Tonya Surman on patterns, platforms and time for play

Tonya Surman on patterns, platforms and time for play

We’ve all seen the headlines. The world is rapidly changing. Technology is iterating at great speed, pushing our minds and our bodies in ways we don’t fully comprehend.  The economy, which by definition is equal to the wealth and resources of a country or region, is under serious stress—and will be for some time. Our natural climate is throwing us huge curveballs, thanks in no small part to the hits we keep sending her way.

And yet we know all is not lost.

At MaRS, it is believed that entrepreneurship is the key to leading the way through all of this change. Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka who is credited with coining the term “social entrepreneur,” would agree and he would add that the skill of pattern recognition is equally imperative. Understanding how—and identifying where—particular stresses exist focuses the entrepreneurial mind.

Tonya Surman has been paying attention to patterns for a long time. Most recently, she has been considering what motivates the work of entrepreneurs—or, more specifically, what motivates her work as a social entrepreneur.

Tonya is no stranger to success. She was the founding director of the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, whose work catalyzed a new legislative framework to manage chemicals and the banning of bisphenol A in baby bottles. She co-founded and chaired the Ontario Nonprofit Network, an organization that serves 55,000 non-profit organizations. She was also a founding trustee of Toronto’s Awesome Foundation, an organization that distributes monthly $1,000 grants to fund local projects.

However, it’s Tonya’s work as founding CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) that has garnered her the most public attention. Not content to seed and grow just one thriving co-working space in downtown Toronto, Tonya and her team successfully pioneered the use of a Community Bond—an innovative model for a grassroots, sustainable capital campaign—and used this new financial product to purchase a second co-working space in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. The organization has now offered a second bond to purchase a building on Spadina Avenue, opposite its inaugural home base.

In addition to all of this moving and shaking, CSI also has a space in the Daniels Spectrum building at Regent Park and a whole other co-working space in New York City!

With all of this success, Tonya might be content to sit back and smell the roses she’s been growing in her rooftop garden, but instead she continues to push herself. As an Ashoka fellow, she would likely agree with Bill Drayton that entrepreneurship is a lifelong process. The work is never done. Just like the world of social innovation, once one peak is reached, another mountain reveals itself and one must keep climbing!

Join us March 31 to hear Tonya Surman at MaRS Global Leadership

Come hear Tonya speak at the MaRS Global Leadership series on March 31, where she will share what she has learned on her journey and the secret to her impressive energy. Register for Tonya’s talk here.

A conversation and Q-and-A session with the Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter will follow Tonya’s presentation. Catherine writes about topics as varied as climate change, women’s rights, poverty, mental illness, international development and community activism. She has won two National Newspaper Awards for her work. Their discussion and your questions will be a great way to end an inspiring presentation.

Whet your appetite with this recent video interview where Tonya discusses her current motivations.

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