Work at CSI for the day with our new Lounge Pass!

Our Biggest Year Yet! 2014-2015 in review



“First and foremost, we want to do what we do, better.” That’s the opening line of our 2014 strategic plan, the same year we turned ten. Like any milestone, it was a mixed bag of celebration, business as usual and reflection. After almost 40% growth each year for the last seven years, however, we were ready to slow things down and really understand what we had on our hands. To honour that last point, our CEO, Tonya Surman, famously decreed, “No new projects for one year!” and “This year we shine the jewel.”

The experience was illuminating on so many levels. Some of my favourite outcomes, and there were many, include:

  • Crystallizing our vision of a world where we put people and planet first.
  • Updating our values and asking ourselves what we are willing to stand for.
  • Affirming our ability to connect people—to other people, resources and tools—as the essence of what we do.

The year was also a hard one because the reflection and consolidation went against our fast-moving and opportunistic nature. Near the end of it, some of the restlessly entrepreneurial staff even said they were getting bored! More importantly, it raised so many questions. How sound would our business model be five, ten and twenty years from now? How do you effectively structure an organization that operates in two countries? Was our work actually changing the world? Good questions, but collectively, exhausting.

“First and foremost, we want to do what we do, better.”

Forty-five days after we lifted the moratorium on doing new projects, we purchased a 64,000 sq. ft. brick and beam building at 192 Spadina Ave. in downtown Toronto (see
p. 18). I think it’s fair to say we were raring to go! The reflection process of the last year gave us greater organizational capacity, resolve and confidence. The building is a giant strategic leap forward for the organization and our ability to support social innovation.

Another area we wanted to strengthen was our core technology in order to better connect members of our community with each other, and to measure our impact and our community’s impact on the world. So we grew our tech team from one to six tech whizzes just in the last year.

Another thing I personally geeked out on was the introduction of nametags for members. We’ve always designed our spaces for collisions and serendipity, from communal kitchens to lounges to having as few walls as possible. This year we took it one step further by making it easier to know someone’s name. This can foster more than just
connections — it builds belonging and trust.

Reflecting on the past ten years, we thought a lot about our members and alumni and all of their incredible accomplishments. We’re not short on stories, and we needed to find better ways to share them. So we commenced a project to overhaul our websites; every week we entrusted a staff or member with our Facebook page so they could share a week of their life with our followers; we made an awesome video that tells the story of CSI; and we made this: our latest edition of The Collider.

The Collider is an earnest attempt at telling you what’s happened in the last year, how we’re doing (see p. 42 for our financial story), and of course, why we believe social
innovation is awesome!

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CSI Spadina in the ground floor kitchen, looking out towards the lounge and meeting rooms. In the foreground is a kitchen counter, with waffles, toppings, and glasses of coffees and teas. In the background, CSI CEO Tonya Surman is speaking into a microphone on the left. In the middle and on the right, a variety of people stand and sit, listening to her speak.
One of the keys to CSI's magic is our Community Animator Program (CAP) and, specifically, the Community Animators themselves! Through this program, we've worked with more than 1,000 exceptional individuals who have each brought a little something different, and a little sparkle, to our spaces. And we're so glad to have had them in our community, because we've learned that each and every one of them has some exceptional talents, skills, and experiences to offer the world!  
Third floor lounge of CSI Spadina. In the foreground is a light blue loveseat sofa. In the background, we see two people working separately at coworking desks and tables. On the ceiling is a chandelier; to the right, a progress Pride flag.
The CSI staff team includes Pride veterans, newcomers, and everywhere in between! This year, as we celebrated Pride in our spaces and with our member community, we turned to our staff team to learn what Pride means to them. Some experienced it for the first time this year and were awash in the joy; others delighted in the fact that Pride remains such a fun celebration decades later. Others noted the increasing corporatization, which draws our attention away from the central premise of Pride - a protest.
whai header
CSI is many things - a coworking space, a non-profit organization, and a launchpad - but, first and foremost, we are a community. A community of innovators, of changemakers, of neighbours, of people putting people and planet first. And the awesome work that our members do, each and every day, never ceases to amaze us! So of course, we do our best to highlight our members whenever possible. Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Molly Bannerman, Director of Women HIV/Aids Initiative (WHAI), a community-based response to HIV and AIDS among cis and trans women in Ontario. Below is an edited summary of our chat, where we discussed the work of WHAI and their latest Collective Action Community Change report.
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