15 people changing the world in 2015 at the Centre for Social Innovation

2015 was a big, challenging year for The Centre for Social Innovation and its members. It was also a tough year around the world with many social and environmental crises escalating. They are daunting reminders of how much is at stake, and that progress is a hard-fought battle to achieve. To this end, 2,500 CSI members tackled issues locally and globally, from finance to farming and everything in between. Their achievements are far too numerous to include, but here are a few heroes.

The Disruptor
THINX blew up this year and for all the right reasons. First, they disrupted the women’s hygiene and underwear markets with their period-proof underwear. Second, they tackled the taboo of menstruation going head to head with the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority who refused to run their ads in the subway (and you better believe THINX won). Last but not least, they made a difference in the lives of women and girls in Uganda by funding AFRIpads, an organization with 130 employees and four factories training women to make and sell reusable cloth pads. Oh yeah, and they also won the Most Contagious 2015 Startup Award!

The Innovator
Zoo and poo. Words that rhyme and that, together, either make you giggle or gross you out. But if you’re ZooShare those words spell opportunity: to fight climate change, produce energy and make money for citizen impact investors. ZooShare raised $2.2M from 300 local investors to build North America’s first zoo biogas plant that will turn 3,000 tonnes of animal manure from the Toronto Zoo and 14,000 tons of inedible food waste from grocery stores into 4.1 million kilowatt-hours of renewable power and high quality fertilizer. That’s some serious poo power.

 

The Champion
In 2002 Luke Anderson, a gifted athlete, suffered a spinal injury that changed his life forever. Having lost the ability to walk, he was confronted with a world full of barriers. Luke has become a champion for accessibility in Toronto and beyond, and his organization The StopGap Foundationhas deployed over 800 colourful, volunteer-made ramps serving single-stepped entryways coast to coast. These ramps have helped stimulate a much needed conversation around building a more accessible world. Luke got oodles of well-deserved love from the media this year (includingThe Agenda, Metro News, CBC and The National Post), and he won Samara Canada’s Everyday Political Citizen award!

 

 

The Challenger
Eric Beynon is one of the principle architects of the global $20M Carbon XPRIZE, a competition to develop technologies that will convert CO2 into valuable products such as building materials or alternative fuels. It continues the legacy and important role of big prizes in driving innovation, from the Orteig Prize spurring the first transAtlantic flight, to the Ansari XPRIZE that led to the first reusable manned spacecraft going into space twice within two weeks. Have an idea? Now’s your chance!
The Provocateur 
Rob Shirkey’s idea to put climate change warning labels on gas pumps – similar to health warning labels on packs of cigarettes – is a low-cost intervention to remind people of the hidden costs of fossil fuels. As behaviours and perceptions change, the more policies and markets will be able to drive the creation of a carbon-free economy. After an enormous amount of work and effort by Rob and his volunteers, this crazy little idea got real this year when the City of North Vancouver became the first jurisdiction in the world to pass a law requiring climate change labels on pumps! The labels are also being pursued by several cities across Canada and the United States, and were the subject of lots of media coverage (like Vice, Huffington Post andThe Globe and Mail).
The Fundraiser
Many members leveraged crowdfunding this year with great success, but one member really killed it. Nora, “the smart snoring solution,” had a Kickstarter goal of $100K and raised… wait for it… $832,523! In U.S. dollars! Nora is tackling a common public health issue: snoring. This non-invasive solution is designed to stop snoring before it wakes up your partner… Just think of the increased productivity, health benefits, and relationships it could save!
The Makers 
It was a good year for Makers at CSI. TheToronto Tool Library, which loans specialized tools to community members with all skill levels, expanded from two locations to three, and STEAMLabs opened an amazing space at our 192 Spadina Ave. building (OK, we’re biased, but seriously, check it out!). STEAMLabs is a shared makerspace where people can access tools, workshops and community to build awesome things from tables to robots to prototypes (remember that $20M Carbon XPRIZE?).
The Market Transformer
After 16 years of changing the game for forestsglobally, Canopy continued its work securing large-scale forest conservation and transforming unsustainable forest product supply chains by working with over 750 of the forest industry’s largest customers, from book publishers and printers to leading clothing brands and fashion designers. Among many accomplishments In 2015, Canopy helped secure an additional 1.3 million acres of protection for Canada’s amazing Broadback Forest; obtained the public commitment of 55 global fashion brands, retailers and designers (including H&M, Zara and Lululemon) to not source their fabrics from endangered forests; and also won Gold for “Most Environmentally Progressive Printing Service” from the Canadian Printing Awards!
The Educator
With racist vitriol gushing from high places this year, Shakil Choudhury’s work became all the more important. The diversity and leadership consultant, award-winning educator and author who specializes in anti-discrimination and equity issues published his book Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, which seeks to reframe the debate regarding racism and systemic discrimination in a practical, scientific and compassionate manner. He spoke withSteve Paikin on The Agenda about how to understand and override our inherent biases.
The Technologist
Camp Tech teaches adults web and digital skills, you know, the literacy skills for the 21st century! Their approach is to make learning accessible and instantly practical, and this year’s growth shows they’re on to something. They ran 224 workshops at CSI Spadina (up from 70 in 2014) and grew their community and staff team. Never one to rest on its laurels, Camp Tech expanded to Vancouver and launched an exciting new program, Camp Tech Certificates!
The Rainbow Rebels
Since 2006, Rainbow Railroad has helped LGBT individuals escape state-sponsored violence and get to safer countries where they can claim asylum. In 2015, they provided $125,000 in financial assistance to help 30 individuals travel to safety, and provided information and connections to an additional 46 individuals. These real life heros privately sponsored two LGBT Syrian refugees and referred an additional four to other sponsor groups. They also established two new teams for cases from the Middle East and South-Central Asia. Justin Taylor, the executive director, was interviewed onMetro Morning and on Canada AM.
The Uniters 
This year the migrant crisis escalated to terrifying heights as did the conflict in Syria. It shook our conscience, tested the resolve of the international community, and made many question the actions of the West in the region. With this introspection also came a flurry of xenophobic pronouncements emboldened by several horrific attacks around the world. To say the situation is complex would be an understatement. Bucking the negativity, The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) based out of CSI Regent Park ramped up its citizen engagement efforts with a five-month voter education and motivation campaign, which emphasized youth engagement and multiculturalism. CAI also co-founded Lifeline Syria, which recruits, trains and assists sponsor groups welcoming Syrian refugees in Toronto. For our part, CSI hosted a peer circle to connect and support the many members of the community working on resettling Syrian refugees. In times of increasing divisive rhetoric, working together is an imperative act of defiance.
The Community
We could write a whole book about member accomplishments because there are just so darn many. The CSI community is home to 1,000 nonprofits, charities and social ventures in Toronto alone, and employs over 2,500 people and generates combined annual revenues of $250 million. Our members are turning social, environmental, economic and cultural challenges into opportunities to make the world a better place. Together, we’re building a movement for people and the planet.

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