In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Building Social Entrepreneurship through the Power of Coworking
  • Tonya Surman (bio)

Interest in social innovation is growing, and that’s great news. Meanwhile, our societies are facing extraordinary challenges: increasing inequality, unstable economies, climate change, and a raft of other issues. But, just as social and environmental concerns are reaching a frightening crescendo, technological advances, activism 2.0, and market transformations are changing the world, mostly for the better.

The challenges may be daunting, but they offer precisely the right conditions for social innovation to emerge and for social entrepreneurs to thrive. No matter what drives innovation—necessity, altruism, or financial reward—the case for social innovation should be clear enough. The more interesting question is how best to catalyze and support social innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) accelerates the impact of social enterprises through its powerful theory of change. Our model is entirely focused on catalyzing social innovation, but the lessons we have learned in our work are relevant to entrepreneurship more broadly.

CSI is a coworking space, community, and launchpad for people who intend to change the world, with three locations in Toronto and one in New York City. CSI operates nearly 100,000 square feet of space and supports more than 1,500 members by providing the spaces and tools they need to succeed more quickly and to have a far greater impact.

Coworking refers to working in shared office spaces using economies of scale to give tenants access to amenities and facilities they otherwise would not be able to afford. Coworking spaces connect diverse organizations and individuals, giving them the chance to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop systemic solutions to the issues they are trying to address.

Unlike many other accelerators, CSI is focused on keeping our arms wide open to a broad and diverse range of people working for change. We do not assume that bigger is better. We don’t limit our investments to the projects that seem most likely to succeed. Instead we see ourselves as a platform, as building a community where our members can connect to the people, tools, learning, and resources they need to succeed. [End Page 189]

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Figure 1.

CSI theory of change

For us, social innovation means creating new strategies, concepts, ideas, and organizations that address social, environmental, cultural, and economic challenges in order to extend and strengthen civil society. Social innovations come from individuals, groups, or organizations working for the public good in the for-profit, nonprofit, citizen, and public sectors. Increasingly, innovations are happening in the spaces between these sectors as their perspectives collide to spark new ways of thinking.

Intentional innovation is the conscious effort to develop a more systematic approach to innovation. Rather than wait for social innovations to appear, practitioners and organizations around the world are working to understand and establish methods, frameworks, and processes that can stimulate social innovation and improve the chances that it will succeed. This is an important development.

Still, something in the very nature of innovation resists the linearity imposed by many traditional frameworks. It is important to pursue more structured approaches, but innovators should also find ways to embrace the unique and magical quality of emergent innovation.

Many researchers acknowledge that social innovation needs the appropriate conditions, but they rarely tell us what those conditions should be. At CSI, our on-the-ground experience with a diverse range of organizations and companies provides unique insights into how to create the conditions that will enable social innovation to emerge. [End Page 190]

The CSI Theory of Change

As figure 1 shows, CSI’s theory of change is best understood as a pyramid based on three distinct but integrated levels.

  • • Space is the foundation, and the platform for everything that happens.

  • • Community develops as people occupy the space and form relationships.

  • • Innovation emerges from the connections that people form in the space and in the community.

Together, space and community increase the likelihood that social innovation will emerge.


Not all spaces are created equal, and some spaces are more clearly conducive to creativity and innovation than others. A space created to foster social innovation must be designed...


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pp. 189-195
Launched on MUSE
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