Making Space for Social Change


When you set out to foster change, great things will happen. Just ask the people behind the Centre for Social Innovation.


By Stephanie Cloutier

For eight years, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) has been cultivating a reputation for developing social innovators and fostering change-makers. One measure of their success is the fact that they have been able to open three spaces in Toronto and will soon open another in New York City. The newest Toronto space is the entire third floor of the new cultural hub in Regent Park, Daniels Spectrum.

Natasha and CSI Regent Park Tenants

CSI Regent Park Manager, Natasha Stephens, and tenants tour the new space.

When the Regent Park neighbourhood crops up in the headlines, it’s often portrayed as a stereotypical inner city neighbourhood, with all the social ills that can entail. What is less often mentioned is the hard work by area residents who are trying to bring about positive change. Their work and commitment has built a strong sense of community, which thrives even as the massive revitalization project chugs along. It was precisely this sense of unity and desire to make improvements for the community that attracted CSI to the location.

“Once we spent a little bit of time in Regent Park, we were inspired and engaged by the vibrancy of the local community,” says Tonya Surman, chief executive officer of CSI. “It became incredibly clear that this was a deeply exciting opportunity that we wanted to be a part of.”

CSI Regent Park's Space for Collaboration

Part of what facilitates collaboration is setting up large, communal shared spaces.

Since their inception in 2004, CSI has provided shared office facilities to organizations with a social mission. Their 800 members enjoy benefits like affordable office , meeting and event space, access to shared services and technical support.

But perhaps an even more important part of the CSI model is an emphasis on community, which includes shared common rooms like a large kitchen and open work areas. CSI is host to hundreds of events each year, such as skills-building workshops, lectures, conferences, discussions and networking socials. All members have a profile on CSI’s intranet, which allows them to connect and to promote their own events, news and job openings in the organization’s newsletter and website.

With its first two shared workspaces—CSI Spadina and CSI Annex–CSI had created a very successful model, but they knew that Regent Park was special. Before any concrete was poured to build the 10,000-square-foot space, CSI had to ask a strategic question. How could their particular brand of collaboration help enhance local community initiatives? 

“We talked to the organizations and individuals in Regent Park and asked them, ‘What can we learn from each of other? What can you teach us?’,” explains Natasha Stephens, manager of CSI Regent Park and a resident of the neighbourhood. “We didn’t come with any idea that we understood what the problem was or even had the solution. We came with what we think could add value to what they’re doing and that’s something that’s very different.“

CSI Regent Park Tenants Enjoy a Lunch Together

Events like shared salad lunches help to foster a community and shared solutions to common problems.

One of these ideas is to hold communal food events that inspire mingling and casual networking, which is an existing part of the CSI model. Another initiative unique to CSI Regent Park is their “Really, Really Free Market”, which is a barter and exchange service between CSI members and other tenants in the building. By organizing events like these, the CSI team hopes to encourage members to learn from each other and help one another solve problems

“CSI Regent Park will be focused on creating community and neighbourhood-based solutions,” says Tonya. “For us, this means working with community groups and social entrepreneurs to develop new solutions for an even better Regent Park”.

With the neighbourhood revitalization poised to enter the third phase, there is an undeniable sense of something wonderful happening here. Organizations that were formerly based in Regent Park have returned to the neighbourhood. Some of them are now members of CSI Regent Park. Whereas some groups might previously have been working out of home offices or isolated office spaces, the team hopes their new space will facilitate collaboration between these organizations

“We have one of our members here who started their roots here almost 30 years ago,” says Natasha. “Now, the organization has transformed and developed, and they’ve come back here now. It’s like a homecoming for them. They’ve grown wiser and resourceful, and maybe they’ll be able to do things they couldn’t have done back then.”

The Centre for Social Innovation is a coworking space, community centre and incubator for people who are changing the world. We provide you with the spaces, relationships and knowledge you need to turn ideas into impact. Find out more at 

Want to discover what CSI Regent Park can offer you? Come to our an info session:

  • Tuesday, November 20, 2012 – 11:30am
  • Tuesday, December 4, 2012 – 11:30am
  • Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – 11:30am

Or, drop by for an event. See our complete event listings here: