Downtown Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation is more than a shared workspace – it’s a launchpad for collaboration and action. We spoke with Stefan Hostetter, Community Director, to learn more about the Centre’s work on building community engagement on climate.
Describe your core offering(s). How is your organization contributing to a cleaner, greener future?
We offer workspace, community building, and support new businesses and organizations. CSI began by helping non-profits find affordable space to work and meet in Toronto’s downtown core and have since grown to include more than 1,700 members, including non-profits, for profits, and unincorporated organizations. For those smaller organizations, we offered the benefits of scale and flexibility. Very quickly we learned that when people share resources like a printer and wifi, they talk. It wasn’t long before they were also sharing ideas and, in many cases, leveraging their co-working neighbours’ skills to make them happen.
The CSI community is a source of knowledge, enthusiasm, connection, and amplification. Over time we began to build specific launchpads to support this activity, including accelerators for cleantech businesses, a micro-loan fund, and a skills-sharing program.
On the green front, many cleantech businesses and climate NGOs call CSI’s offices home. Perhaps less obviously, CSI’s model contributes to an economy that values shared resources and therefore creates less waste. For example, our entire membership shares a total of four printers. If each of those people had to operate independently, they would each have a printer! We’re also able to use our space efficiently; our meeting rooms are never empty.
Other than coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? How does this work connect with your core beliefs and values?
I arrived at CSI through an organization involved in the climate movement and my work here over the past nine years – first as a community animator and now as Director of Community – has allowed me to stay involved in climate projects, including Agents of Change and Climate Ventures (now part of Foresight).
Tell us about a recent win (or wins) or your organization.
For the last year and a half, we’ve been working with the City of Toronto on a program called The Lighthouse Community Climate Centre, which aims to engage communities in the challenge of climate change, build neighbourhood hubs to help achieve their goals, and demonstrate the power of collective impact. We want to empower communities to take climate action.
In collaboration with the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship’s Climate ShareSpace program we’re currently hosting and supporting 10 youth climate organizations in CSI’s space. With new funding from Echo Foundation, we’ll soon be able to expand that number to 30.
In the next five years, the plan is to come back to the City with a strong base of climate-engaged people who can be part of a bigger movement. The Lighthouse will launch more formally in the spring. In the meantime, we’re looking for more support and base funding. We’re always interested in connecting with more people, so if this sounds interesting to you, please reach out!
What’s next for your organization?
We currently own two co-working spaces in downtown Toronto. As we begin the process of selling one of our buildings, we’re excited to concentrate on how we can be more intentional about our initiatives, so we can seed more projects and networks and make a greater impact.
Finally, what’s on your team’s wish list for Ontario’s cleantech sector?
At CSI, we want to continue to encourage investments in renewable energy and carbon-free clean technologies. We have many organizations in our community who work on ensuring that power in Ontario eventually becomes free of fossil fuels.
On a personal note, I’d love to see a repository of businesses and ideas that have failed. I’ve been involved in several accelerator programs from the support side, and it is always so helpful when early-stage companies understand what other people have tried, and where things went wrong.
I also wish there was more support for early-stage entrepreneurs to understand which sectors really need decarbonization and where the emissions really are, and to walk people through what’s worked and what hasn’t. At this stage in our climate crisis, we do not have time to constantly reinvent the wheel.
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