Building Toronto’s Food Infrastructure: A Spotlight on Agent of Change Emma Tamlin

Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all. 

We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Emma’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities, SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13: Climate Action

Emma Tamlin’s passion for Emma Tamlin standing in front of Avling Brewery’s Rooftop Gardenfood systems began in childhood. Growing up on a farm, where ingredients for meals could be found 100 metres away from the house, she recognized the importance of healthy, accessible food.

As she grew older, Emma became a fierce advocate for food justice, taking on leadership roles with the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council as the Co-Chair for two years and at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities where she leads green infrastructure policy and rooftop urban agriculture initiatives. 

Most recently, she took part in CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program. It’s designed for young changemakers who want to make an impact, supporting them as they identify their purpose, map out an idea, and build the foundation so they can grow their venture.

When the program started, Emma knew she wanted to create something that combined her passion for sustainable cities and food justice. As a result, Emma started Raised Roots, an urban agriculture operations and consulting company, with two co-founders: Rav Singh, an urban farmer and educator with a passion for food policy and food justice and Amanda Klarer, a sustainable food systems specialist. 

“Our mission is to support property owners in integrating food production into projects but also work to change policy to make it easier for everyone in the city to have access to fresh, nutritious and culturally appropriate food.” 

When we look at the impacts of our existing food systems and the impacts they have on the world, Emma explained, there are three driving factors pointing us in the direction of urban agriculture:

  1. In Canada, the average age of farmers is nearing 60 years old, and there aren’t enough young people joining the profession to replace them. Statistics Canada found that there are more farmers over the age of 70 than under the age of 35, meaning we have under 10 years to figure out who will be producing food when these farmers retire.
  2. The global food system is responsible for up to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly derived from the harvest and transportation process. 
  3. If you look more locally, the Toronto Resilience Strategy shows that we only have three days of fresh food in case of an emergency. When you consider the panic buying that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic, we want to have local food infrastructure in place.

Urban agriculture can strengthen our food supply chain, reduce food miles, make fresh food more accessible and increase our local resilience in the event of an emergency. But food and the power of food systems to facilitate solutions to urban challenges is not being fully realized in Toronto. 

In October 2019, Toronto City Council adopted a food lens framework which sought to mandate city departments to approach their projects and programs with food in mind. Unfortunately, due to COVID19 the food lens framework has yet to be fully implemented. 

Part of Emma’s work through Raised Roots has been advocating for the role of food in various city departments and in development projects. One of her favourite examples of a food systems approach is trees, specifically fruit trees: 

“Fruit trees manage stormwater, purify air, reduce the urban heat island, provide shade. They do all the things regular trees do but they also produce food! And this food can create jobs. A great example of this is in Toronto. There is an organization called Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT). They pick the fruit from the trees around the city on both public and private property and then share the bounty with community partners. In 2020, NFFTT picked over 10,000 lbs of fruits and nuts!”

Emma notes how compared to regular trees, fruit trees provide more services to our city but they are not incentivized in policy. 

“It has been incredibly frustrating talking to people who work at the city who tell me that ‘food security isn’t in their department mandate.’ There is a lack of incentive for policy makers to go out of their way and create new policies without public pressure but as cities work to become more resilient given what we saw happening during COVID-19, trees are an easy place to start. Of course, they are not a silver bullet but most cities have tree programs in place already.”

During the Agents of Change program, Emma learned about challenging biases and testing ideas. At the end of the day, understanding different perspectives, contexts, and viewpoints will help her overcome objections and strengthen her work.

“When you are surrounded by people who also believe the same things [as you], I think it’s really easy to assume that you are right. Sometimes I need to remind myself that not everyone sees things the same way. The program offered me an opportunity to reflect on my own values, biases and reinforced what I already knew which is that it is important to listen to everyone including those with different perspectives to ensure my work actually solves problems”

Looking to the future, Emma is excited to continue building Raised Roots and advocating for edible green infrastructure in municipal policy and land-use planning. “It does not have to be elaborate, it just needs to be supported. There is massive potential for food production in our urban environments that we urgently need to support to increase Toronto’s resilience and equity.”

Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!

Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada

How 2020 Transformed Social Entrepreneurship 101

People are waking up to social entrepreneurship. Our collective crises continue to reveal the failings and fault lines of ‘business as usual.’ In this liminal space, individuals are forging new paths, prioritizing people and planet, as well as their bottom line. 

At CSI, we saw this influx firsthand. When the world shut down and our lives went online, individuals from different corners of the globe signed up in droves for Social Entrepreneurship 101 (SE 101), CSI’s eight-week course on social entrepreneurship. Why? As one SE 101 participant, Michael Szego, emphasizes “social entrepreneurs are going to be essential to help author a new social contract and reset the economy. […] SE 101 is a great place to start.” 

So, what happened? We checked in with our Social Enterpreneurship 101 Program Lead and Facilitator, Peggy Sue Deaven, to find out how 2020 transformed the program and what’s next for social entrepreneurship at CSI. 

What is Social Entrepreneurship 101? 

SE 101 is an eight-week, part-time online program that covers the foundations of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to developing a solution, to turning your idea into a sustainable business model. As the world looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no better time for the entrepreneurially-minded to step up to address pressing social and environmental challenges, and to develop the skills needed to succeed. That’s where Social Entrepreneurship 101 comes in. 

You don’t have to consider yourself an experienced entrepreneur or really, an entrepreneur at all, to sign up. In fact, that’s kind of the point. The program is for anyone who sees a problem or need in the world, wants to take action, and is asking themselves: 

  • How do I do that? 
  • How do I turn my idea into a social enterprise? 
  • Or even, what is social entrepreneurship?

The program was developed in partnership with Lean4Flourishing (a group of experienced social entrepreneurs, coaches, facilitators, and educators) and based on the learnings of over a decade of training social enterprises.

As we saw in 2020, it’s also an amazing way to build community. SE 101 alumnus, Mateo Tobar, put it best: “This course allowed me to understand how to transform ideas into feasible projects. I would recommend this course to any person that is looking to build connections […] and share their ideas with others. This course was one of my highlights of the year 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic! This was an opportunity for me to get outside of Ecuador and learn with an international cohort from my house.”

What happened in 2020? 

Peggy Sue reflects back on the year: “So much about 2020 revolved around loss, and rightly so. However, last year, I also experienced the joy of discovery and creation as 125 strangers came together onto a digital platform to actively collaborate, vulnerably converse, and share ideas of how to make the world a better place with social entrepreneurship pursuits.” 

The initial move online left many of us with a lot of questions. Namely, how will we foster a sense of community from a distance? What will programming look like? Will people show up? While working online isn’t always easy, our SE 101 cohorts proved we didn’t need to worry. As Peggy Sue explains, people not only showed up, they dug deep: 

“The needs for community were so strong that it compelled participants to dig deeper, share more boldly, and imagine in a more innovative way. In 2020, the SE 101 course more than doubled in it’s offering size and reached an international audience that even extended beyond North America. As important and necessary as social change is, it does not happen in a vacuum, nor does it thrive in the dark. I witnessed BIG, bold dialogues about race, homelessness, prejudice, financial and social wealth, and mental health. The participants of SE 101 are some of the most fearless and courageous change-makers I had the privilege to facilitate.”

As we’ve seen, crises can become a catalyst for change. Many people who never considered themselves social entrepreneurs before, signed up for the program. Their reasons? When the pandemic forced many people out of work, they took a hard look at their life and realized they desired something more. Or, unable to look away, long-standing systemic inequities motivated individuals to reconsider their role in society. Social Entrepreneurship 101 is the perfect place to hone and direct that reinvigorated sense of purpose. 

Sensing an urgent interest in social entrepreneurship across Canada, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, Jo Reynolds, reached out to the Kingston Economic Development Corporation to see if they would be interested in offering the program. The call expanded. The SE 101 program has now been developed and run by the Small Business Economic Development Centres of Markham, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan. We can’t wait to see where SE 101 lives next! 

What are people saying about SE 101? 

Siddan Chandra from Toronto says: 

Social Entrepreneurship 101 has laid the groundwork for ongoing self development in an optimistic and promising realm. It has helped me begin to build the muscle of financial thinking and offered a vocabulary that honours both my values and my needs. 

Ashley Goff from Edmonton reflects: 

SE 101 strikes a thoughtful balance between the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of social entrepreneurship. The deep knowledge of the facilitator and the thoughtful support and engagement with the other participants was invaluable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in social entrepreneurship.

Tim O’Hara from Kingston says: 

Amazing course that allows all users to feel supported and comfortable sharing and encourages individual and group learning of self and business. You are thoroughly guided along a well lit path and emerge a stronger and more confident entrepreneur on the other side. Complete with resources and learning tools and a network of like-minded business people that become friends. 

What’s Next? The Future of SE 101 

With that, the program is growing! Building on last year’s momentum, Social Entrepreneurship 101 is running six times in 2021, more than doubling the size of 2020’s offering. Continuing online, CSI’s program is expanding its reach across the globe, while also being replicated by social enterprise partners in other regions across Ontario. That means more people are identifying needs AND stepping up to spearhead solutions. SE 101 is one way we are building the Next Economy together. 

Want to learn the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship?

Registration for the June-July 2021 cohort is now open and will close May 30th.

Five fully-funded scholarships are available (thanks to Alterna Savings!). Apply by May 23rd to be considered for a scholarship. Head here for more program information.

Are you interested in offering SE 101 in your community?                                                                               

Reach out to Peggy Sue at peggysue@socialinnovation.ca

How 12 Women Entrepreneurs are Building the Next Economy

Graphic of 8 women entrepreneurs featured in the blog

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, here’s a statistic we’re pondering: women are the majority owners of only 15.6% of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Canada. 15.6%. That’s it? It portrays a dire picture of gender inequality in our sector – but it’s one we can change.

Take our women-focussed WOSEN programs, for example. The WOSEN partnership is all about upleveling women entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to grow their ventures. We’ve also got Social Entrepreneurship 101 – our education course for burgeoning entrepreneurs – of which 75% of past graduates are women! Of course, building an inclusive Next Economy doesn’t stop with our programs – it’s happening in the heart of our network where over 75 CSI member organizations are working to end gender inequality. We’re also proud to say 59% of CSI members are women – many of whom are the founders, CEOs, and leaders of their organizations.

Here are just some of the brilliant women entrepreneurs at CSI building the Next Economy by combatting the climate crisis, creating healthcare solutions, developing new technologies, and mentoring the next generation. 

A headshot photo of Minelli Clements Minelli Clements

LorCan Technologies Inc.
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Minelli Clements wants to break systemic barriers and challenge the “archaic” idea that green technology and circular business models are not viable. This dream found its legs when Minelli founded LorCan Technologies Inc

While volunteering for a conservation agency in Alberta, Minelli noticed researchers had to manually retrieve data from sensors placed in wildlife corridors. She saw a need for a solution that can help these agencies connect to valuable data without trekking through harsh terrain and disrupting natural environments. LorCan Tech will help agencies reduce environmental impacts by providing companies with real-time monitoring connectivity solutions for remote sensing devices, empowering them to create more sustainable business practices.  

What does Minelli envision for the Next Economy? 

“I want us to look at the entire supply chain to find ways we can reduce our impact. And I want us to come to a collective understanding of ‘sustainability’, so that we can measure our progress and hold accountable those that can do more.”

A photo of Amoye Henry

Amoye Henry 

Pitch Better & AH Consulting
WOSEN Coach 

Amoye Henry describes herself as “a rockstar millennial entrepreneur.” The description fits: in 2018, Amoye was named one of Canada’s top 100 Accomplished Black Women. She is on a mission to help scale growth-based businesses led by unique founders. “Basically, I want to see the underdog win,” she says. 

Co-founding Pitch Better with Adeela Carter-Charles, Amoye is bridging the gap between women-led start-ups and their means of acquiring capital through grants and investments. With a mandate to “create more women millionaires,” Pitch Better connects innovative Black women entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals via workshops, talks and coaching sessions.

Taking their work to the systems-level, Pitch Better is currently completing the first national market analysis of Black women founders in Canada. In part, the FoundHers campaign aims to address gaps in the social economy by resolving gaps in data collection; Black women-led organizations can complete the survey here. 

What does Amoye envision for the Next Economy? 

“We need to empower more women as agents of change. We need more diverse voices at the table making decisions and informing policy and systems.”

A headshot photo of Yamila Michelle Franco PenaYamila Michelle Franco Pena

Nyoka Design Labs
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Yamila is a proud Afro-Indigenous woman working to empower and elevate her community through entrepreneurship and education. She is the co-founder of Nyoka Design Labs, a clean technology social enterprise creating plastic-free, non-toxic and sustainable technology. Starting with the world’s first sustainable, non-toxic, bioluminescent glow stick (the Nyoka Light Wand), Nyoka is designing products that leverage advances in sustainable biotechnology, material sciences and Land-based knowledge. Yamila is also creating more accessible opportunities for communities to access STEM, emphasizing that “our stakeholders include our community and the Land.” 

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“You must be consistently bad to get good at something. Consistency is key. Stay in long enough, ask for help, access mentorship and support. It will pay off.”

A headshot photo of Kelly Emery Kelly Emery

Troop
WOSEN Participant

Kelly Emery leverages technology to mainstream generosity and “help create communities where basic needs don’t go unmet.” In 2019, Kelly founded Troop, a tech-based needs marketplace to help neighbours and businesses discover local, tangible needs in their community. 

“I was blown away by a stat from Imagine Canada that the charitable sector is anticipating a 30% shortfall in donations by 2028. I kept coming back to that,” Kelly reflects. “I knew something needed to change.” Enter Troop. Members receive weekly text or email notifications letting them know how they can help out a local neighbour by, say, donating bed sheets to a women’s shelter or buying a stroller for a new parent. And it’s working: so far, Troop has fulfilled over $40,000 worth of tangible needs for over fifty charity partners, and The Future of Good recently ranked Troop among Canada’s Top 100 Recovery Projects in 2020. Congratulations, Kelly! 

What does Kelly envision for the Next Economy? 

“There is this thought that generosity should not be self-serving. I believe we need to adjust our thinking in this area and instead focus on the personal benefits derived from acts of kindness. 

There’s data to prove that strong personal connections, generosity and finding purpose in life play a significant role in overall health. Let’s take advantage of the growing trend around improving personal wellbeing to engage more people in building a better, more kind world.”

A photo of Ami Shah Ami Shah

Peekapak | Social Emotional Learning
CSI Annex MemberOntario Catapult Microloan Fund Recipient 

Ami Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Peekapak, an award-winning social-emotional learning platform that engages elementary students to learn skills like self-regulation, empathy and teamwork through stories, evidence-based lessons, and personalized learning experiences. 

Having taught in classrooms before, her work now reaches over 400,000 educators and students in classrooms, libraries, and after-school programs. Behind the scenes, teachers and administrators receive real-time reports indicating a student’s progress and emotional state. Educators can then share pre-written class updates, activities, and stories with students’ families to reinforce learning at home in English and Spanish. In this way, Peekapak empowers educators and families to be proactive to help curb future mental health issues. 

What is something Ami wishes she had known from the start? 

“How important it was to take care of my own mental health through this journey.” 

A headshot photo of Stevie Klick

Stevie Klick

The Indoor Forest
WOSEN Participant + Climate Ventures member

Stevie is a nutritionist, an artist, and a self-described “barefoot tree hugger.” She is also the owner and creator of The Indoor Forest, a biophilic design company that makes preserved moss frames and walls, as well as living green walls and other custom plant installations. 

Inspired by American biologist, Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis that “humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life,” The Indoor Forest enables people to adapt their home and office environments to better interact with the natural elements and promote wellbeing for people and the planet. 

Stevie was motivated by her love of nature and “by the lack of product choices, availability, costs, and people out there actually focusing on vertical growing, especially here in Toronto. I want to help make these products more available because I believe Toronto could be a lot greener.”

 her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Adopting a solution-oriented approach to obstacles has helped me achieve goals and push through challenging or uncomfortable moments that come with entrepreneurship.”

A headshot photo of Gillian Cullen Gillian Cullen

Birth Mark
CSI Spadina Member 

Raised in Toronto’s northwest, Gillian’s keen sense of social injustice was ignited at a young age having witnessed the disparity in treatment of people based on their appearance and circumstance. 

Flash forward: Gillian is now the founder of Birth Mark, a registered charity providing free reproductive doula support to folks in Toronto and Hamilton. Birth Mark doulas pursue social change by assisting at-risk and marginalized individuals and their families navigate the public medical system. They are a source of knowledge and comfort to their clients as they navigate pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting while dealing with the obstacles often faced by our focus population in today’s society. Birth Mark is revolutionizing reproductive health care for all.

What does Gillian envision for the Next Economy? 

“Our primary hope would be an inclusive recovery. To achieve this we need to assess the inequalities and racism in our society and rebuild the systems that have continuously failed our society.

A headshot photo of Anthea SargeauntAnthea Sargeaunt

2S Water Inc.
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Anthea Sargeaunt is the CEO of 2S Water, where they have developed the world’s first sensor for detecting metals in water in realtime. She is also an MBA, a three-time entrepreneur, and a mother of two. 

Water quality is a global issue affecting the most marginalized populations worldwide. Canada is no exception. We are on a mission to protect the world’s water with real time data. It’s that simple, she says. According to Anthea, 2S Water’s technology provides an automated, real-time, and cost-effective alternative to traditional laboratory services, enabling operators in mining, oil and gas, municipal water systems and other industries to see a problem as it occurs and take immediate action to prevent health issues and reduce costs. 

What does Anthea envision for the Next Economy? 

“We have a very specific mission on the Next Economy. Green technology is based on metals. Metals for batteries, metals for windmills, metals are the core of the future. If we don’t bring green to mining, then we are building that on a false foundation. We are doing our part to green mining, because we believe it’s where we can have the most impact on the world.”

A headshot photo of Jessica L. CorreaJessica L. Correa

Random Acts of Green, Inc.
WOSEN participant + CSI Agent of Change: Climate Solutions 

Jessica L. Correa is an expert in sustainability and environmental education. Since 2015, Jessica and her team have been encouraging and empowering both individuals and organizations to take action for our planet through Random Acts of Green

Through their app, website, social media networks, and blog (not to mention their “out-of-the-box toolbox of actions”), Random Acts of Green is a women-led and women-operated social enterprise with a vision to build a global climate action community. Jessica believes one small “Act of Green” at a time can change the world – that’s why her and her team developed a mobile app that incentivizes people to log their sustainability actions in order to acquire “green points” that they can then redeem for real-life discounts. 

What does Jessica envision for the Next Economy? 

“The Next Economy must be sustainable. That’s why Random Acts of Green has set out to inspire others to overcome apathy, eco-guilt, and eco-anxiety with hope and action. Our business model is a testament to how sustainability is just better for business – in fact, it is a business. We’ve designed ‘Green Programs’ for individuals and businesses – both for-profit and nonprofit. We’re encouraging everyone to recognize the role they play in the Next Economy and to take accountability – but most of all, staying positive about what’s ahead!”

A headshot photo of Monique ChanMonique Chan

Bruized
WOSEN participant + past DECA

Bruized is a Toronto-based, women-run startup on a mission to revolutionize our food systems. They create wholesome plant-based products from up-cycled ingredients and imperfect produce that are unnecessarily discarded as they make their way across the supply chain. 

After noticing “horrendous amounts of food waste” while working as a line cook in restaurants across Toronto, Monique began visiting local farms and grocery stores to better understand the extent of our current food waste problem. Through conversations with suppliers, she discovered that discarding perfectly edible food was common practice. From there, Bruized was born. 

“Bruized aims to challenge this damaging notion of ‘perfection’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’, and show people that with a little creativity and care, perfectly good food can be transformed into something both delicious and nutritious,” Monique explains. And she proves this every day: when Monique isn’t taking part in WOSEN’s incubator program, she can be found wandering her local farmer’s market, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, and – of course – cooking delicious meals with perfectly good, ‘imperfect’ ingredients. 

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Some advice I drive home to myself on the daily is to not be afraid of simply asking. In the beginning, it was daunting to start a venture when I felt I didn’t even have any connections or knowledge on running a business. And yet, the relationships and knowledge built over the last few years are THE foundation of Bruized.”

A headshot photo of Adrianna Couto Adrianna Couto

Inwit
WOSEN participant

Adrianna Couto, alongside co-founder Erika Reyes, wants to make sustainability “irresistible to all Torontonians.” ‍Inwit is a women-led social enterprise  working to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste. 

“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future.  In three simple steps (“Order, Return, and Repeat”), Inwit believes there is a way to live a modern lifestyle without compromising our ecosystems – and they’re set to prove it starting this April.

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Find the people who really hear your voice because it reminds them of their own.”

The Mommy Monitor logo Elsie Amoako

Mommy Monitor
CSI Spadina Member + CSI Agent of Change: Community Health

As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. She is motivated by the knowledge that effecting change in reproductive and birth rights of Black women begins by changing the narrative for “the Black women who think they have no choice but to be in pain, be abused or die and the little girls who continue in that cycle.” 

Mommy Monitor is a social enterprise that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. This comes in the form of an app, a full circle of care, various services and programs, resources, research and an annual conference to ensure that maternal health is equitable, anti-racist, patient-centered and enjoyable for parents, birth workers and health care professionals.

Elsie imagines a future with innovative, sustainable, and global maternal health services that are virtual, culturally safe, prevent adverse outcomes and promote reproductive and birth justice.

How does Elsie believe we should ”Build Back Better?” 

“We need to be able to prepare policies that support parents that lose their jobs. We need something that supports moms with new training or retraining for jobs, safe education for their children, and CERB-like payments for stay at home moms or moms that work in precarious jobs.”

ARE YOU INTERESTED IN EXPLORING YOUR PURPOSE AS A SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR?

Applications for the Spring 2021 WOSEN Start cohort are currently open! Apply by April 4, 11:59 PM ET.

Bringing small businesses to the global stage

Person in a peach-coloured blouse sitting at a wooden desk using a black calculator. The desk is covered with notebooks and printouts with calculations.

A spotlight on Agent of Change Maheshi Wanasundara

Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all.

We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Maheshi’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth, SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.

Even though she has moved often, Maheshi’s heart remains in her homeland, Sri Lanka.

Fiercely proud of her cultural heritage and determined to share its beauty, she hopes to elevate the profiles of Sri Lanka’s creative artists, innovative thinkers, and sustainable producers while preserving the authenticity of their work.

“There are amazing products and businesses [from Sri Lanka],” said Maheshi. “I want to bring them to the global market and make sure those creators and business owners get the recognition they deserve.”

She’s doing this in the form of Musey, her social enterprise.

Maheshi’s passion brought her to CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program, where she met other young people hungry for change. Over the eight weeks, she began to finetune her purpose as a social entrepreneur, and started to map out her business structure.

“The biggest plus for me was connecting with individuals and hearing their stories. It encouraged me to take a step back and look at my ideas, and figure out how my ambitions matched what I want to do,” she recalled. “I was able to identify how my personal values connected to what I wanted to invest my time and energy in.”

Musey is the culmination of Maheshi’s love for her home country and her newly-gained knowledge of social entrepreneurship. At its essence it’s an online shop, but really, it’s a platform where Sri Lankan small business owners can shine on a global stage. Shoppers will be able to find anything, from health and lifestyle products to furniture and home decor.

All of the young businesses Maheshi collaborates with have to meet three requirements:

  1. They use sustainable material, sourced locally in Sri Lanka;
  2. They are environmentally-friendly and minimize waste; and
  3. They provide opportunities of employment to their community.

Most of these ventures are owned by women or young families.

One of the brands she is working with uses “end-of-roll” materials from large garment factories to make their clothes. In this way, they are saving this fabric from being thrown away, and each piece of clothing will be unique. The brand also provides an opportunity for the women in their neighbourhood to earn some extra income and develop new skills through casual employment.

As Maheshi helps these young entrepreneurs reach and connect to an increasingly-online world, she plans to reinvest profits into the communities of these original artists. Decolonizing wealth is one of her main goals.

“I’m really excited to be a part of their journey, to help lift them to the next level of income or knowledge, and to learn and grow alongside them.”

Next steps for Maheshi involve finding ways to collaborate with the artists. Although she can’t conduct informational interviews in person in Sri Lanka, she’s been continuing her research and connecting with people virtually.

“I want to [gather] information and knowledge in the community and facilitate the sharing of it,” she said.

Currently, Maheshi’s days are filled with work, a newborn, and two beagles. But despite the strangeness and novelty in her life (and the world!) right now, she stays positive: “Being responsible for my daughter makes me a bit more focused and determined. It really helped me see what I want in our future.”

As she continues on her social entrepreneurship journey, Maheshi is constantly on the lookout for people she can learn from. If you have advice for an up-and-coming entrepreneur, or experience bringing businesses to the global market, definitely get in touch!

Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!

Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada.

Dwelly.ca makes buying and renting a home simple and more affordable for every Canadian

The decision to buy, sell or rent a home is an overwhelming one. Dwelly‘s mission is to make buying and renting a home simple and affordable for every Canadian. We talked to Broker of Record (and CSI member!) Karim Elbarbary about how he has simplified this complex, thorny experience and dramatically lowered the cost of buying a home.

What is your biggest hope for Dwelly? What does the world look like if those hopes come true?
Our biggest hope at Dwelly is to create an end-to-end product that empowers any person thinking of or planning to own a home. We hope to alter the world’s perception of a Realtor from that of pressure, redundancy and rushed processes, to one of genuine support, complete transparency, informed advice, and technological advancement. The world would have more people feeling confident to eventually own a home, with no ambiguity throughout the home-buying process.

How has being a CSI member impacted Dwelly’s work so far?
Being a member of CSI has been absolutely incredible so far! We’ve had the opportunity to receive lots of insightful feedback from the community regarding their personal experiences when purchasing/renting homes in the past. We have also already helped a fellow CSI member purchase a home and are currently in the process of helping another. Joining CSI was a goal of ours, partly to have office space, but mainly so Dwelly can continue to be a people-focused and feedback-driven company. Being able to directly communicate with such an inspiring community has helped us meet that goal far more than we could have asked for.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in Dwelly?
The best part about being in the business of helping individuals move homes is that it is a universal process – almost every single person experiences it in some shape or form, whether it’s renting or buying. With that in mind, we are always looking to learn more about people’s experiences with moving homes so we can improve our own ways of addressing pain points throughout the process. In addition, our ears are always ready for feedback on our platform if you have a minute to browse through the site, drop us an email with any feedback you may have.

Aside from that, Dwelly is a growing company and we are always thinking on our feet. We’re open to collaborate on projects with fellow CSI members – some of the fields we constantly need help in are legal, financing and fund-raising, web development, design, and marketing. So if you’re a fellow member with expertise in those fields and are open to project based work please feel free to reach out to us at hello@dwelly.ca

How is Dwelly pivoting and surviving through COVID?
To preface, we’d like to acknowledge how hard this time has been for everyone. At Dwelly, we were fortunate enough that the business was built digital and remote from day one. Our whole team works remotely and we do most of our team meetings online so, in that sense, we weren’t affected much in terms of internal operations. However, on the flip side, real estate is one of the few areas of business that really require entering peoples’ homes to do showings. The entire real estate industry has had to pivot and adapt to new requirements, like COVID-19 screening forms and limitations around in-person showings.

Although we’ve always offered our users the ability to request remote video showings via FaceTime and Zoom, we’ve now pushed that forward even more. However, we’ve made sure to adhere to safety precautions when it comes to in person showings. Nevertheless, like the majority of businesses, we’ve experienced a slow down – especially during the lockdown. The pandemic has affected the typical influx of students, new immigrants as well as travel in general – all these factors have played a visible role. At the end of the day we’re happy that we were able to push through some hard times, stay afloat and continue to push the envelope in our industry. I’m lucky to have an incredible team to weather the storm with (thanks Dwelly family!).

What social/political/health/other issues is Dwelly working on?
I would say, at Dwelly, we aim to be socially innovative by solving a market inefficiency. We all hear about how real estate agents get overpaid and tend to under-deliver. We want to bring more fairness and higher value-for-money to our clients – one way we accomplish that is by offering half of our commission fees we receive as a buyer’s rebate to clients. We built our platform (with many filters and automated alerts) in a way that gives clients the power to browse and search for homes on their own time and from the comfort of their own home, rather than relying completely on us to send them options.

We consider ourselves to have a large social responsibility, since we assist people in making life-changing decisions. When you look at how many complaints go to real estate councils regarding fraud, misrepresentation, and just lack of understanding of what’s in the paperwork, it’s extremely important to us to lead with integrity. We focus on simplifying things as much as possible and being ultra transparent so that our clients can truly understand how the process works and be directly involved in their home purchase.

What impact does Dwelly have, as in, who do you serve?
Currently we serve home buyers & renters in the Greater Toronto Area. Our goal is to expand to helping Canadians across the country find their next home as seamlessly as possible. We look forward to taking our mission nationwide in the future.

Is Dwelly creating jobs at the moment?
At the moment, we have a number of fairly new team members who joined the team this year so we are not actively looking right now. However, we’re always excited to meet like-minded agents who share our values and drive. If you are or someone you know is a licensed real estate agent and would like to join us on our journey in changing real estate, please do reach out.

If CSI could be of greatest help to you, what could we do?
As mentioned, CSI has been a great help so far – the space is welcoming and inspiring, and the community is game-changing. In terms of additional features, it would be great if CSI added a specific section in the members portal where people can share new product features, designs, code, etc. where others, especially specialists in the field, can share their feedback and give tips on improvements. That way we can all build products with direct input from the community – which might end up being the end user as well. Other than that nice-to-have, this community is really more than what I could have asked for.

Are you looking for a community where you can grow? Learn how you can make change at CSI!

Inspiring growth and impact

Backpacker looking up at trees while on a hike in the forest. Photo by Oziel Gomez via Pexels.

A Spotlight on Agent of Change Devesh Tilokani

Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all.

We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Devesh’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 3: Good Health & Well-being and SDG 4: Quality Education.

Devesh Tilokani, Founder of Progressholic

The Devesh Tilokani you see today is outgoing, friendly, and well-spoken.

He has come a long way in the past five years. In high school, he struggled with social anxiety and self-image, sending him into a spiral of depression.

“The way things were going, [I felt like] whether I was 16 or 60, I might as well not be around,” he explained. “When those sorts of thoughts come into your head, you realize you’ve hit rock bottom. And there was only one way for me: up.”

For Devesh, that meant challenging himself to speak to new people constantly. There’s no harm in trying something out, he thought. If worse comes to worst, I’ll just fail.

Soon enough, saying “hello” to new people became a habit. Devesh’s fear evolved into excitement and genuine curiosity.

“You come across a wide range of people, so you come across a range of responses: some good, some bad,” he explained. “It’s kind of a move into the unknown, which is uncomfortable, but can be really rewarding.”

In 2019, Devesh blended his new love for people with his longtime passion for personal growth into the first iteration of Progressholic: a self-development podcast.

When he joined CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program in 2020, Devesh learned about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. It’s a tool for identifying your “why” — and how you can achieve it.

“I looked back on my own life. My ‘why’ is to constantly develop myself while reducing human suffering. How can I align Progressholic to that personal vision?”

Reducing human suffering, to Devesh, meant creating a balance of the internal — the self — and the external — society. So during the course of the Agents of Change program, he began to experiment and launch this new iteration of the podcast: one focused on progress of self and society.

Progressholic: dedicated to the progress of self and society

The timing was perfect. As COVID-19 threw our world into chaos, individuals and groups alike developed community responses. Progressholic offered a platform for these folks to share what they’re doing and garner support.

As he was planning for upcoming episodes, Devesh ended up in a breakout room with one of the other Agents of Change participants, Kathy Huang. He told her about his vision, and she ended up connecting him to two or three different COVID-19 response initiatives — who ended up on the podcast!

Devesh described this pivot as existential flexibility: the ability of a leader to initiate a disruption in business strategy to advance a just cause.

“Right now, COVID-19 is happening. [If we bring] on similar guests to speak about a topic that I’m sure would be great, but wouldn’t be relevant to the times we’re in right now, are we really advancing the cause?”

Over the summer, Progressholic highlighted the work of organizations like the neighbourgood and the Caring and Connecting Pen Pal Initiative. The episode with The Home Front doubled as a fundraiser:

“We decided to donate $1 for each listen, and we wanted to hit 100 plays [in 5 days]. We’d never hit 100 plays before, so there was always that doubt, whether we’d be able to hit it or not, but we hit it just two hours before the deadline, and we were able to donate the money. I know it’s a small amount, but more than that, it was raising awareness for an incredible Canadian initiative.”

Since then, Devesh has continued to bring on guests that inspire growth and encourage taking action for impact. If you want to hear tips for self-development and stories about the leaders working hard to change our world, check out Progressholic, streaming anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!

Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada

Creating opportunities for youth in Regent Park

Man in white shirt tending to outdoor vegetable garden. Photo by Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash.

A spotlight on Agent of Change Nayeon Kim

Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all.

We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Nayeon’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.

Nayeon Kim’s voice is measured as she describes the systems that have caused (and perpetuate) poverty, how it has affected our neighbourhoods, and the gaps that need to be closed to truly address this issue. She speaks with confidence and clarity, her wit and determination to make a difference shining through.

Three years ago, Nayeon moved to Regent Park and became more and more involved in the community. The youth in the neighbourhood have always been top-of-mind for her, and she saw a gap in the work happening as part of the Regent Park Revitalization Plan: “While this billion-dollar revitalization has been going on, we haven’t been able to see a lot of jobs coming out, lives changed.”

An idea began to take root in her mind when she identified gaps that could turn into a sustainable economic opportunity in her neighbourhood: youth are struggling to find meaningful jobs in the neighbourhood, and condo buildings have struggled to find reliable and timely landscaping services in Regent Park.

“There is a huge gap, and this is an amazing opportunity, because a lot of young people get into landscaping in summer jobs,” she said.

Nayeon envisions an employment social enterprise (ESE) that would train and hire young people to provide landscaping services for buildings right in their neighbourhood in Regent Park.

For the youth who are facing barriers to employment and currently only being offered precarious employment (like fast food and retail), Nayeon’s ESE would offer more than a summer job: it’s a pathway to a long-term career.

“Landscaping is an area where you can upskill,” explained Nayeon, “which is a really important thing when you think about the future of work. Upskilling through education and experience opens doors for a lot of other opportunities.”

And their responsibilities won’t be limited to trimming trees and cutting grass: Nayeon also sees them getting involved with murals and urban agriculture.

“Food security is a huge issue across the city, especially in neighbourhoods with lower income families,” she said. “So in areas like this, through landscaping, we can think about creating more vegetation, creating community gardens, creating vertical gardens.”

The youth hired through Nayeon’s ESE will be trained and will get to shape and maintain their neighbourhood with their own hands — something that can be massively rewarding.

Community-based solutions like Nayeon’s are powerful. At the end of the day, her ESE won’t be dependent on government funding or a grant: it will actually be a sustainable business that helps create a sustainable economy within the neighbourhood it serves.

Nayeon believes that community solutions must come from residents who have lived expertise and sees the pandemic as an impetus to create systems change.

“I think [the government and social service sector] have come to a place where we recognize the importance of lived experience, but sometimes we stop at the arms-length committee level. We need to go beyond that and put residents in positions of power as partners so we can drive change that will directly impact our neighbourhoods.”

Right now, governments and social service organizations tend to see folks who live in poverty and BIPOC as service recipients. However, it’s important to acknowledge these individuals’ power, resilience, and strength. We must shift our mindset to think of them as leaders and champions who can actively create change in their own neighbourhoods.

“That’s how we create opportunities where we’re enabling residents to contribute in a way that’s going to support their own lives and also support our city.”

Nayeon joined CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program in 2020 to improve her entrepreneurial skills and turn her vision into reality. As Nayeon continues to build her ESE, she’s looking for connections with other entrepreneurs who have built ESEs, and folks who work in housing and development within Regent Park, and a mentor who can help her strengthen her business plan. (Get in touch here!)

And as we inch closer to a post-COVID-19 world, Nayeon reflects on the changes she hopes to see.

“I want our world to be a little bit more equitable and just: a fair place for everyone. So that things you can’t control, like what you look like when you’re born, the family you’re born into — whether that is race, class, gender — don’t become a determinant for how your life is going to turn out,” she said. “Who you are is a barrier in itself, and so many people are falling behind because of it. If that continues, it comes at a cost of people’s lives being lost. […] We can’t afford to do that anymore. […] So I would love our city to be a fair place, a just place, an equitable place, where everyone gets a decent chance at a good life.”

Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!

Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada.

Social entrepreneurship 101: What is social entrepreneurship?

What do you do if you want to change the world, but you can’t even figure out what people are talking about? First of all, don’t feel bad. The social impact sector has a lot of terms that sound like they all mean the same thing, but it is important to make sure you are using the right one.

Once you have an understanding of the language, you are really able to level-up your impact. Using content from our Social Entrepreneurship 101 program, let’s get you the vocabulary you need.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
We like this definition from the Ashoka Foundation: Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges. They are ambitious and persistent — tackling major issues and offering new ideas for systems-level change. They create value, whether through a social sector organization or a business, that sustains and spreads their solution.

WHAT IS SOCIAL INNOVATION?
Here at CSI, this is the definition that resonates with us most: Social innovation refers to the creation, development, adoption, and integration of new and renewed concepts, systems, and practices that put people and planet first.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?
One key element of all social enterprises is the fact that some percentage of revenue is directed to addressing a specific issue. The Government of Canada uses this definition: A social enterprise seeks to achieve social, cultural or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services. The social enterprise can be for-profit or not-for-profit but the majority of net profits must be directed to a social objective with limited distribution to shareholders and owners.

WHAT IS A B CORP?
A B Corp is a company that adheres to specific legal and ethical requirements, but does not direct part of its revenue towards making social change. The official definition is: Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

WHAT IS NOT A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?
A business that practices ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ – These days, virtually every large corporation has a department that works on corporate social responsibility. But this work sits apart from the core business lines, it does do not shape those business lines. These departments can do a lot of good, but they do not make the company a social enterprise.

A ‘good’ business – There are a whole lot of “good” businesses that operate in socially responsible and sustainable ways. Generally, businesses that do not make their money through addressing a social or environmental issue are not considered social enterprises no matter how ethically they operate.

A businesses where impact is a by-product, not a strategy – There are companies who deliver a good or service that improves the life of a group or an individual, but this does not make them a social enterprise. You might buy a book at a book store that changes your life, but that doesn’t make the book store a social enterprise.


Is it your dream to create a social enterprise? We can help! Learn more about our Social Entrepreneurship 101 program. It covers all aspects of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to turning your solution into a sustainable business model.

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! 

How can cities support entrepreneurs?

The Toronto Public Library offers small business help via the library’s Entrepreneur in Residence and Newcomer Entrepreneurs in Residence program at three library branches. Two of the current Entrepreneurs are CSI members! We asked Victoria Alleyne to tell us a bit about the experience, and how the City of Toronto could do a better job of setting up entrepreneurs for success.

Victoria is the CEO of CatalystsX. Their vision is “A world of thoughtful, responsible people making positive change in the world. We connect changemakers (“Catalysts”) with people, resources and opportunities to thrive.

What has been the most surprising thing so far about being TPL’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence?
I did not expect so many people to approach me with social / environmental focuses. Maybe it was because I mentioned it a lot in my bio, but it was a constant and joyful surprise that the majority of the people who approached me had some social or environmental angle, it made everything ten times more satisfying. Plus, because that’s what I specialize in, I was able to provide some solid connections and feedback.

What do you think the city could be doing to better support entrepreneurs?

A few things!

1. Affordable or free childcare. It helps everyone – people think of it as a “women’s thing”, but really any parent will be better able to pursue entrepreneurship knowing their kids are well looked after and in an affordable way. Not to mention this helps people who are marginalized, and these are the people who may not have as much opportunity to start businesses, compared to many entrepreneurs right now who are from a middle class background with a safety net.

2. Basic income, for the above reasons. Maybe we can pilot it even without provincial support.

3. Really, really good incentives for businesses to be more environmental. Free public transit? Rebates for calculating and decreasing carbon footprint? Preferential treatment for reducing waste? Expediated services for eco companies?

4. I think the city should acknowledge (not just a land acknowledgement!) that we are on Indigenous land, and act accordingly. We should put Indigenous peoples’ views and opinions at the front and centre of everything we do, and make sure people are compensated, valued, and amplified. I’m excited about the Indigenous Business Zone that is starting up soon but it’s definitely not enough.

5. Creating a culture of mental wellness. Entrepreneurship is often very stressful and isolating. We shouldn’t just have resources for people who are in a mental health crisis. We should be preventing this in the first place with access to affordable wellness resources, talking about it more….I integrate mental health in almost everything I do when I’m talking entrepreneurship to make up for the fact it’s not talked about in so many other areas!

6. I think business and government really need to get out of their “one way fits all” mentality. Some of the brightest minds haven’t and will never go to business school, and that’s okay. Instead of forcing them to learn the business jargon, we should find ways to support them better. I also think that we should look at ways of supporting informal business / changemaking, such as grassroots leaders who are providing valuable services to the community. I guess that also loops back to basic income.

7. And of course, people always need startup funding with as little red tape as possible.

What is your biggest hope for your work? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
CatalystsX is a nonprofit whose vision is a world of thoughtful, responsible changemaking. Our mission is that changemakers are connected to the people, resources, and opportunities to survive and thrive. I think that kind of sums it up. The environment and Indigenous knowledge need to be at the centre of all of this changemaking from now and into the future.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in your work?
Stay connected on Facebook and so forth for upcoming events. Let us know if you want to partner for things, it’s not always possible but I’m open to hearing ideas. We’re also now building ourselves up a bit more as an emerging governance platform, basically meaning if you’re an unincorporated group we may be able to take you under our wing for projects you’re working on so you can apply for funding with us.

BONUS QUESTION:
Finish this sentence (with as much detail as you’d like) “In another universe I am a _______-in-residence”

In THIS universe I’m a reader-swimmer-soca-dancer-environmentaoverthinker-in-residence.


What is your dream title? Let’s make it happen at CSI!

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels