The Centre for Social Innovation is fast approaching adolescence in organizational terms. We are an 11-year-old nonprofit social enterprise, definitely out of the start-up phase, but still ambitiously growing to meet the needs of this dynamic and multifaceted social innovation movement. Sometimes it feels as though our feet keep outgrowing our shoes. The way that we manage this growth is by leaning into three core principles:
Growth with Grace
Lots of people talk about scale, but what does it really look and feel like? For CSI, our strategy has been one of leap, consolidate, repeat. This approach has resulted in 40% growth each year for the last seven years. Concretely, the purchase of 720 Bathurst in 2010 was a giant leap for us and required a couple years to recuperate and consolidate. Then in 2012-13, we opened both CSI Regent Park and CSI NYC. After this, we entered into our “year of no new projects.” We realigned, recalibrated and dug into our core business model. With a goal of achieving a break-even point for each of our business units, we realized that we needed to find a long-term, sustainable home for CSI Spadina. This is what led us, very quickly—45 days after the end of our year of no new projects—to buy 192 Spadina. Indeed, 2014-15 has proven to be another growth year, now operating 162,000 sq. ft. of space in five locations with 50+ staff including TechSoup Canada, a project of CSI.
Building Community Wealth
Given that we are in the real estate business, we have learned that ownership is vital to our success. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it was made possible with the help of our amazing bank partners, Alterna Savings and Citizen’s Bank of Canada, and money raised through our Community Bonds campaign from our community. In total, we have raised $6.3M in bonds to help us finance the purchase of 720 Bathurst and 192 Spadina in Toronto. This community investment has resulted in over $25M of real estate assets being put to work for people and the planet. Our strategy to build community wealth enables CSI to provide stable and affordable rents in the long run to our growing community, while building assets for 25 years down the road.
Diversify and Partner
CSI thrives through the strength of its partnerships. These enable us to achieve greater social outcomes through projects like the Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund (a partnership of the Ontario Government, TD, Alterna Savings, Microsoft, KPMG and Social Capital Partners) and our Agents of Change program. These partnerships often include sponsorship of our spaces or programs, grants from the government or agencies, or consulting and speaking revenues. In 2014, we met our target of generating 20% of our revenues through partnerships.
2014-15 has also deepened our knowledge of what it takes to operate in the United States. CSI in NYC is a wholly owned LLC. In autumn 2014, we confirmed our 501c3 status and are now building out a local and independent board of directors to respond to the local community and opportunities. Learning to be a U.S.-based charity is a whole new experience.
As we move into 2015-16, we are looking to strengthen our base, invest in our properties, hone our business model, and focus our energy and resources on accelerating the impact of our members. This year, we will create a wholly owned for-profit capable of driving our technical R&D. We will also explore how we can better scale our model to support even more members… In short, there’s never a dull day at CSI!