THE BLOG

The New Change Agents: From Apps to Opps

02/18/2015 05:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

The Centre of Social Innovation was spawned in Toronto by Eli Malinsky one decade ago to offer space and assistance for those who wanted to help create a new society by launching their enterprise. David Gise, working as a personal trainer for wealthy entrepreneurs in Manhattan, recognized its brilliance and convinced Malinsky to let him franchise the model in NYC, initially offering a haven for those hard-hit by recessions and hurricanes. Gise's CSI is a beacon to recover from the dark economy that swamped us from 2008. In his silver lining, he guides displaced and new social entrepreneurs through an incubator process. He provides desks, mailboxes, internet, communal lunches, and physical space- dazzling handcrafted tables and chairs from salvaged and re-purposed wood, and flexible work niches and conference rooms. And most importantly, he offers social space for people to share and develop dreams that have a social mission. Members work on their own, but they also have the advantage of water-cooler talk as well as seminars given by people like Mark Monchek, one of the early applicants himself to develop his Opportunity Labs.

Mostly in their twenties and thirties, upstarts such as artists, freelancers, and entrepreneurs have their hopes on start-ups with a social mission. Their projects include tutoring children and parents and ex-cons, food trucks, and 3-D animation. Currently, membership includes 200 groups, such as the Tribeca Film organization and 500 individuals paying on a sliding fee basis. CSI's motto, Be Social Change, is a beacon to those hoping to connect their ideas and social media technology to an in-person, face-to-face community.

Social change to encourage new meaning in work is a re-appearing concept that sounds new but has had its seeds in the late 1960's and early 70's. That yeasty period imagined a shared future of meaningful work and communities. Business incubators were slowly emerging but would take decades to come alive in the US, Canada, UK, and Europe. Social engineering for critical causes was swelling into an anthem to awaken the spirit of belonging and the power of doing. In 1971, I managed the yearlong project, Alternative Pursuits for America's Third Century, created by D Sam Scheele (disclosure: I fell in love with and married him) and funded by the government.

It was our mission to encourage people to create an idea into being something far greater than themselves or their jobs. In fact, three thousand people responded to our ad and formed the requisite small groups. During the process, they mailed us five rounds of taped recordings of their meetings and we responded with technical assistance to help launch their projects. It was a transformative time during which I realized my own calling -- helping others to find theirs. I began a lifelong investigation of how we design and manage meaningful change in our lives.

Passing decades have rebooted an old definition of success -- money, power, and status. But messy and ugly present time, with its recessions and flattened corporations have robbed too many of us our careers, let alone jobs. The technical revolution has made redundant much of our work. New graduates don't find promised jobs as they once did; people laid off can't find their way back in. Social media, with all its promises, turns out to be often too isolating yet, no matter the economy, that age-old longing to do good and do well tugs even more. We still yearn to find work to forge something --that antidote for unemployment --that satisfies our heart. We need to reinvent our lives and come together in business communities as we pursue new notions of work. We just can't do it alone. We don't have the know-how. We need groups like CSI and others we have yet to invent.

It's time.

To begin, you must begin.