This is Tonya Surman the ED of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in Toronto. I posted a review of CSI last week here. CSI is located in 215 Spadina - one of the many Social Space Projects organized by the amazing Zeidler family - more on the Zeidlers later.
Here is a view from the roof looking out over the downtown
As with my other interviews with leaders of the Commons movement (Hub in London, Workspace in Vancouver) I wanted to find out from Tonya why she committed to start the CSI, what she was learning from it and what her dreams were.
So Tonya how did this all begin - how did you get here?
I grew up in a very non corporate family - hippies really. I was always comfy with being different. After a try out as an actress, I got into the dotcom world as it was booming but in the non profit side. It was funny, we had no money and our for profit competitors had loads of it - they failed and we survived - I think there was a lesson in that we are growing naturally and for a real reason.
The bigger lesson I learned though was that the Internet changes your consciousness once you "Get It". As I began to understand the nature of the Internet, I began to understand more deeply the nature of connection, community and of Open Space. A new model for organizing in the real world started to emerge out of the web for me. At the same time I saw how disconnected much of the work for social change was - I saw so many non profits all struggling and all trying to do much the same thing. On their own and disconnected from others - they had little power. What if we could help connect them?
At first we tried aggregation. We developed some great tools but this did not seem to help much. There was something missing.
What was missing was the art of Convening or Hosting. Simply building a social space does not mean that they will come! They don't come. (Berkana has training for this)
The work that took us down the better road of Convening Community was the work that we did to set up the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment. (CPCHE) Here we learned a lot about the type of Leadership required to lead community as opposed to leading a conventional organization. Here we learned a lot about the reality of Collaboration versus just tossing off the word in hope. We learned a lot about Convening and about Emergence and we learned a lot about the type of Governance required for Community.
Here is 215 Spadina
What new insights has this experience given you?
I see a growing problem - Communities of Interest based on ideas or common values are growing and Communities of Place where we all actually live are shrinking.
But we are human and have to interact in person. I think that places like ours and other Commons' can offer a reconnection back to communities of place where we not only feel at home again but can work together to make our places better for all. We can link healthy communities of interest to healthy communities of place. If we do this we can solve our problems and stop being as helpless as we seem to be today. (See the follow on for how Rob sees this problem)
What more do you see in the future?
I hope to see places like ours spreading out like hubs and thus giving power and substance back to places. I see many aspects of life that are now disconnected being connected again - in life as well as online. I see places where you work can go to the dentist, work, have a daycare and live even.
Rob laughs and tells her about how many in public radio feel the same way. Here is Ellen Rocco of NCPR showing the crowd her view of hubs.
Here is a link to my thoughts after meeting with Ellen where we talked about the role of public radio in recreating the Commons - see follow on for more.
There is an interesting book called Getting to Maybe (not the one on Law School) that talks about how to overcome this feeling of being helpless. My hope is that we can help give people back their belief that they can make a difference and give them back the community that will help them act well.
Thank you Tonya
(Rob - Here is the blurb) Many of us have a deep desire to make the world around us a better place. But often our good intentions are undermined by the fear that we are so insignificant in the big scheme of things that nothing we can do will actually help feed the world’s hungry, fix the damage of a Hurricane Katrina or even get a healthy lunch program up and running in the local school.
We tend to think that great social change is the province of heroes – an intimidating view of reality that keeps ordinary people on the couch. But extraordinary leaders such as Gandhi and even unlikely social activists such as Bob Geldof most often see themselves as harnessing the forces around them, rather than singlehandedly setting those forces in motion. The trick in any great social project – from the global fight against AIDS to working to eradicate poverty in a single Canadian city – is to stop looking at the discrete elements and start trying to understand the complex relationships between them.
By studying fascinating real-life examples of social change through this systems-and-relationships lens, the authors of Getting to Maybe tease out the rules of engagement between volunteers, leaders, organizations and circumstance – between individuals and what Shakespeare called “the tide in the affairs of men.”
The context for the future of Public Radio is not merely technology but society. Many I have talked to have told me that they see that America has been drifting from its roots of civic community, independence and tolerance. They note that the market and the trivial, that dogma and posturing rather than the "can-do" and the "self-sufficient" are at the forefront of much of American life today.
Kennedy's call for service is all but forgotten as many either grab what they can or give up.
In this context of social breakdown and inertia, it is becoming clear to me, and to many that I have talked to, that Public Radio is the last bastion of the "Voice" of civic discourse. As America's mainstream has lurched to the trivial and to dogma, Public Radio's audience has doubled to 30 million in the last 10 years. There is underneath this breakdown, a yearning for the real and the true. Public Radio has become the redoubt where Jeffersonian values and the idea of public service remain alive.
Conflict, self serving and self interest have become the noms in the rest of public life. Many of the formal institutions such as government, healthcare, education have become immobilized and even work against those that they purport to serve. There is no mechanism where reform can occur within the institutions themselves. The powers of interest drive an impassable barrier of interia. Imagine trying to get the US defence establishment off its spending? Imagine reforming the schools? Imagine making prevention the focus of healthcare? Imagine cleaning up Washington? So where do good men and women go to make a difference themselves? Where is that safe place where people can go to work these issues through?
Many in Public Radio are looking beyond the new media technology as simply a cool new way of delivering content but as an opportunity to convene community so that people can take charge of their lives again. I am seeing a "Fellowship" of men and women beginning to form who sense that they are being called by destiny to leave the Shire of Public Radio and to take on the latent power of their public trust and offer America a chance of returning to the values of its civic minded founders.
I now believe that Public Media can become that Space, the new Commons, where the divisions of public life can be healed. I believe that It can become the place that serves the public. I can see how it is already acting as a counter balance to the corporatization and trivialization of life. I believe that it can become the place where the interests of the whole can be met and where the multitude of voices of the many can be heard.
As such, Public Media, can become a place for community interaction and hence community development. Local stations can provide more than a signal and will become the safe conveners of their communities. These communities can be of place or interest. With the web, in the end there need be no limits to the voices that can be heard. This is a place where all the voices of the citizen can converge.