What is Social Innovation?

Before you get in too deep, you might want to know what we mean by “social innovation.” At CSI, we define social innovation as the creation, development, adoption, and integration of new and renewed concepts, systems, and practices that put people and planet first.

Social innovation comes in many forms and spans many sectors, but put simply: it’s people looking for inventive ways to help each other. 

We’re often asked how social innovation occurs. We’ve learned there is no single or simple answer. Social change is the result of a tremendously complex mix of ingredients. Environmental conditions, social conditions, and individual actors collide to spark world-changing ideas. There is an underlying magic to social innovation that precludes any simple recipe for success.

Looking for proof that social innovation works? We’ve got it. We believe that shared resources bring us all closer to the Next Economy, so we’re sharing all our ideas here!

On This Page

Our Innovations

A set of surgical masks against a yellow backdrop.

Community Rent Pool

When COVID-19 hit, we knew our many of our members would need support. We came up with a unique solution that offered relief: a pay-what-you-can rent pool.

Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector

Our co-founder and CEO Tonya Surman was invited to speak to the committee and presented her ideas for unlocking the charitable sector for more Canadians.

Community Bonds

We invented a social finance tool that helps citizens to purchase bonds from a nonprofit - it allowed us to buy our spaces!
Three people (two in Toronto Tool Library teeshirts) smiling at the 2012 launch event of the Catapult Loan program

Ontario Catapult Microloan

In 2013 we created the Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund, which provided social enterprises with loans of $5,000 to $25,000.


A framework for pursuing social change in in collaboration with a variety of partners.


A conversation between Creative Bureaucracy Festival President Charles Landry and our CEO Tonya Surman.

Our Publications

Unlocking Canadian Social Innovation

Unlocking Canadian Social Innovation

Our landscape paper explains the importance of social innovation ecosystems to the success of any individual initiative and ways it can help Canada take on challenges and continue to thrive.
Cover of The Collider Magazine - 2018-2019 Edition, featuring The Next Economy.

The Collider Magazine Series

The Collider is CSI’s community magazine! It connects and champions our members, and showcases social innovation in action.

Pilot Lessons

Co-presented with the Mowat Centre, this report examines the potential for a Ontario basic income pilot and explores how basic income could impact entrepreneurship, innovation, and our relationship to work.
Basic Income and Social Entrepreneurship Report

Basic Impact

Report on the potential impact of Basic Income on Social Entrepreneurs done with the Mowat Centre and University of Toronto's School of Public Policy & Governance.


Starting back when we were just a glimmer in the eyes of a few social entrepreneurs, Emergence follows our growth from concept to operation to scale.


A manual for planning or operating shared space. It reveals our experience and offers tips, lessons, and tools for developing a vibrant organization and community.


Our impact report that demonstrates just what shared spaces for social innovation can accomplish, or as we like to call it "proof".

From Social Enterprise to Social Franchise

An introduction to the concept of social franchising that explores benefits and challenges of the approach.

The Community Bond

Turn your supporters into investors. We turned a community of supporters into investors with the Community Bond. This DIY guidebook can help you do it!

Crowdfunding Guide for Nonprofits, Charities and Social Impact Projects

This comprehensive guide will help your nonprofit or charity in the journey for crowdfunding success.

Network Evaluation

This book explores the unique character of networks and offers a new framework for assessing their impact. Its goal: to further empower the success of networks that are making a difference.

Our Videos

Here is a sampling of some of the video content we’ve made over the years. Want more? Check out our Youtube channel!

Looking for more reading material? Check out our blog!

CSI Stories is our way to share new ideas, community & member updates, learnings from the social innovation field, and more.