Join the League of Social Entrepreneurs

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Help wanted!

Entrepreneurs! We need you! Toronto needs you! The world needs you! Are you ready for an entirely new kind of challenge? Itching to bring your talents to a new set of problems? Are you looking for a way to give back to the city that has given you so much? Ready to #buildbackbetter?

The Centre For Social Innovation is embarking on a new experiment, the League of Social Entrepreneurs.

We are recruiting experienced and emerging entrepreneurs interested in using their skills and creativity to find solutions to some of our city’s most pressing social issues. And we need you – in the middle of a pandemic that is devastating those most vulnerable in our city – to help us build solutions, right now!

Essentially CSI is looking to remix a ‘change lab’ with a ‘social accelerator’ to create intentional economic solutions that put people and planet first.

We have 4 areas that we are looking for entrepreneurs in: 

  • Homelessness & access to hygiene in Toronto 
  • Affordable housing solutions
  • Impact measurement and social technology
  • Affordable delivery systems to support retail businesses pivoting online

Here is the idea…. 

You, the entrepreneur, join experts from government, NGO’s and people with lived experience to co-learn about the issue, the challenges, barriers, what other jurisdictions have done and the opportunities that exist to solve this problem. We will facilitate a change lab with the goal of identifying solutions that we will turn into prototypes that you are leading, to solve this challenge.

This isn’t easy work. It isn’t for the faint of heart. This might just be the challenge of a lifetime as you bring your problem solving skills, creativity, tenacity, and drive to evolve new solutions that will help Toronto Build Back Better.

So, if you are keen to be kept in the loop on these kinds of opportunities, please answer a few questions in our survey so that we can invite you to the right conversations. 

At the very least, I promise that you will meet some other amazing entrepreneurs who give a damn about our future. 

We’re All In This Together: The WOSEN Program

At CSI we believe in the synergies of connection, the explosive potential of partnerships, and the transformative power of movements. We see them happening every day with collaborators across Ontario and Indigenous regions.

We see them in one of our newest programs, Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN), a provincial partnership which is part of the Federal Government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. We are building strong connections with our partners in the project, Pillar Nonprofit Network, NORDIK Institute, SVX, Lean4Flourishing, Eve-Volution Inc., and The Social Enterprise Institute. It’s so exciting to be co-designing this work together – we can feel the sparks across our Zoom video calls each week!

Jo Reynold, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, says, “It just makes sense to work in collaboration with other social enterprise organizations. Together we share our practices, connect entrepreneurs, and better understand our impact. WOSEN is a model for how social enterprise services can be offered to better meet people where they are at.”

The story of WOSEN emerges out of trust built from past working relationships with the O.N.E. Social Enterprise Partnership, and beyond. Within those relationships we saw our potential to really shift how entrepreneurial supports are designed in order to unlock the potential of diverse womxn social entrepreneurs. The network allowed us to co-design, evaluate, and share knowledge that provided an emerging innovation eco-system with shared practices to us all meet our potential. 

The WOSEN project aims to support 150 new and 75 existing women-led social enterprises, offers ten women-centered innovation learning courses to 250 people, training for 35 business coaches and connections to investment opportunities through the Women Impact Investor Network.

In 2020 CSI will be offering three WOSEN programs: two Start programs and one Grow accelerator. Our Start program is geared for women who have not necessarily seen themselves as entrepreneurs but are interested in learning more and gaining entrepreneurial competencies along the way. Grow, on the other hand, is designed to support women who have already gained initial traction with their social purpose businesses. These women will receive increased support through coaching, networking, and peer-support in order to take their business to the next level. 

Prior to the launch of CSI’s WOSEN programs in May 2020 we conducted casual, one-on-one discovery chats with folks interested in applying to the program. These chats allowed us to listen to a diverse array of women from our surrounding communities to understand their ambitions and assess the barriers they face, taking into account the support systems that they require to achieve their goals. As a result, we are including things like child care services on site during workshop programming to support participants that have children. 

With women in mind, we are designing our programs around these needs to create a safe and supportive environment for women to learn, thrive and grow not only with their social enterprises but in their own personal development as a social entrepreneur. 

Our programming takes a more human centred approach and will encompass the following design principles at its core: inclusive & accessible, systems informed, decolonized, responsive to the needs of women, and incorporate an ecosystem approach.

“There is so much value created when we meaningfully integrate and practice the WOSEN design principles everyday. I love it when participants feel empowered to share their program engagement feedback to help us re-shape programming in a way that is more effective for them,” says Senior Program Manager, Mitalie Makhani, “Being responsive is not always easy but, it’s all worth it once you see how much more it catalyzes a participant’s journey and the positive impact in their communities. That’s what drives me.”

Agents of Change SDGs Spotlight: Jofri Issac

Group of people sitting in a circle

“I want to help communities make sustainable choices.”

Jofri Issac believes in a world in which every person understands that their choices have an impact on the planet.

To make such a world a reality, he is developing a project to help communities learn about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and apply that knowledge in their daily lives. His strategy: making the knowledge simple and accessible.

A recent survey showed that, globally, the concept of the SDGs is not well known yet. The study interviewed more than 26,000 people from 174 countries and showed that 50.3% of them did not know the SDGs. On average, people are aware of the problems described in them, but are not familiar with the SDGs concept and framework.

“If I go to the UN website, the explanation of the SDGs can be generic and full of difficult words. What we are trying to create is a way for communities to understand why SDGs are important and need to be implemented,” Jofri says. “We’re trying to create smaller and simpler steps for them.”

Although in its initial stage, the project draws from Jofri’s five years of field experience in rural communities in India, where he worked as a researcher before moving to Canada. This life-changing job gave him the opportunity to meet different communities and dive deep into how they were relating to environmental issues. “Climate change has impacted people in very small but steady ways.”

Jofri holds a Masters degree in Environmental Science and has also started working on a waste segregation tool to help people separate waste properly and reduce cross contamination.

In order to develop his ideas into a viable social enterprise, Jofri joined the Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program at CSI between March and April 2020. As a part of the Eastern Canada cohort, he went through an intensive journey to practice a number of business development tools and drive change based on the SDGs.

“This course has been like a cabinet or a shelf for me. I had a lot of thoughts and didn’t know where to place them, but the course came as a frame where I can say ‘this goes here, this goes there.’ It gave structure to my thoughts and how to prioritize things.”

The peer-to-peer learning is also a highlight of the program for Jofri. Through the course of eight weeks, participants meet virtually and are encouraged to learn with and from each other. “After each session, people would share links, references, things happening in many places. These are not part of the curriculum, but it holds value, especially for people like me, a newcomer in this country.”

Another highlight of the program for him are the guest entrepreneurs. Erika Reyes, Beth Szurpicki, and Agata Rudd, from Wisebox, and Luke Anderson, from StopGap Foundation, were some of the professionals invited to give participants a clearer understanding of the challenges of starting a social enterprise.

Jofri is now working on ways to bring his ideas to life. After COVID-19, starting a business has become an especially challenging effort. With many environmental events canceled in 2020, he’s had to change his strategy and press pause on some plans.

His commitment to the SDGs 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 13 (Climate Action) remains strong, though. In times of uncertainty, Jofri’s bottom-up strategy may be just the approach we need to bring viable solutions for our future.

Learn more about the Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program.

Crafting Your Personal Narrative

When Peggy Sue Deaven started teaching SE101, CSI’s eight-week introductory course to social entrepreneurship, in 2018, she noticed that most participants loved one segment in particular: Crafting Your Personal Narrative.

With this in mind, Peggy Sue created a dedicated course designed to help CSI members and the public improve their professional storytelling. CSI had its first taste of the program and it’s taken off since, recently opening to the public with plans for more sessions in the near future.

For Peggy Sue, the beginning and end of these sessions are perfect bookends: “When participants first sign on, there is trepidation and a bit of low-level anxiety co-mingled with hopeful excitement. Who is in here? What stories are we going to share? I love the looks on everyone’s faces and the ease that begins to crest over the crowd with each introduction: this is who I am, why I am here, and what I am hoping to talk more about. 

And I love the closing. Again – everyone has a look of peace and excitement. Like, they just peeked into a portion of themselves and have opened up a new space of exploration and opportunity.” 

Feedback on these workshops has been positive: people leave the sessions feeling seen and heard, that they have a story worth sharing, ideas worth delving into, and the means with which to begin. Breakout rooms are especially popular because they get to have curated feedback and a safe space to share their work. In the midst of physical distancing participants say that this kind of connection has been incredibly valuable and uplifting.

Peggy Sue notes that the most challenging part of this course is finding places and spaces for these stories to go further. Right now, so many events, gatherings, professional forums, and shows have taken a pause or are adapting into meaningful digital offerings while sorting through huge amounts of digital fatigue and added stressors people are facing. 

As Peggy Sue says, “I want to find spaces and places to share our stories – the invisible portions of ourselves that are in need of place and community.”

CSI’s Crafting Your Personal Narrative workshop looks to bridge the gap created by the loss of physical story sharing spaces. If you’re interested in learning more about professional storytelling and how it can help you, join one of our workshops or peer circles! 

CSI Supports: 5 ways to reduce “Zoom fatigue”

Depending on your job or industry, you might be spending a lot more time on video calls lately. While it’s nice to see the (ideally) smiling faces of our friends and co-workers, these calls are not without their frustrations.

It’s kind of hard to believe that in 2020, we’re still having to use the first ten minutes of meetings saying things like “Wait, now I can see you but not hear you. I’m gonna log out and log back in.” But here we are!

Technical difficulties are one thing. But as a recent article on the BBC’s website explains, there are mental and emotional challenges as well. Here are a few of the reasons:

Non-verbal clues:
“Video chats mean we need to work harder to process cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.”

Cognitive dissonance:
“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.”

“When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.”

So what are a bunch of quarantining folks to do if they — like us! — want to move IRL hangouts to online? Happily, experts have some tips:

  1. Limiting video calls to those that are necessary.
  2. Having turning your camera on be optional.
  3. Turning your screen off to the side, instead of facing it head-on.
  4. Take time during meetings to catch up before diving into business.
  5. Build transition periods in between video meetings

If you’re still feeling like your webcam is sapping your lifeforce, Gianpiero Petriglieri — an associate professor studying sustainable learning and development in the workplace — has one last suggestion: Go old school. “Write a letter to someone instead of meeting them on Zoom,” he suggests. “Tell them you really care about them.”

We don’t have time to send you all letters, but we really care about you! Check out our CSI Supports page to find out how we are here for you during the COVID-19 crisis.

Earth Tech ventures on Earth Day 2020

International quarantine efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 have made this is a pretty unusual Earth Day. Factory closures and and fewer cars on the road have seen air quality improving around the world. At the same time, Inger Andersen — the head of the UN Environment Programme — cautions us against celebrating environmental improvements that come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.

Anderson instead calls instead for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. This perspective is echoed in a recent op-ed in the National Observer by Foresight CEO Jeanette Jackson and CSI’s Director of Programs Barnabe Geis. The two point out that we now have the chance to create a green economy powered by clean energy and enabled by clean technology.

One way CSI’s Climate Ventures is working to build a New Green Economy is through Earth Tech, a six-month accelerator for those working on climate or freshwater technology solutions that will positively impact communities and ecosystems across Canada.

We reached out to Earth Tech participants to ask them what’s motivating them during these trying times, and what’s one positive thing they hope will come out of this crisis. We found their answers informative and inspiring.

Arian Shahnazari of Biopolynet:

Patricia Gomez of Clean Nature:

Sugeevan Shanmuganathan of Dunya Habitats:

Amir Hoss of EAIGLE

Bryce Jones of Flash Forest:

Andrew Lee of Innovia GEO Corp:

Kevin Jakiela of Just Vertical:

Jake Miller of Project Neutral:

Jane Ji of Springbay Studio Ltd.:

Ross Armstrong of Solar Wind Reliance Initiatives:

Amir Pahlevanpour of Volta Technique:

Kat Kavanagh of Water Rangers:

Do you have a product, service, or strategy to help tackle the climate crisis and put people and planet first? Climate Ventures provides coworking, community, and programs to accelerate your success and amplify your impact.

CSI Supports: How CSI is helping you build your skills from home

We hope you are able to stay put during this quarantine, but we still want to help you put people and planet first. So we are offering advisory hours, an educational webinar and online morning chat to help you make that happen.

Virtual Advisor Office Hours at CSI’s Climate Ventures — March 20
Are you a Climate Entrepreneur looking to accelerate your impact? Jonathan Carley and Bryan Duarte are experts in business development as well as also business modelling and validation. On March 20 from 3-5pm, they are offering virtual advisor office hours. Please note that this is reserved for CSI member working on climate or environmental issues. Register for a slot here.

Tax Season for SelfEmployed Entrepreneurs — March 24
Are you an entrepreneur looking to demystify the tax preparation process? CSI is hosting an upcoming event to help you out! This workshop will review:

  • Tax basics: what you’re obligated to, including when and why you need to file your taxes.
  • DIY (or not!): How to decide whether you can prepare your tax return yourself, or if it makes sense to hire a professional.
  • Tax brackets: What are they and what do they mean for your business?
  • Business expenses: What can be deducted from your taxable income, and what tax benefits you may be eligible for.
  • Expenses: How to track them, and what online programs and tools can help.

Climate Ventures (Virtual) Mornings: A Conversation with Nick Parker — April 2
We’re sitting down (virtually, of course!) with Nicholas Parker, a cleantech pioneer. Join us for a conversation on cleantech with the person who coined the term “cleantech”! We’ll discuss its history, current trends, and investment landscape.Please note that we’ll use Zoom to connect. Details will be sent to confirmed registrants the week before the event.

To learn how CSI is showing leadership during COVID-19, please read these words from our CEO Tonya Surman.