Win a year of free access to Awake Labs!

Awake Labs logo

We talked to Awake Labs last spring, learning about their work helping adults who have an intellectual disability manage their daily stresses. Their mobile and wearable apps measure stress in real-time and send an alert for more timely, effective mental health support.

We were thrilled to hear the impact that being a CSI member was having on what Awake Labs was doing. Chief Product Officer Paul Fijal told us:

Being a CSI member has been a blessing for Awake Labs. Everyone on our team loves to be a part of this vibrant and badass community of changemakers. It is motivating to come to work when you’re surrounded by people who work every day to change the world!

Awake Labs has just celebrated their fifth anniversary, and launched an exciting partnership with Community Living Ontario. CLC Ontario is a non-profit that advocates for people with an intellectual disability to be fully included in of community life.

In celebration of this partnership, Awake Labs is giving away Samsung Galaxy Watches and one-year licenses of their technology.

The winners will be selected randomly. To be eligible for this prize, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. You must live in Ontario
  2. You must be either:
    • An adult who has an intellectual disability;
    • A family member who supports an adult who has an intellectual disability*; or
    • A representative from an Ontario-based agency who provides residential support services or supported independent living to adults who have an intellectual disability**
  3. You must have reliable access to WiFi

Winners will have free access to Awake Labs’ technology for one year. If you are selected, you will be invited to participate in a study with the National Research Council. You do not have to participate in the study to get your free license. Click here to learn more!

*If you are a self-advocate or a family member who supports an adult who has an intellectual disability, you have the chance to win one Samsung Galaxy watch and one, one-year license of Awake Labs’ app. You must also have an Android or iOS smartphone

CSI member Brett Matthews makes sure digital currency leaves no one behind

In most countries — Canada included! — our currency is easily differentiated by things like the colour and artwork of each bill or coin. But as the world moves away from cash and towards digital transactions, we are leaving behind approximately one billion illiterate and and innumerate (otherwise known as ‘oral’) adults who can’t read or write numbers like $1,250 or ₹24,300. This leaves them excluded from economic participation, contributes to cascading negative outcomes and perpetuates deep poverty.

With his My Oral Village project, CSI member Brett Matthews has created transaction records that everyone – including illiterate and innumerate people – can use safely, conveniently and independently.

In recognition of his systems changing work, Brett was made an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka Fellows are the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. They champion innovative new ideas that transform society’s systems, providing benefits for everyone and improving the lives of millions of people.

We chatted with him about what this fellowship means to him, what the world looks like if My Oral Village achieves its goals, and how being part of CSI is making that happen.

Congratulations on becoming an Ashoka Fellow! What is the most meaningful part for you?
Ashoka gets what I’m doing, and believes in it. That is a big thing for me, because as I’ve been learning, they have been a transformational force in putting social entrepreneurship – in all its glorious impact and diversity – on the map. Getting to know them has been getting to know about this wonderful movement. There are Ashoka Fellows whose work literally takes my breath away. Their vision, energy and commitment provide a whole new benchmark for my own efforts.

What do you wish potential donors or supporters understood about people living in poverty?
Poverty, and the state of being in it, say nothing bad about a person. Poverty is not the result of a morally or intellectually deficient character. It is what happens when we humans create large-scale social organizations without thinking about the human consequences carefully enough. Poverty is a problem we have all created, and it is going to take all of us to fix it. And we can do it. In the Anthropocene, we can no longer say “the poor are always with us.” We must instead say – “what we created, we can fix!”

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you started working in Oral Information Management?
I remain utterly dumbfounded – I can’t think of a more accurate term – by the fact that the work I’m currently doing is even necessary. I have no idea why it wasn’t done a century ago. And the reasons for doing it have simply kept increasing in every decade since. Why would we not make it easier for illiterate and innumerate people to understand their own financial records by providing those in a form that this population can understand? We understand what we are trying to communicate to them, and we know that they have no chance of decoding our messages. Since we are code-makers, let us lever what they do know to fashion a code they can understand and use comfortably. How difficult can this be – honestly?

I studied Marshall McLuhan at the University of Toronto a decade ago. In one of his papers he put it like this: “We live invested in an electric information environment that is quite as imperceptible to us as water is to fish.” I didn’t imagine then that something as basic as text could be imperceptible to us as literate adults. Now, hard experience has taught me that he is right.

What is your biggest hope for My Oral Village? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
No parent should ever have to pull a child out of school because the price of chickens drops, or a disease sweeps through her flock. This is one of many ways that poor people suffer because they can’t use formal financial services. Subsistence farmers and landless labourers do a great job of managing complex portfolios of in-kind assets, promises and precious metals. But to get out of poverty permanently is really hard if they can’t add cash and financial assets to their portfolios. If we succeed, everyone on earth will be able to safely and confidently enter the formal financial sector whenever they need to, and accomplish what they need to there. The issues we target are particularly onerous to girls and women, because of gender norms that disempower their natural desire to learn how to work with numbers and money. We can’t eliminate those gender norms, but we can reduce their power.

At My Oral Village, we’re building the science of ‘oral information management’, and designing practical applications from it. We want to put an end to the days when humans in advanced technological societies can look at the rest of the world and say “they’ll figure it all out, and if they can’t, tough.” This sort of attitude can’t build a just global society, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or help us adapt to the challenges of the Anthropocene. So in some ways our highest aspiration is to help to change thinking here. We don’t just have to take responsibility for the natural environment. We also have to take responsibility for human nature.

How has being involved with CSI impacted your work?
A lot! I discovered CSI in 2011 when we were renovating our house. I was a self-employed microfinance consultant at the time, and had spent most of the previous decade working in some of the poorest nations in Asia. I loved working in the villages in Asia, but had become very disillusioned by expat communities and the so-called ‘experts’ in microfinance and development. During my stint at CSI I met a lot of really beautiful people with really inspiring visions and the practical mindset and habits to realize them. It was an inflection point in my personal growth. I started seeing Toronto not just as a source of confusion and misinformation about global poverty, but also a genuine source of possible resources and solutions.

I’ll never forget a series of workshops I attended, organized and facilitated by Tonya Surman, at the newly opened Annex for social entrepreneurs working on new ideas. I was planning a new not-for-profit, to be called My Oral Village. She showed an immediate and genuine interest in what I was doing, and has kept that interest ever since. My work is different from hers, but she understands the challenges of building a social enterprise and a social movement, and her insights are always valuable. For our part we’ve been having our board meetings at CSI since our inception, and Tonya attended our first public event in Toronto, at CSI at 192 Spadina, facilitated by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in My Oral Village?
We are currently looking for board members with experience in fund-raising, journalism or international banking and microfinance. We are also looking for volunteers in accounting, design and website development.


If you have an idea that will help build an equitable, regenerative and prosperous Next Economy, become a CSI member today!

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.

FULL ARTICLE HERE

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.

 

 

Introducing City as School Toronto

September means Back-to-School … but what does that look like? Our new members City as School have some pretty innovative ideas. We wanted to give them the chance to share them with you, in this guest blog post.

CaST stands for City-as-School Toronto. It aspires to be a progressive small-school community of academically accomplished high school students — and dedicated teachers — learning about the world while in the world, guided by a philosophical lodestar that maintains that experience is the best teacher.

We seek to serve young people who are not thriving within the teaching model their public or private schools currently offer, and recognize that small schools with individualized learning programs can help many students grow emotionally and intellectually in ways they might not have imagined in larger schools.

We are a very open and pluralistic community, and embrace young people across the racial, gender, cultural, national and sexual identity spectrum. We also have experience teaching students with learning exceptionalities, a capability many secondary schools lack. Our instructors are sensitive to the needs of all students and will tailor their courses to meet students where they are, increasing rates of student success.

Small schools are practically a requirement for such students, and at CaST, we make them feel at home, finally.

With classrooms located throughout the city of Toronto, CaST will be a school unlike any other independent school in the city. Toronto is not only our home city but our classroom. The parks, libraries, museums, galleries, beaches, bridges, homes and commercial buildings are where we do our teaching and learning.

Having moved into CSI Annex just a few days ago, we are already becoming accustomed to the giving ethos that members show each other, to the spirit of sharing, asking and offering that appears in each member email we receive. We like the continual stream of messages members send each other, and believe that they are a built-in marketing plan we did not expect when we joined CSI. For Project Mask4Aid, our winter fundraising project, I hope to attract the attention of the many artists within CSI and beyond as we attempt to expand plague mask fashion into more creative realms, and then use those masks for education and charitable giving.

Small schools, whether start-ups like us or older institutions, depend on word of mouth informing new parents and potential students of our presence. Our website tells part of the story, and once school begins, our social media will also spread the word. But If our fellow CSI members want to help us get the word out, they can speak to us directly, or visit us at any of our four sites. We feel anyone would quickly be convinced of the sincerity of our project, the professionalism and brilliance of our teaching staff, and the success ethic we collectively embody and that propels us forward.

We believe that our teachers and students, as they pass through the building – with Covid-19 restrictions guiding those visits – will recognize CSI Annex as our first home, and our fellow members as our new neighbours. All CaST students are required to volunteer each year at a charitable organization of their choice. While we have not yet chosen a single organization, issue, policy or practice that embraces the entire school, we are particularly interested in social enterprise as a means of broadening and scaling non-profit enterprises like our own. Indeed, our first major fundraiser in December, which we are producing jointly with a number of universities and arts institutions in the city, is primarily an exercise in philanthropy, social enterprise and public artmaking.

Due to COVID-19, our curriculum this year is specifically focused on maintaining social distance between students and between students and faculty. We have online and in-person components to each day, and ongoing, variable choice between those two teaching platforms. We know we are on the right path. We’ve got a late-morning 10am start – which recognizes teens need for sleep – vibrant extra-curricular activities to break the pattern of pure online learning, faculty development plans to strengthen collective knowledge of best teaching practices during the COVID-19 era, and an active parent body dedicated to our success.

CaST School’s board has also engaged a medical doctor as our school’s medical advisor, and will be following his recommendations as well as those of Toronto Health and the Ontario Ministry of Education, for guidance on COVID policies as we move from summer into fall and winter.

Though we have hired most of the teachers required for the 2020-2021 academic year, we are always interested in learning about students or teachers who believe CaST could one day be their teaching home as well.


If you want to stop in at CaST, they are in office 312 at CSI Annex. And if you’ve got your own world-changing idea and are looking for a place to make it happen, we’d love to meet you!

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

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!

Firefly Creative’s Pivot from Marketing to Board Game Development

When you’re driven by a desire to create, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.

CSI member Firefly Creative started off as a journey marketing agency in 2012. Eight years later, they’ve pivoted to board game development.

We caught up with Shivani Sharma, Founder and CEO, to reflect on how her team and her company have grown.

Their CSI story starts about half a year after their founding, in 2013. The Firefly team was beginning to outgrow their first office space. As Shivani looked for a new home, she came across CSI Annex.

“There weren’t many options like [CSI] seven years ago. I mean, now [coworking] is all over Toronto, but I still feel like CSI has a different vibe than anyone else. It’s more down to earth, everybody is chilled out. It’s a good working environment. So that’s why I decided to move my team here.”

When they first joined CSI, Firefly was focused on growing their marketing business. It made sense to set up shop in a bustling community of social innovators. Not only was it easier to find people they loved working with, CSI’s large meeting rooms gave them that official professional agency touch.

“We chose CSI because we had the same set of values. We could rely on the people there to be good to us and we would be good to them,” said Shivani. “We got some clients through CSI. We formed professional relationships where we could get advice from people. We had people who we engaged in services depending on what we needed. It was just a matter of getting out the door and asking ‘hey, can anyone do this?’”

Of course, in a space where so many entrepreneurs are working on so many different projects, it’s difficult not to get inspired. Meeting another CSI member, Twenty One Toys, opened up new pathways that Firefly soon found themselves exploring.

“I didn’t even know about [game design as a profession] until I saw that and that was kind of inspiring,” said Shivani. “Now, we have our own card game.”

What the Woof!? product shot: green box with What the Woof!? logo and backside of dog

After launching What the Woof!?, Firefly decided to go all in. They’re moving away from the marketing space and immersing themselves in board game development and playtesting.

“The way I pitched it to my team was: either we keep doing stuff that’s marketing-related for the same kinds of companies we always do, or we do something for ourselves and keep control of what we want to put into it and give it our all,” recalled Shivani. “Everybody was on board because they wanted to do something interesting and creative for the team. Once What the Woof!? was launched, everybody was like: ‘let’s make this real.’”

It’s a transition that makes sense for the Firefly team, constantly in pursuit of bigger and better creative endeavours. Shivani is optimistic about this new direction.

“For most people, you can either develop a product or you can be a marketer. We have the chance to be both,” she said. “Even in the post-COVID-19 world, you still need that human interaction — even if it’s at home with your core group of friends. I want to serve that community and make the game table that place where you can interact with people and not feel so isolated.”

Firefly Creative is joining an impressive group of CSI alumni. Like every goodbye, this one is bittersweet. We’ll hold the memories we have with their team close to our heart, and can’t wait to see what they accomplish next!


If you’re a board game lover (or just want to support a CSI member), check out What the Woof!? Shivani and her team are also looking to connect with designers and developers in the board game space, so if that sounds like you, send an email to letstalk@fireflyhub.com!

“I want to be a guide”: Kirthan Aujlay on grief and death acceptance

We don’t talk enough about death.

If you’re staring at your screen with a grimace right now, you’re not alone. Freelance writer and CSI member Kirthan Aujlay is more than familiar with those strange looks and questioning glances.

Her passion for the topic has spanned over a decade: “I’ve always been the weird person or the morbid person who was always turning the conversation to death. I don’t understand why so many people are in denial about their mortality when it’s the one thing you can be sure about.”

Briefly, Kirthan considered a career as a funeral director — but something about trying to upsell a casket didn’t sit too well with her.

“For me, it’s about education. There are so many people who don’t know the basics. […] They don’t know that you don’t have to get embalmed. […] They don’t know about the environmental impact of traditional burials. They don’t know that you can appoint a power of attorney for personal care, or about advance directives.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by That Good Night (@that_goodnight) on

That’s why she created That Good Night, an information hub for death acceptance, green funerals, and grief. In conversation, Kirthan is often told “wow, you know so much!” — and it just made sense to share her knowledge with everyone else.

“A lot of people don’t know their rights or their options [when it comes to planning for death], so I want to be a guide for them,” she said.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by That Good Night (@that_goodnight) on

Kirthan hopes That Good Night becomes a resource for education and empowerment.

Speaking about death can be uncomfortable and painful: “As humans, we avoid pain and don’t want to think about what’s going to happen. But once you start talking about it, you can regain a sense of control.”

Our society has made death out to be serious subject matter, when it really doesn’t have to be.

“You can have fun with it,” Kirthan said. “Sometimes I often talk about what my funeral would be if I could do anything. Imagine you were planning a wedding: what kind of music do you want? What kind of food do you want? What kind of venue? It’s the same thing for a funeral! There are actually a lot of parallels.”

As Kirthan continues to create and curate content, she hopes to expand That Good Night into grief and death acceptance workshops. Above all, Kirthan hopes her work helps create a more empathetic, understanding world.

If you’re ready to take the first step into the death acceptance community, give That Good Night a follow. (And if you have any specific questions, just send Kirthan a direct message!)