On the occasion of their new affiliation with a newly-created shared space in London, Ontario, we met with Adil Dhalla, executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI).
As a coworking space and launchpad for social entrepreneurs who want to change the world, CSI is helping to create a new business culture.
CSI is a catalyst for social innovation and a committed supporter of its members and their projects. Can you explain your various activities to us?
We are a social enterprise, dedicated to social innovators and entrepreneurs. We specialize in creating coworking spaces for individuals or organizations with a social mission. We have three locations in Toronto, another in New York City, as well as an affiliation with a newly-created shared space in London, Ontario. Each one functions as coworking spaces, social innovation labs and community hubs where members can rent private or shared offices as well as meeting rooms and event spaces.
Our mission is to catalyze social innovation and promote collaboration by connecting social innovators and entrepreneurs from various sectors. To do this, we offer them various workshops and other mentoring opportunities to encourage their success.
What are some of CSI’s biggest achievements?
When we started in 2004, CSI had only 12 member organizations. Now, we have over 1,000 spread out across our five locations! We’re also very proud of how we were able to get the funding for our various buildings: by issuing community bonds, we were able to leverage new sources of private capital from our community of supporters. We used this approach in 2010 to purchase 720 Bathurst. We were able to raise over $2 million from 60 community investors and 3 private foundations. At the time, using community bonds as a financing tool was almost unheard of, and it inspired several other organizations across the country to adopt the same approach.
Our second community bond experience began in 2014 when we decided we wanted to create a new CSI home in Toronto (192 Spadina). We successfully raised over $4 million from 230 investors. What makes me most proud is that the majority of these investors are people or organizations that are part of our community. This proves that we have created a truly strong ecosystem around our philosophy and values.
How is what you do relevant for “traditional” businesses?
We try, above all, to be inclusive, which is why we establish partnerships with organizations of all sizes. Social change will only come if everyone is part of the solution. We’ve always been interested in connecting with big businesses, SMBs, startups and not-for-profits. For “traditional” businesses, partnering with us gives them some insight into what social innovation is all about and allows them to transform their organizational culture and values. It’s also an opportunity to get more in step with consumers, who are increasingly interested in building relationships with businesses that have a positive social impact on their environment.
What are some of your upcoming projects? How do you envision the future of social innovation?
We have several exciting projects for 2017. For example, we’re going to be organizing Toronto for Everyone, an event celebrating the future of Toronto by bringing together the best of everything the city has to offer. It’s a three-day festival dedicated to a new inclusive and collaborative economy. And of course, we’re going to continue developing our network and philosophy across the country. Social innovation in Canada is emerging little by little, and is gaining greater importance. There is still some work to be done before this approach becomes mainstream – it’s an area that still tends to be dominated by a core group. But I’m optimistic for the future.