Whole Note’s COVID-19 reinvention story

For 25 seasons CSI member The Whole Note magazine has built the bulk of its content around providing 300 to 500 listings for live music — particularly classical, new, early & world music, jazz, opera and musical theatre. Each issue has been distributed via 960 shops, cafes, venues, etc around Toronto.

Then came COVID-19.

As a result of the pandemic, those 300 to 500 events were postponed or cancelled. And 960 distribution points available to the magazine shrank to 10.

As The Whole Note’s publisher David Perlman explained to the Toronto Star, he and his team have responded to this new normal by reinventing the magazine’s content:

What is different in the July-August issue is the replacement of listings with essays covering specialized subject areas, with Brian Chang, for example, writing about how choirs face the challenge of social distancing and Lydia Perovic interviewing Katherine Carleton, executive director of Orchestras Canada, on how orchestras are coping.

Just as Perlman asserts there was no actual model for his enterprise in the first place, there is obviously none for the age of COVID-19. “We are always improvising,” he says.


So far, the improvising seems to be working! The Whole Note’s distribution numbers are creeping back up! The September issue will be available in 140 places in the city. If you are still sheltering in place (good for you!) you can read it online.



Togetherall supports Ontarians with free online mental health services

The past six months have been a strange, lonely, and scary time for the world. Amidst the ongoing global pandemic and call for societal reform in North America (and beyond), there are many reasons to feel scared, lonely, or depressed and all of this has serious effects on mental health. 

A recent study by the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association found that three-fifths (58%) of Ontarians believe the mental health of themselves, those in their household (55%), and friends and family outside their household (59%) are negatively affected by COVID-19. And behaviours that are usually recommended to stay mentally healthy are taking a hit. For example, 36% of Ontarians say their diet has gotten worse, while 48% say exercise habits have worsened.

It’s no surprise, then, that CSI Regent Park member Togetherall (formerly Big White Wall)  has seen a huge surge in demand for their services recently. Founded in 2008 in the UK, Togetherall has been operating in Canada since 2018 in partnership with Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN – now Ontario Health) and have engaged over 42,000 Ontarians. It is an evidenced based platform that has proven to help those who are struggling with stress, isolation, anxiety, depression and other common mental health concerns. 

In a country where access to mental health care is limited by not only inadequate medicare coverage but many other systemic barriers, Togetherall provides access to an anonymous, online, peer-to-peer mental health community and self-help support that is monitored by clinicians 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As a social impact business, there is a strong  focus on democratizing access to mental health support. 

When COVID-19 turned our world around, registrations for the service increased by 234% between February and April during the first month of the pandemic. Overall activity on the platform grew by approximately 90% compared to the year prior. 

Did we mention Togetherall is free for everyone in Ontario?

Togetherall’s Senior VP and GM in North America, Matthew McEvoy, says, “The pandemic has driven a huge increase in demand for our services as people have been concerned and anxious about the virus, the impact of social isolation (separation from friends, families, therapists, and regular outlets for anxiety, etc), and most recently the economic impact related to job loss, housing and food insecurity, and students graduating into an uncertain job market.” 

At CSI we believe in the power of community, and clearly Togetherall does too. Matt says, “Our service has been connecting people to others and providing a real benefit – 93% tell us they have an improved sense of well-being and 70% say they feel less isolated as a result of using our service.”

You can learn more about Togetherall and sign up for their services here.

A note about their recent name change in a message from the team at Togetherall. 

Community is everything: How FitIn Live brought the best parts of the gym online

Quote from Catherine Chan, FitIn Founder: "Suddenly, the gyms were all shutting down and my thoughts immediately went to: 'what will people do? Gyms are a huge source of community. We're going to lose so much.'"

Think about the people you used to see every day: the bleary-eyed employees on the bus in the morning, the smiling barista at your local cafe, the hard-working colleagues at your office or coworking space. Suddenly, we were forced to stay home — and a whole host of familiar faces became missing from our lives.

Humans are social creatures. We seek and crave connection, to the point where loneliness (or perceived social isolation) can be detrimental to our health.

Catherine Chan, Founder of FitIn and one of CSI’s Online Community Members, knew we had to maintain our sense of community. So she launched FitIn Live, which started off as a virtual gym that sources local instructors to provide all-day fitness and mental health programming.

Since her introduction email to the CSI Listserv in March, Catherine has adapted her products to meet the needs of the community.

Now, individuals can book virtual classes with their friends on the FitIn app. It’s just like going to the gym with your workout buddies.

FitIn Live has been transformed into a platform where small-to-medium businesses can curate custom fitness and wellness programs for their employees. Proceeds will subsidize free classes for individuals who would normally face barriers to fitness and wellness professionals through the Feel Good, Do Good program.

A lot has happened. We caught up with this solopreneur to see what this process was like, from that initial jarring moment in the spring.

More than just a workout

“Suddenly, the gyms were all shutting down. […] My thought immediately went to ‘what will people do?’” recalled Catherine. “Gyms are a huge source of community. Your personal trainer knows your history, your story. They’re there to support you and pep you up. And then you have your crew that you work out with, that you see a couple of times a week. And it’s just like ‘oh no, what’s going to happen to that sense of community? We’re going to lose so much.’”

On the other hand, instructors were left in limbo. Some began teaching classes online, uploading videos on YouTube or doing live sessions on Instagram. But working out alone in your living room is very different from being in the gym, surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals.

“Instagram sessions are very one-sided. You have a hard time conversing, so you’ve lost that sense of community already. And the instructor can’t interact with the client. They can’t help them correct their posture; they can’t pep them up.” explained Catherine. “So that’s what we can do with FitIn. Because they’re right there in the same virtual classroom, [instructors] can go up to the camera and say ‘hey, fix your posture in this way’ and ‘make sure you’re drinking your water.’ They’re able to take care of their viewers better.”

One of Catherine’s goals with FitIn is to support instructors. Many of them, like herself, are solopreneurs, which means that they’re juggling finances, marketing, logistics, and service delivery all on their own! FitIn alleviates the stress of transitioning to a new medium, and provides instructors with a platform to connect with other instructors and build a client base.

Making health and wellness more accessible to everyone

The Feel Good, Do Good program provides free access to fitness and mental wellness classes to underserved communities and frontline workers.

Instructors have generously donated their time to teach these classes, and administrative costs will be offset by proceeds from sales of custom corporate programs. It’s a cycle that works, explained Catherine, because more and more organizations are recognizing the importance of employee wellness:

“Some of those businesses have put aside some money for employee wellness during COVID-19, or they’ve realized that they’ve put this off for a while, and now’s the right time to action this plan! There’s a lot of interest in getting some mental wellness content out to their employees, because everyone is still reeling. Mental health [awareness] is at an all-time high.”

FitIn has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Building Roots Toronto to bring this program to life. Anyone involved with one of these partners can now sign up through their organization or online on the FitIn Live website.

Catherine hopes her work will empower people to prioritize their health by removing barriers to health and wellness professionals.

“We have such an amazing array of classes and instructors out there. […] I think people know what they want and need, but they struggle to find it. So if I present them with a massive menu board, they can cherry pick [based on their needs],” she said. “It’s giving people power over their health and wellness.”

If you miss that sense of belonging you get at the gym, check out the FitIn app.

If you’re a business who wants to support your employee’s health (literally) and give back to the community, consider creating a custom fitness and wellness plan on FitIn Live.

Last but not least, if you want to join Catherine and a host of other like-minded social entrepreneurs, our Online Community Membership!

Header Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Help shape the next Vital Signs report!

Every year, Toronto Foundation puts out a Vital Signs Report, compiled from current statistics and studies, serving as an ongoing consolidated snapshot of the trends and issues affecting quality of life in our city.

For 2019, we pulled out the highlights of each section of the report for a 10-part blog series:

The Foundation has has just launched a survey to inform the next Vital Signs Report, which will be focused on the impacts of COVID.

The survey should take 10 to 15 minutes to complete. It is intended for staff, volunteers, and board members at charities and nonprofits with substantial operations in Toronto. The survey is open to both organizations that are currently operating and those that have shut down.

These reports are widely read by policymakers, organizations, and philanthropists. The goal is to highlight areas and gaps to better inform these stakeholders.

Alignment, focus, and impact: DYPB’s pandemic pivot

All the contingency planning in the world couldn’t have accounted for an international health emergency. Like many other small businesses, COVID-19 threw a wrench in Discover Your Personal Brand (DYPB)’s plans for the year.

“It hit us like a ton of bricks,” said Bobby Umar, CEO of DYPB and one of our Online Community Members. “Last year, we decided to take out a business loan because we thought we were on track. […] So part of us were freaking out: ‘Oh my gosh, we have this loan. How are we going to deal with this?’”

DYPB began as an annual personal branding conference. At its peak, they brought in 300 attendees and 40 speakers — and people loved it. In fact, they loved it so much, they asked Bobby and his team why they didn’t teach personal branding year-round.

“Personal branding helps people with three [things],” explained Bobby. “One is alignment: it aligns their values, gives them more meaning, more purpose. The second is that it gives them more focus: more clarity and direction. The third thing is that it gives them more impact: because when you have more alignment and you have more focus, you’ll have more impact. You get better success, better results, and ultimately build a story and legacy you care about.”

So in 2018, the conference team decided to go all in: they put together a business plan, they put together a team, and they launched the DYPB that exists today.

At first, they facilitated panels and workshops. Then they began to host LinkedIn Local Meetups in Toronto. Last March marked one of their biggest events — Women Breaking Barriers — which sold out all 250 tickets. (Psst — does that stage look familiar? It’s CSI Annex!)

“It was a great moment,” Bobby reflected. “We were like: ‘Wow, okay, we’re doing something really big here. People really like this.’”

They started gaining momentum, seeing growth in all their offerings. DYPB was pitching in-house training to companies and clients. They were planning more LinkedIn Local and Dinner Mastermind events. In February, they ran their most profitable event ever, an evening of live panels and short talks with senior executives on how to lead a diverse and inclusive workforce.

“We made more money than we expected. We got a sponsor, we sold out completely. Even though we raised our ticket prices, people were still buying,” said Bobby. “We were like: ‘Okay, wow. If we can just keep doing this, we might be able to move along.’”

Things were going great — until all of a sudden, they weren’t.

When the pandemic hit, their top two ways to manifest their personal expertise — in-house training and live events — were taken away. It was like going back to the beginning stages of any startup: the DYPB team had to try, fail, learn, and adapt.

They knew anything they did had to be virtual, so they tried to port their live events to the online world. But their webinars weren’t generating traffic, and LinkedIn Locals didn’t seem to have the same appeal when they were hosted online. On top of that, the companies to which they were pitching training were quick to cut leadership and development budgets.

Launching a comprehensive online course on Personal Brand Discovery seemed like the best option.

“The course is 25 videos [and] 30+ exercises. People have to do at least 25 hours of homework on their own,” said Bobby. “The whole idea […] is to help people discover their brand, identify their top 5-10 personal brand elements, come up with a personal brand statement, […] and then use that to help them design and deliver a brand out there.”

DYPB has also launched a Community Membership for individuals who are looking to dip their toes into personal branding, but not yet ready to commit to the full course. As people continue to work remotely, or seek employment, the moment presents a unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and plan for the future.

“Right now people are at home thinking about how to pivot, how to transition, how to ramp up their brand, how to use LinkedIn, how to build an online presence,” said Bobby. “We’re cautious but optimistic.”

If you’re interested in building your personal brand, check out DYPB’s programs and resources. They’re also always looking for help, so if you’re a graphic designer or business analyst, send an email to info@dypb.ca.

Testing the Waters with Water Rangers

Water Rangers is a non-profit social enterprise, and their goal is to help communities collect water quality data and share the results publicly. They build tools to help communities learn about the water bodies we all love. Their free, open-data platform, water testing kits, and online course are tools for anyone to learn about and protect our lakes, rivers, and oceans. We checked in with their Executive Director & Designer, Kat Kavanagh, to see how they’re doing in the middle of the pandemic.

It’s possible that, though we’re just seven months in, 2020 has been the longest year of all time. What’s something that’s kept you positive in the last few months?

This year, our biggest win was becoming a part of CSI Climate Ventures’ Earth Tech program. We’re at the stage where we’ve proven that our model works, engages communities, and helps fill data gaps. What we really needed to do now is learn how to reach bigger audiences and scale throughout Canada. Through mentorship in this program, our growing team has learned so much. We’re maturing and growing up as an organization and building the capabilities to support more communities.

How has being part of the CSI community impacted your work?

Being a part of this community has taught me that I’m not alone; I’m not the only one trying to do business in a different way to better our planet. There is support in this community that cares about making sure the future is resilient and better for our environment. The people I’ve met are so optimistic and forward-thinking. Everyone helps create opportunities for us to learn from experts and connect us with partners, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it all.

I think my favourite CSI moment was the launch of the Earth Tech program. Seeing the skill and talent in that room made me realize I’m part of something bigger and need to up my game. There’s something about being around other incredible ventures that are similarly-minded and making a big difference in the social enterprise space; it’s very invigorating.

We’ve been checking in with our Members to see how they are coping with COVID-19. How did the pandemic affect your work?

We had so many events booked this summer! I was supposed to go to the Northwest Territories, throughout Eastern Ontario to support partner events, and Toronto to work with partners and communities. COVID-19 has forced me to prioritize future-proofing Water Rangers. Now, I’m considering how to grow the organization and create the processes that will help us scale to prepare us for opportunities as they come. I’m optimistic that we can use this as a chance to think about how to scale effectively.

And you do a lot of work online, right?

Yes! We’re also building more online resources, like online curricula, to support groups across Canada. We need digital tools to get this geographic reach and to weather the pandemic. As we try to build more resilience in water testing systems, I believe we’re in the right place as we consider how to move forward and rebuild our economies. It has been a little bit of a struggle at times. Overall, though, I’m so pleased that people are interested in protecting the environment in ways they weren’t before. People are aware that we have a unique opportunity to change the course of action for the environment’s future. It’s both hard and exciting.

Big question: what’s your pie-in-the-sky dream for a post-COVID world?

As a society, the way we’re monitoring water right now isn’t working. There are data deficiencies, data is lost when monitoring programs end, they’re expensive, and data isn’t shared effectively. This needs to change. A post-COVID world needs to consider creative solutions and be more sustainable in the long term to offer spaces to better protect water. There’s an aspect of justice in water monitoring – access to clean water, the outdoors, and a connection to our homes – and we need better tools to make sure participation in monitoring and conservation is equitable and accessible.

How can the CSI community support Water Rangers?

We’re always looking for new people to get involved in water testing. If you know of any organizations looking to monitor water, or have contacts that could help us expand, we’d love to connect to them. We’re looking forward to supporting more organizations, groups, and individuals in water stewardship!

COVID-19 Economic Recovery Recommendations to Federal Government

Written below is a letter from our CEO, Tonya Surman, to the Federal Government. Her words express our community’s desire for major shifts in markets and culture across Canada in the face of COVID-19 so that we can build the Next Economy. Not sure what we mean by “Next Economy”? Read on for our definition.



Thursday, June 18, 2020

Dear Members of The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology;

Recommendations for Bouncing Back Better: Unlocking the Next Economy Through the Power of Social Innovation

COVID-19 has magnified these inequalities at every turn and the current shocks to our economy reveal its vulnerability. Now, amid decreasing financial mobility and within the frame of a climate crisis, we are also facing a deep economic recession.

As we look ahead to the long road of recovery and rebuilding our economic and social systems, there is a growing chorus of people and organizations from across sectors who want to Build Back Better.

Of course, there will be many who want to return to our pre-COVID economy. However, in this moment of profound disruption, there is growing support for creating a future that is better for all, not just some. The potential for creating new policies and structures that drive lasting value is unprecedented in our lifetime.

The Next Economy must be one that is regenerative, low carbon, inclusive, equitable, and prosperous for all.

We believe the shift to The Next Economy is urgent and possible, and that applying social innovation principles and practices is essential for identifying, creating, demonstrating, amplifying and scaling the solutions that will be required to create it.

At their best, social innovations address the root causes of problems that have resisted traditional methods and institutions. Social innovation encompasses practitioners using policy (i.e.: laws and institutions), markets (i.e.: business and trade) and culture (i.e.: values and education) to create change. Social enterprise and social finance are part of this broader field of social innovation. Both tend to be involved in market-based strategies, and benefit from collaboration with people working on policy and cultural change.

Canada is stronger in every sense for the work of these social innovators and entrepreneurs. There are an estimated 10,000 social enterprises in Ontario and 25,000 across the country. There are an estimated 170,000 charities and nonprofits in Canada that employ two million people and contribute over eight (8) percent to Canada’s GDP. Like technological and business innovation, social innovations thrive in environments where a rich ecosystem of entrepreneurs and specialized supports drive innovations through each developmental stage. These organizations can and must play a role in creating the Next Economy. To do so, we need to shift key policies, programs, funding and financing that incentivize outcomes that serve and support the Next Economy.

I offer the following set of recommendations in what I intend to be clear, straight entrepreneur-speak.


Eight Recommendations for Building the Next Economy


1. Shift Shareholder Mandate
If you could do one thing… and one thing only, it would be to ensure that every ‘shareholder’ needs to be accountable for ensuring that they operate for people, planet and then profit. There is no longer a rational justification for the maximization of a 20th century definition of “shareholder value” to continue to be the sole measure of successful business… it must include people and planet – as any business is built on the back of the collective infrastructure and benefits from the context that they operate within. Start in Canada and inspire the world!

2. Design Circular Economic Systems
It’s what comes after capitalism and we all learned it in Kindergarten. The circle holds the key to everything. Circles eliminate waste, balance power, show us how to make decisions, include everyone, create virtuous design solutions and ensure that we have the resources and energy to build anew. Every problem can be redesigned to become a solution. Think of the number of JOBS that we could create for marginalized communities doing energy retrofits, converting commercial real estate into affordable housing or building new community energy infrastructure. Imagine if surpluses were truly available to be reinvested in the next generation of local businesses. Evergreen funds are circles. What could a circle teach us about building child care, elder care or data sharing models? Circularism is the design principle of our Next Economy.

3. Shift Taxation to Unlock Public Good and Let Social Innovators Serve That Public Good
We need to incentivize purpose-driven business models such as nonprofits, social enterprise, community land trusts, B corporations, credit unions, community interest companies, ESOP’s, cooperatives and low-profit limited liability companies that have found ways to put purpose first. They are proven but they are significantly marginalized by a system that preferentially recognizes financial profit. Through legal statute, corporate law and tax code reform, establish innovative, socially aligned, for-purpose business models as the preferred and most rewarded models. For example, offer lower corporate taxation and preferred status for government loan programmes, investment and procurement competitions.

Non-profits and charities have an asset lock… we are bound by law to reinvest any surpluses in mission. We are your allies in advancing the public good. Yet the CRA makes us less effective and makes us feel like criminals at every turn. Let us be part of the solution by reforming charitable legislation to recognize that we no longer live in the 1700’s. For example, let’s change the law so that we can “prevent poverty” instead of just treating the symptoms. Let’s allow the public benefit sector to generate revenues to solve and prevent these problems. Let us be fully empowered collaborators to generate solutions in partnership with government to help make our communities more regenerative, equitable and prosperous for all.

4. Level The Playing Field
Give social innovators access to the same programs and services that you would for any emergent sector. CSI had to create a for-profit in order to access SR&ED credits because the assumption is that nonprofits are not innovative. We can do so much better. Make sure that all government programs are evaluated on merit and not legal form. Nonprofits and charities cannot be a part of the solution with government if we are not respected and treated as true partners. Ensure that we have access to any incentive programs that are available to any for-profits.

5. Do All the Things You Said You Were Going to do for Social Enterprise but More! And Faster!
The foundation from the recommendations of the Social Innovation, Social Finance Task Force exists. We can build on it quickly and not go back to the drawing board.

1) Implement the recommendation of the Social Finance Task Force.
2) Invest an additional $150 million over two years into the Investment Readiness Program (IRP), particularly focused on Incubation Grants, supporting critical intermediaries and targeting indigenous, black, women and rural and remote entrepreneurs.
3) Accelerate the deployment of the Social Finance Fund
4) Create a Social Enterprise Youth Employment Program that puts talented young people to work supporting enterprising solutions with purpose.

This means, investing in us as strategically as you would in any other Canadian sector. More important than mining, auto, AI or biotech, social innovators are the best shot you’ve got at shifting capital, shifting power, shifting systems and maybe staving off climate change. We all know that we need our solutions to be circular, resilient and equitable. We all want vibrant communities, but there is some serious work that needs to be started to address the gross inequities of our indigenous, black and vulnerable populations. And maybe, if you create the community resilience funds, tax credits and ecosystem building supports, the Next Economy will deliver the jobs, enterprises, solutions, and quality of life that we all seek.

6. Create A Community Wealth Fund / Act
Modelled after the Community Reinvestment Act in the US, but way more savvy we are recommending that the Federal Government legislate that 20% of the five big banks profits and the reallocation of 20% of police budgets to generate a Community Wealth Fund that would be managed and governed at a neighbourhood and community level with a focus on building solutions including daycares, green jobs, elder care, participatory cities, community energy systems and community economic development to name a few. We need to build Community Wealth models into this community infrastructure so that we are building truly resilient communities capable of ensuring local food resilience, Community Shared Import Substitution and resilient supply chains.

7. Align Government Procurement
The Government must use its own procurement practices to be part of the solution! All government departmental procurement should be aligned and all procurement should meet a triple bottom line. Which is to say, stop working at odds from each other and ensure ‘Institutional Circularity’. Too often one hand of government is contradicting the other hand… for example, hospitals use tons of energy but are not required or supported or incentivized to go green… and so one arm of government is holding back the success of another. Education should be mandated to procure locally grown health food. Government funded research should be held in public hands without the ability to privatize that IP without the government at least getting a percent in the upside. You get the idea.

8. Create an Auditor for Social Innovation
We need to find ways to incentivize innovation inside government. Some early signs like the Prizes & Challenges work and the % for experimentation are great starts. Let’s go further. The Auditor General creates a fear of failing that needs to be balanced by a drive for innovation. In order to get collaboration and systems change inside government, it is first necessary to create the right culture. An Auditor for Social Innovation could become a core part of building a more innovative public service, which then can celebrate its own innovation. The federal government must incentivize social innovation in order for its roots to take strong hold across all markets and sectors.


We must start today in advancing these recommendations, taking this moment in our history and turning it into one where governments, corporations and citizens made bold choices that promoted our collective prosperity and well-being and not at the cost of our planet’s health. Other generations have acted with courage in the face of crisis to build vital social and economic infrastructure. This is our moment.


Tonya Surman
Chief Executive Officer
Centre for Social Innovation

How EAIGLE is helping stop the spread of COVID-19

As provinces begin to reopen, the move back to our public spaces is met with mixed feelings: excitement, about being able to regain some semblance of normalcy, relief, for business owners who were struggling to pay rent, and also apprehension around being able to provide (or shop in) a safe environment. What’s certain is that businesses and customers alike will have to remain vigilant and continue to follow physical distancing guidelines.

When the severity of the situation became clear in March, EAIGLE adapted their technology to stop the spread of COVID-19. By monitoring the body temperature of guests, businesses, and public spaces can identify people who may have contracted the virus.

A company in our Climate Ventures’ Earth Tech accelerator, EAIGLE’s original focus was on water conservation. Using artificial intelligence, their technology could monitor crowds and analyze occupancy in real time, enabling buildings to optimize their water and energy use.

“I’ve always been looking for ways to make a positive impact on our planet, starting with cleantech energy and water conservation,” said Amir Hoss, Founder and CEO. “In buildings, HVAC systems and swimming pools are the two components responsible for the majority of energy and water usage – but in recent years, there haven’t been effective solutions developed to address these inefficiencies. We saw a huge opportunity to optimize these systems through AI.”

Amir and his team are grateful to be able to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.

“Our team has worked tirelessly for weeks to bring this solution to the public,” Amir said. “We are determined to put an end to this pandemic, and we are grateful that we can create a positive impact.”

Want to learn more about the amazing work EAIGLE is doing, and what the pivot looked like? Read the full story on our Climate Ventures website.

Communicating during COVID-19, and the hope for a better future

As a member of the CSI community, I am mindful everyday of the joy of belonging. From the very first moment I entered the Annex location, CSI embraced me, respected me, and invited me to co-create. It immediately felt like home. Everyone here is passionate, committed, loving, kind, and supportive of each other. My work is valued; I find shared values here. Our CSI community is inclusive; and welcomes the diversity of opinions, skills, and beliefs that makes our world rich.

I’ve been thankful to be able to use CSI co-creation ideologies in my personal (and professional!) quest to ensure effective communication. And while COVID-19 has changed what that looks like, it hasn’t slowed me down at all. If anything, this virus presents an unbelievable opportunity. Suddenly, people who do not ordinarily have challenges with accessible communication are experiencing what is my everyday lived reality. With business staff wearing masks and working behind plexiglass screens, everyone is experiencing less clarity from audio information. This has enhanced the usefulness of my skills — honed from having hearing loss for 25+ years — to help a wider number of people who are now struggling to hear well.

Plexiglass screens dampen sound, making it harder to hear the person you are speaking to. Masks make lip-reading — which we all rely on when we can’t hear clearly — impossible. They also block facial expressions which we all rely on to get information, particularly people who are not operating in their first language.

My son recently commented that “people will only do something about a problem if it directly affects them.” Well with over half of Torontonians being New Canadians, and at least 20% of any given population having a significant hearing loss, this means 70% of people in Toronto alone are now being directly affected by communication challenges related to this pandemic.

To help solve these challenges, my company POW Hearing is offering two new products and services.

The first is a point of sale instant captioning system for retail and takeout counters. This device allows the staff person behind the plexiglass to speak into a microphone, and immediately have their words appear on a wifi enabled device screen.

We are also developing and producing a face mask with a clear plastic panel that allows for lipreading (and smiling!). I’m looking to convince big box stores who have lots of employees that the clear window mask, being re-usable, and very customer friendly, is a very good option for them. (Big chain drug stores, supermarkets, retail stores, and the like.) I have decided to learn to sew, as making masks might be more cheap than ready-made masks and then modifying them to add a plastic screen.

Knowing how quickly our community responds to expressed needs, and seeing the desire to share in my success has been a blessing beyond description. So here are some things I need help with right now. If you can help with any of these things, you can email laura@powhearing.com.

  1. Being connected with suppliers willing to donate 100% cotton fabric in solid colours
  2. Having folks volunteer their time as to help me with sewing
  3. Finding a spot where I can store materials and manufacture masks.
  4. Being introduced to people who make purchasing decisions

Even before this pandemic, the CSI community has increased awareness, broadened our ability to understand people’s perspectives, and allowed us all to appreciate and value our different superpowers.

When I think of our post-COVID future, I have hope that these ideals will spread across the country.

Pooling our resources (by way of our tax dollars) was the basis for providing a majority of the federal financial relief during the first few months of C-19. My hope is that we as a country never return to the simplistic ideology of balancing a budget, at the cost of supporting each other.

Most of the supports our current minority government has provided happened because the parties realized they had to act differently. They negotiated behind the scenes for collective supports, rather than daily Parliamentary routines of heckling each other. My hope is that we will remember this, and we will continue to do better.

I am thankful to Gonzalo Duarte — our Community Manager at CSI Annex — for his support in listening to my advocacy surrounding bringing hearing accessibility to our physical location. My hope is that we continue this discussion when we return to the physical site.

Finally, my biggest dream: A universal basic income for every Canadian who needs one.

Laura Mather, POW Hearing

CSI Supports: How to avoid digital burnout

An illustration of a person slumped at their work desk with their face resting on their laptop.

In her new book — Attention: A Love Story — Casey Schwartz considers the role of attention in defining us. She cautions that as our attention spans have shortened to a period of fewer than ten seconds, we are losing hours of our daily lives to anxiety-inducing digital distractions. In Vanity Fair, Mary Alice Miller unpacks the ways these impacts are being ramped up during COVID-19, and the opportunity we all have to do better.

“This version of togetherness—in which connection must happen through the same medium as work, errands, and news-gathering—contributes to a special type of exhaustion, one that had already been brewing for three decades as our lives transitioned into their virtual expressions. Now, forced to live 100% of the time in what tech ethicist James Williams has described as a “new mode of deep distraction,” it seems the pandemic has expedited an inevitable breaking point. “This is a unique opportunity,” Schwartz said, “to rethink our relationship to constant stimulation.”

Constant stimulation is what causes Digital Burnout, which we want to help you avoid (particularly right now). COVID-19 has introduced many new challenges and adjustments to our work, whether we’re working remotely, looking for work, or working longer hours. Setting healthy boundaries, managing and restoring our energy, and navigating increased screen time are just a few of the many challenges we’re confronted with.

So in partnership with The Burnout Project and Hydra Labs, CSI is offering an action-oriented workshop to help you:

  • Connect with others navigating stress, productivity, and burnout.
  • Explore and unpack sources of burnout
  • Learn the signs and signals of high stress
  • Learn ways to manage your energy and time during COVID-19
  • Build healthy habits for a post-pandemic world

(The fee for this workshop is $20, but no one will be turned away due to their financial situation. Please a message to theburnoutproject@gmail.com if cost is a barrier.)