Our Story

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze,inspire and support social innovation. In 2004, we opened the doors to our first experiment: a 5,000 sq ft shared workspace in the Robertson Building in downtown Toronto. This workspace provided offices, desks, meeting rooms and amenities to a community of 14 organizations that were “doing good” in the world. It was a smashing success.

Within three years, we had a waiting list of more than 40 organizations that wanted to be part of the Centre. So, in 2007, we opened an additional 13,000 square feet of space in the Robertson Building, welcoming 75 new world-changing organizations and projects to our community. Fast forward to 2009 and we were operating 23,000 sq ft, and had a dynamic membership of over 175 people and projects committed to social change. Our waiting list continued to grow.

So we decided to buy a building.

As a successful nonprofit organization, we had built a strong reputation and cultivated deep networks over six years of operation. But we had no assets to leverage and practically no money: only $50,000 in accumulated surplus. The building we wanted would cost us $6.8 million to purchase and renovate. The gulf was enormous.

The first thing we did was secure a loan guarantee from the City of Toronto that enabled us to get a mortgage for 75% of the projected value of the building after renovations, rather than 65% of the purchase price, which was what the banks originally offered. However, we still needed $2 million to realize the project and had no clear strategy for how we would raise that amount in such a short time.

So, we leveraged the only asset we had – our community. The result of our work is the Community Bond, an innovation in social finance. This financial tool allowed us to offer an RRSP-eligible investment opportunity to our network of supporters. In a four-month flurry of activity we raised $1.4 million (and eventually the full $2 million), inked the deal on our newest property, and prepared to welcome over 300 new organizations to our second shared space project.

The book contains the story of how our small, community-based social enterprise bought a building. It is also a guide to help your organization leverage its most important asset— its social capital—to pursue its mission, build its resiliency and create more vibrant communities.

Good ideas become great ideas when they are shared. The nonprofit community is just starting to understand the potential of Community Bonds and the power they can unleash. We hope you will use this guide to replicate, tweak, and implement community bonds in a thousand different ways. Good luck. And don’t forget to let us know how your own story unfolds by reaching out to communitybonds@socialinnovation.ca.