Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2009

Since our founding in 2004, my focus has been on growing CSI’s reach and impact. As a nonprofit social enterprise that provides, among many other services, workspace to the social mission sector, our ability to do so was put under pressure by skyrocketing rents. It started to become obvious to us that in order to fulfill our mission, we would need to be owners of the buildings our community inhabits. In 2010, we bought a beautiful, 36,000 sq. ft. brick and beam building thanks to our innovation in social finance, the Community Bond, raising $2 million from citizen investors. We repeated this feat in 2014 when we purchased our second building, the 64,000 sq. ft. Murray Building in downtown Toronto, with the help of $4.3M coming from 227 community investors.

During this time, we have also expanded through strategic partnerships. In September 2012, we opened a 10,000 sq. ft.- space in Regent Park, Canada's largest public housing community, currently undergoing Canada’s largest community revitalization. When the opportunity presented itself to expand to New York City, we jumped in with two feet. CSI Starrett-Lehigh is a 24,000 square-foot jewel of modern design packed with social innovators working across sectors in farming and finance and everything in between.

Recently, we’ve looked to expand to cities around the world using a social franchise model. CSIx is a scaling strategy that enables local ownership and local customization of CSI-like spaces. CSIx partners will access our technology, community and expertise to create shared spaces that catalyze social innovation.

What’s next? We’re focusing on bringing even greater intentionality to our facilitation and acceleration work. We are building out verticals around themes such as climate change and community health, to deepen our practice and amplify the impact of innovations with world-changing potential.

    This description of Tonya Surman's work was prepared when Tonya Surman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
    Tonya is empowering the citizen sector by uniting previously dispersed citizen-led initiatives from across the sector. She is building a network of local and global shared spaces for social innovators designed to foster cooperation among diverse players with the aim of creating new initiatives responding to pressing social issues. Tonya has systematized her methodology and will release the details of her model, experience and license into Creative Commons by the Fall of 2009.
    The New Idea
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