015, Tonya Surman, Centre for Social Innovation | The Master Gardner
Social Entrepreneur
015, Tonya Surman, Centre for Social Innovation | The Master Gardner
Episode Info

Tonya Surman is a master gardener of social innovation. Tonya’s journey began when she was four years-old. Her mother left and her father became the sole parent. Tonya, her father and sister struggled with poverty. She says “My father raised us on love and not food.” She points to this experience as the source of her resilience, strength and a need to create an impact.

At the age of 19, Tonya left University and traveled the world. While she was living in a small hut on the Andaman Sea in Thailand, news arrived that a nearby village had been devastated by a mud slide. The primary contributing factor was deforestation. This helped her to draw a direct correlation between the environment and social / economic issues.

She has been responsible for the founding of over a dozen social enterprises. One of the social enterprises she created was the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE), where she brought together 11 different organizations. There, she saw the power of collaboration to create meaningful change.

Today, she is the CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), where they operate five spaces for early stage social-mission organizations. They have 165,000 square feet under management and they support and provide space to over 1,000 social-mission organizations. They have served of 2,700 organizations and more than 5,000 people.

In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:

  • The community animation process used by CSI in order to reduce friction and foster collaboration.
  • Tonya’s attitude of “I’m here to make social change and have fun doing it.”
  • The experiences that led to the foundation of CSI.
  • CSI’s journey to becoming more intentional and focused on specific, measurable impacts.


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