tuskegee Study in the United States has become a widely known exemplification of medical anti-Black racism. From 1932 until the study was disclosed in 1972, hundreds of Black men in Tuskegee, Ala., were purposely withheld syphilis treatment by the U.S. Public Health Service in order for researchers and practitioners to study the natural course of the disease.

The patients believed they were receiving standard treatment but instead were “subjected to blood draws, spinal taps, and eventually autopsies” by white medical staff, Marcella Alsan and Marianne Wanamaker wrote in The Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2018.

The majority of the patients in the study died as a result of the disease and lack of treatment. The Tuskegee Study cemented existing oral histories and generational knowledge of racist medical practices, and it is marked as a major contributor to medical distrust in Black communities.

Entrenched memories, oral histories and traumas of medical abuse are often dismissed as conspiracy theories amongst broader populations, as J.M. Hoberman noted in his book Black and Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism. Despite the widespread tendency to dismiss experiences of medical racism, there are clear indicators of inadequate health care for Black people.

For centuries, medical professionals have sought to prove biological differences between Black people and white people and their tolerance for pain. According to a 2016 study presented at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, as many as 50 per cent of white doctors still believe that biological differences allow Black people to tolerate more pain, and thus provide inaccurate medical recommendations for those patients. A study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education found Black Americans are up to six times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women.

Canada neglects to collect race-related health care data at all, but with the maintenance of oral histories in Black communities, the medical mistrust persists.

The effects of COVID-19 are contextualized within a historically racist system and thus exacerbate disenfranchisement in racialized communities. Marginalized communities are most susceptible to the virus because of high-density dwellings; the necessary use of shared spaces; the fact that low-income workers are required on the front lines; and the use of public transit.

COVID-19 infections are continuing to rise in Canada and the United States, and the Black population has been overrepresented in these cases. Black people in Toronto, for instance, represented 9 per cent of the population but made up 21 per cent of the reported COVID-19 cases, as outlined by Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s Medical Officer of Health in July, 2020.

The COVID-19 vaccines will serve as an essential measure of combatting the virus. Despite the necessity of the vaccine in Black communities, which increasingly face the negative effects of the virus, health care and government organizations have neglected to consider the mistrust of institutions amongst Black people. At a press conference in December, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott mentioned that those who choose not to be vaccinated may face restrictions when travelling and within communal spaces, such as movie theatres.

With the possibility of these restrictions, I am heavily concerned that the inaccessibility of health care and the warranted medical distrust within Black communities will result in additional discrimination and immobility for Black people. Governing and health care bodies are responsible for this mistrust and thus are responsible for providing avenues through which Black people can feel comfortable and safe receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

To achieve this, I recommend extensive work into collaborative efforts toward vaccine education within Black communities, as well as continuing anti-racism education for health care practitioners.

Within my field – urban planning – public consultations allow community members to ask questions, develop relationships and ultimately build trust toward planners who aim for healthier communities. In the medical field, community engagement frameworks can be used for educational and collaborative efforts, and can help lead to safer medical experiences for Black people. The process of creating vaccines should be explicitly showcased with attention paid to accessible, culturally relevant information.

In light of international attention to George Floyd’s killing, many institutions, governments and organizations have put forth statements about the need to address anti-Black racism. In Canada in particular, racism discourse is sidelined by the hegemonic self-proclamation of a diverse and inclusive nation. Anti-Black racism work requires more than statements: There needs to be action, trust-building efforts, anti-racism education and the active engagement of Black voices in these conversations.

The Evolving Role of Workspace

Two people wearing masks having a conversation at a Team Table in CSI Spadina

A year of remote work has proven that it is, indeed, possible — but it doesn’t spell the end of the office completely. Likely, organizations will adopt a more flexible system that blends the two.

We know that offices work well for some things, and not as well for others. Having immediate access to people (in person!) can do wonders for innovation, collaboration, mentorship, and professional growth. These spontaneous interactions and background conversations are, however, distracting when you want to do deep work.

It makes sense, then, that workspace evolves into a space for community: somewhere like-minded people can learn, grow, and create together.

“We need to be intentional about the communities we are building,” said our CEO Tonya Surman in an interview with The Professional Centre. “Community for community’s sake is lovely. […] The real question is why do we seek communities? I think that coworking spaces are going to have to dig deeply into purpose.”

Tonya speaks about the future of workspace, harbouring community, and how leadership right now is harder than ever. Watch the full interview:

And if you or your organization are currently looking for flexible coworking space, we might have something for you. See our coworking options.

Making social change and having fun doing it

Occupied desks at CSI Annex

Changing bureaucracy isn’t easy, and can’t be done alone. It requires hard work and strong partners. Happily, the Festival for Creative Bureaucracy is up to the task. Their aim is to help bureaucracies feel more competent and confident to address the big social, economic, and political problems of our time.

They are guided by the following three questions:

  1. What then is the incentives and regulations regime to achieve that?
  2. How can we enrich the inner life of the bureaucracy and empower people and the organization?
  3. How can bureaucracies rethink and refresh their relationship to the civic and business worlds?

More than 1,400 people attended last year’s Creative Bureaucracy Festival festival in Berlin, but of course the festival had to move online. Attendees had access to 100 hours of programming over the course of five days.

One of those sessions was Making social change and having fun doing it, a conversation between Creative Bureaucracy Festival President Charles Landry and our CEO Tonya Surman. You can watch that conversation here:

Here’s our favourite excerpt:

“In this work there are the builders and the fighters. And the fighters are so smart and critical and they can jump into things, but they don’t seem to be having as much fun as the builders. I’m definitely a builder. I like to try new things out and give things a shot and have as much wonderful people around me as possible co-creating these ideas and solutions because I guess we never really figured out that we couldn’t.” 

Do you have an idea about how to make bureaucracy more creative? We’d love to hear about it! Become a CSI member today!

Crafting Your Personal Narrative

When Peggy Sue Deaven started teaching SE101, CSI’s eight-week introductory course to social entrepreneurship, in 2018, she noticed that most participants loved one segment in particular: Crafting Your Personal Narrative.

With this in mind, Peggy Sue created a dedicated course designed to help CSI members and the public improve their professional storytelling. CSI had its first taste of the program and it’s taken off since, recently opening to the public with plans for more sessions in the near future.

For Peggy Sue, the beginning and end of these sessions are perfect bookends: “When participants first sign on, there is trepidation and a bit of low-level anxiety co-mingled with hopeful excitement. Who is in here? What stories are we going to share? I love the looks on everyone’s faces and the ease that begins to crest over the crowd with each introduction: this is who I am, why I am here, and what I am hoping to talk more about. 

And I love the closing. Again – everyone has a look of peace and excitement. Like, they just peeked into a portion of themselves and have opened up a new space of exploration and opportunity.” 

Feedback on these workshops has been positive: people leave the sessions feeling seen and heard, that they have a story worth sharing, ideas worth delving into, and the means with which to begin. Breakout rooms are especially popular because they get to have curated feedback and a safe space to share their work. In the midst of physical distancing participants say that this kind of connection has been incredibly valuable and uplifting.

Peggy Sue notes that the most challenging part of this course is finding places and spaces for these stories to go further. Right now, so many events, gatherings, professional forums, and shows have taken a pause or are adapting into meaningful digital offerings while sorting through huge amounts of digital fatigue and added stressors people are facing. 

As Peggy Sue says, “I want to find spaces and places to share our stories – the invisible portions of ourselves that are in need of place and community.”

CSI’s Crafting Your Personal Narrative workshop looks to bridge the gap created by the loss of physical story sharing spaces. If you’re interested in learning more about professional storytelling and how it can help you, join one of our workshops or peer circles! 

A Haircut for Human Rights

Gonzalo Duarte is many things: CSI Annex’s Community Manager, the Executive Director of Compañeros Partners, an avid father, dog-walker, and aspiring designer. He is also a man with dark, thick, luscious hair. Don’t be jealous, he’s about to cut it all off.

In early May when Gonzalo heard about Jose*, a 26 year old from Esteli, Nicaragua, who was shot and consequently paralysed during a peaceful protest for human rights in Nicaragua, he knew he wanted to do something. 

The answer quickly, right came off the top of his head: in the midst of quarantine, without a proper haircut in 13 weeks and left to its own devices, Gonzalo’s big hair has only grown puffy, puffier, outrageously puffy (his words!). So now he is fundraising to cover Jose’s on-going health-related expenses for a six month period. If Gonzalo reaches his $1000 goal, he will cut his locks into a fauxhawk. A stark contrast to his usual short, cropped cut.

Gonzalo says, “Jose is bouncing back with an amazing amount of resiliency common to the people of Nicaragua. Faced with a sudden life-changing event, Jose is eager to demonstrate some ability to look after himself and relieve pressure on his family. His  determination in the face of adversity is the reason I want to get a haircut for human rights.” 

But that’s not all: if his fundraiser reaches $2000 Gonzalo will add colour to the ‘do and donate to CSI’s Community Resilience Fund which is helping people deal with Covid-19 and reimagining a planet-friendly economy. 

We’re proud of our teammate’s dedication to these two causes — one local, one global — and can’t wait to see his wild new hair on our next Zoom call. Donate now to make sure it happens!


*We have withheld Jose’s last name to protect his privacy.

#StayAtHome activity: Meet the dogs of CSI!

We’re missing a lot about CSI right now: the hustle and bustle of folks coming up and down the stairwells, the smell of coffee, soup, or waffles coming from our kitchens, the fantastic chalkboards and plants that bring art and fresh air into our spaces. 

We thought you might be missing the CSI vibes too, so we reached out to some of the most essential members of our community, the ones that bring us joy, laughter, warmth, and, if we’re lucky, cuddles…  the dogs of CSI!

These pups are the ones that you see strolling around our communal spaces, sniffing for crumbs, and sitting happily under our desks. When discussing the state of coworking in the midst of COVID, our CEO Tonya Surman remarked, “People need people.” She’s right. We’d just like to add “dogs” to that statement too.

Read on get updates from – or acquainted with – some of the CSI pooches.


Laura Liscio is a Project Exchange Community Animator at CSI, and while she’s physically distancing at home, her dog Milo is fantastic at helping pick out her sweatpants for the day! Milo is of two minds about this experience: “On one hand he loves having me around so much he wants to cut his walks short so he can get back inside to play and cuddle. On the other hand I’ve been getting “the look” of skepticism. Like ‘Ok mom, what’s really going on here… and when are you going back to work?’ We had the ‘COVID talk’ the other day, he seemed to understand.” 


Charlotte is a five pound chihuahua rescue! Her owner, Tara Stubensey, is the COO of Sweet Reason Beverage Co. and a member at CSI Spadina. Together Tara and Charlotte have been working tirelessly to cut spending, raise capital, and receive government funding so as to weather the economic storm and emerge whole and ready to succeed on the other side.

How is Charlotte getting through this time? Sewing masks for hospital workers, baking bread and trying to kill the cats. All in a day’s work…”



Sophie Jacazio works at the Goods, is a Project Exchange Community Animator at Climate Ventures at Spadina, and is a loving mother to Freedom, a five year old street dog from Thailand! While Sophie has been working at the Goods making fresh healing food to be delivered across the city, Freedom has been maintaining his usual high cleanliness standards and enjoying the extra love at home. The two of them have been sprouting seeds on their balcony, lining up DIY projects, and doing lots of plant-iful cooking.

Want more pics of Freedom (and his feline brother, Simba)? Check out their instagram account: @welivewiththem_



Tara Marina Pearson is an Animator at CSI Annex, and her normal way of working at CSI could not be more different than the Zoom-filled days of the last month. “As we shift our Animation practice online and build new Rituals for and with our community, I’m seeing the proof that our community is still here. This transition will take time to adapt to, but I’m grateful to work in a community like ours where we really are in it together!”

Tara’s dog, Luna, has been keeping her company, “Whenever I’m anxious, she has a way of sticking nearby. I find her under the desk at my feet, or she follows me into the washroom – I feel like she’s reminding me I’m not alone in this.”


Sofia is a two year old Mexican rescue. Her human, Vivian Lee of Youth Fusion / Fusion Jeunesse, says Sofie keeps me grounded – she doesn’t care about the pandemic – she just wants to sniff stuff and pee on things. She is thrilled that I am around 24/7 for belly rubs. She has won ‘Employee of the Month’ at home 3 times already, and it’s only been 3 weeks.

Sofia saw me doing yoga in the living room and immediately joined in. She does a much better downward dog than I can! After I was done, she stayed to practice her savasana on the yoga mat. (see photo for evidence)!


CSI Annex member and Educational Resources Coordinator at REEL CANADA, Joshua Bertram has been working hard from home. “My colleagues and I worked hard to turn the annual National Canadian Film Day into a fully online format variety with streaming movies, fun activities, and filmmaker engagements that Canadians can enjoy from the safety of their isolation.”

Luckily he and Louis, his fawn pug, are both Aries babies, so when they aren’t working, they’re celebrating their quarantine birthdays. Louis just turned four at the end of March! Happy birthday Louis! Follow him for all the cuteness on Instagram: @dandypuglouis



CSI Spadina members will recognize Lola as Nyssa Rubinsztajn of’s friendly cockapoo. Lola misses being at the office and has been jumping on team meetings to say “hi!”

When they aren’t doing Instagram live workouts in the basement, Nyssa has been working hard with ProjectBoard, getting ready to launch, for Makers and STEM communities. It’s a fun and engaging way to share ideas, develop projects and learn in groups online – check it out!



Layla is a ten year old Boxer mix. She and Gonzalo Duarte, CSI Annex’s Community Manager, have spent the last few weeks contacting Annex members, figuring out how we’re going to make it through the crisis and emerge together. Off hours they hang out with family, read, cook, clean, and just finished just finished Ozark, Unorthodox, The English Game, Dead to Me, 101 Dalmatians, and Lassie on Netflix.

We’re warning you two: it’s not an easy watch. Especially for animals and those who love them!


CSI’s Chief Community Officer, Shona Fulcher, is the proud owner of Gambit, a two and a half year old standard (read: BIG) bernedoodle. While Shona has been focusing on understanding the impact of the pandemic on community and entrepreneurship, co-learning how to develop new effective ways to support, and baking up a storm, Gambit is balancing his time carefully between nagging Shona to play and napping on the couch. 

Shona says, “Having a dog is always a joy but having a furry buddy right now who still believes play can solve anything brings laughter into a time where it’s so desperately needed.”


Roxie’s human is Henry Dillon of Well Informed Limited. She is a four year old Rottweiler. He is the Director of the online software company, spending his time at home migrating a lot of their WordPress-hosted websites to a new content management system. “Not exactly sexy work – but it’s good to clear out a whole load of technical debt that we’d been building up over the last 5-10 years.” 

Roxie loves having Henry and his husband at home all the time but doesn’t understand why if we’re both home, why they can’t all go on walks together. If just one of them takes her out for a walk then she insists on waiting for whoever they’ve left behind. Awww! Insta: @roxierott


Leaf Butler’s Sam Ayyash says the best part of having Bernie the four year old cocker spaniel closeby is that he listens without judgement. While Sam continues his “weird relationship” with his yoga mat (“… it gets unrolled, stared at, and then rolled back under the bed!”) Bernie is being an Instagram star! Follow him: @bernie.the.cocker



Lisa Amerongen is the author of this blog post and the Director of Communications at CSI. She happened to rescue her dog, Bandit, a four year old terrier mix, on the same day she started quarantining (so he’s never actually been to a CSI building but he aspires to one day)! The COVID-19 world is the only one Bandit and Lisa have known together and they couldn’t be happier with the walks, cuddles, games, treats, and distractions that help fill the days.

“If you get a chance to cuddle with a furry friend, do it.” Lisa says as she types this, “If you aren’t in the position to adopt or foster, never fear, when we’re back in our dog-friendly spaces, we will have a puppy party.”


Hope these canines brightened your day! If one of the things you’re missing right now is our weekly Salad Clubs, look no further than our CSI Programming Calendar to find out how to log in to the next one virtually!