Landlord of the Year

What makes the Centre for Social Innovation so cool is two fold; the creating and the sharing.

CSI has a mission to make the world a better place so it actively incubates projects, initiatives and even new organizations in order to achieve its mission. It’s like there is a giant cosmic suggestion box that CSI responds to, using laws of attraction to pull in people and resources and solutions to build such legacies as the Ontario Nonprofit Network and Techsoup Canada. Better yet, some of these innovations happen on their own as tenant initiatives like Salad Club and Games Lunch.

The other half of the so:cool equation is that the shared tenancy is curated, like a fine exhibit, so that each member is contributing to the whole and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A space may have a mandate to only rent to forward-thinking tenants, and so you may end up with a building that holds all the cool people in town, but if they exist in their own little silos, if they only ever see each other on the way in or out of their own studios or offices, then while you may have action, you don’t have INTER-action. Interaction is where the magic happens; over the coffee pot, around the copier, at salad club. If you are building even the most cutting edge silos in town, it is still building silos.

Some spaces do work around shared resources, so that tenants are interacting with each other as well as saving money and outsourcing the management of these shared assets to someone with the appropriate expertise, but I notice that they are generally homogeneous industry-focused; all high-tech firms or only theatre companies. What you have then is a place where everyone is in the same boat and all the resources are taxed at the same peak period. They are all writing grant applications at the same time and effectively competing for the same pool of funds. When all of the tenants are the same, nobody offers what the other guy needs.

At CSI there are mission-driven orgs, like David Suzuki Foundation and Outward Bound, then there are people who support those missions through graphic design, online outreach, legal and accounting services etc. There is a mix of not-for-profit and independent entrepreneurs, which is good, because depending on the economy one or the other extreme is always in trouble – these days both!

In effect, the resource sharing that goes on between the tenants at CSI mirrors what exists naturally in the world; a whole lot of people sharing the same air, the same water, the same land and even the same piece of time. Maybe now is the time for these natural, organic models to filter beyond the mission-driven sector to all sectors; government, industry, private enterprise and even my back yard. There’s no magic formula for CSI, there’s just a beleif that change is possible, one innovation at a time.

On June 5th 2009, 200 people came out to celebrate CSI’s 5th Innovaresary. You know you’re not just a landlord when…