The story of the Centre for Social Innovation begins way back in 2003, when a group of visionary social entrepreneurs decided that something wasn't working in the social mission sector. Too many organizations were working out of isolated and substandard facilities. They asked themselves some core questions: How can we improve access to office facilities? How can we lower the cost of administration and let organizations focus on their mission? How can we tear down the silos that keep organizations apart? And, how can we best catalyze social change?
Part of the answer came in the form of the Robertson Building at 215 Spadina Avenue in Toronto, which had been recently purchased by Urbanspace Property Group. With generous support from the landlord, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Harbinger Foundation, the Centre for Social Innovation Spadina opened its doors to 14 founding tenants in 5,000 sq ft of space in June 2004.
The model worked. The members were happy, the broader community was drawn to the space and the small staff team now had the room to begin supporting new projects. When the opportunity to assume more space in the building came up in late 2006, the Centre took over an additional 14,000 sq ft. By March 2007, the Centre for Social Innovation was home to over 180 social mission groups in sectors including arts, environment, social justice and education. For them — and for us — sharing space together meant more than simply being officemates. It meant sharing ideas, strategies and experience. It meant collaborating, learning, growing and becoming resilient in ways never imagined in isolation.
CSI 2.0, 3.0...
In 2010, the Centre for Social Innovation took a giant leap forward by purchasing a beautiful brick and beam building that became the Centre for Social Innovation Annex. Fueled by our own innovation in social finance — The Community Bond — we raised $2 million in community investment to help bring the vision to life. With the support of our incredible network, we purchased, renovated and filled a 36,000 sq ft building with more than 300 world-changing social entrepreneurs.
In September 2012, we opened a 10,000 sq ft space in Toronto's Regent Park, Canada's largest social housing complex, currently undergoing Canada's largest revitalization initiative. We wanted to know what it would mean to take our model into a community in transition—a community comprised primarily of newcomers from around the world (we're talking 85 languages here!). Now that we've opened the Centre for Social Innovation Regent Park we are just beginning to discover the many ways in which CSI and Regent Park's residents can collaborate and co-create.
And now, New York City! Quietly minding our own business in Toronto, we were approached by a passionate (and persistent) entrepreneur with a few ideas of his own. He was determined to make a connection between the Centre for Social Innovation and RXR Realty, one of the leading and most forward-thinking realty companies in New York City and the broader tri-state area. It quickly became clear that this was a match made in heaven. The Centre for Social Innovation would be the perfect complement to the growing tenant community of creators and innovators at the recently purchased Starrett-Lehigh building.
It's now been over a year since we opened. The space is beautiful, functional and buzzing with activity. Members are hard at work, making an impact, collaborating, and launching incredible new initiatives. Thanks for the warm welcome New York City! We're gonna do great things together.