In this edition of our career-advice column, we learn about how to coordinate and manage a network of Toronto’s most forward-thinking innovators.
Name: Shona Fulcher
Job: Manager at the Centre for Social Innovation, Spadina location
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
I’m both the operations manager for the facility and a community facilitator. One of the great things about this job is that there is no such thing as an average day. The space is one of our core principles, and one of the ways in which CSI as a whole promotes the values of co-working. So I come in each day and make sure that this space is ready for the world, which means keeping it running and maximizing its beauty.
What exactly is the CSI?
It’s a space that’s filled with people trying to make the world a better place, in all of their diverse subject areas. What I generally tell people when they ask about CSI is that we’re part of the co-working movement, and that we’re here to catalyze innovation in Toronto and beyond. We do that by inviting people into the space who are doing earth-shaking, forward-thinking things in all different areas, and giving them the opportunity to bump up against people who are doing something else but might be able to supply an important and critical missing piece. We also introduce them to a community of people who are in the same boat, so that they can share their stresses and challenges and have a support network. At the same time, CSI is also committed to increasing the knowledge and awareness of social innovation, and spreading that network. That’s what we do—there’s so much more, but that’s the base of it.
How did you first become involved with the CSI?
I was looking for this kind of work. Before this, I was working in the financial sector as a business analyst. It was a big switch, but the same kinds of strategy and analytics that were valuable in that environment are also valuable in making sure the systems of a space run better. That’s one of the reasons I think I was appealing to CSI—I brought a different lens. I could take the best practices from the corporate sector and from the not-for-profit sector and come up with things that are new and better. After coming out of the financial world during the economic downturn, I realized that I wanted to choose an environment where I could really believe in what was happening. While I was in the process of seeing what opportunities were out there, my mom recommended that I come to a tour at the CSI. I came here and I thought that this was an amazing place, so I stepped in to take a volunteering opportunity. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I’ve been with CSI for just over two years now, and on the staff for about a year and a half.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your career transition?
I had the same worries that I think everyone has when making this kind of transition, which was trying to find the place that was the right fit, and whether or not I was making the right decisions from a career viewpoint. I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur myself, but what I was looking for was to be in a situation where I could facilitate the success of other people. I was looking for an opportunity to be surrounded by a supportive community and at the same time be able to learn a broader spectrum of facilitation. I had spent a lot of time in the corporate environment, which can be very isolating, and I was looking for a home. The CSI provides a community of excellence—everyone here is doing such amazing things. This is a space filled with people who change the world every day, and are really open to other ideas and experiences. It’s a real family.
What are some of the managerial duties that you are responsible for?
One of the things that I’m responsible for is our work-sharing program. We have a desk exchange program, where innovators give us a day a week—so eight hours a week of their time—and in return we give them an unlimited hot desk package. It’s a great opportunity, and it’s such a good thing for us, because it gives us an increased capacity to serve our membership and run our programming. We’re a not-for-profit, so we have the same cash flow issues as everyone else, and this a way for us to bring in these great people, break barriers down for startups, and give them access to the community. So I manage that, which is dealing with the strategy of how we attract the right people and how we make sure that their experience is positive and their integration into the community is successful.
How has your position changed as the organization has expanded?
My role has grown overall; when I started there was just a single location, and I came on board just as the Annex location was opened. We now have a coordination and a community strategy that spreads across three locations. I have counterparts at both the Annex and Regent Park location, and the three of us together are responsible for delivering animation. We figure out what we’re going to do that’s fun, and how to get people to connect to one another in a socially-innovative way. At each location, we also have a staff of community animators who breathe life into this community and nurture it as a whole. They do that by being the connector for all different tenants in the CSI spaces, and for all the external folks that come in and add to the diversity of CSI.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
My favourite part is making one-on-one connections with members, and also being able to lead them to their own next step. It’s supporting member success that’s absolutely my favourite part. I also really do enjoy the opportunity to strategize about how to push CSI’s mission, and creating this new economy. The staff and executive team here give us a chance to be involved in that, so that’s nice. As for my least favourite, well, innovators are rugged individuals, and so sometimes getting them to things that are helpful can be like herding cats. So it’s the duty of care part that can sometimes be tough. That, and figuring out how to get everyone to wash their dishes!