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Eli Malinsky, Director at the Centre for Social Innovation (INTERVIEW)

— March 15, 2011 — Social Good
Eli Malinsky is the Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), which is a social enterprise that offers community-focused workspaces to those creating positive social, environmental and cultural change. He has been working at CSI since its second year. SocialBusiness.org got the chance to ask Eli Malinsky a few questions on CSI, sources of inspiration and how he made the career shift from marketing to social innovation.

Four Questions with Eli Malinsky

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?

The idea for the Centre for Social Innovation was a collaboration among a small number of social entrepreneurs in Toronto. They were curious to understand what might happen by bringing together a variety of social change organizations under one roof. While part of the motivation was to see how costs could be reduced and efficiencies gained, the real purpose was to discover the magic that might unfold when diverse sectors, organizations and people are mixed together. We never looked back from that initial experiment and the story of the Centre for Social Innovation has been one of increasing scale, impact and success, year after year.

That’s the short version of the story! For the full details, check out our publication called Emergence.

2. How did you decide to join this sector?

When I graduated university I went to work in marketing. At the time, I wasn't really sure what to do. I knew I didn't want to stay in marketing but I really couldn’t figure out the career I wanted or the life I wanted to pursue. In truth, I had never been drawn to a particular purpose or sector. I was pretty good at whatever I tried but didn't really have much passion. I decided to take some time off to travel and spent ten months making my way through Southeast Asia and India. When I was traveling, I made the decision that – given this uncertainty about my life direction – I “might as well” devote my energy to doing good in the world. I saw enough trouble and despair to know how fortunate I was, and ultimately felt compelled to put my energy toward “doing good”.

At that time, I didn't really know what that meant. I ended up taking a job doing research in the nonprofit sector. During those early years I discovered the term “civil society” and became entranced with the idea that there are spaces where citizens gather together to make a positive difference. I loved the idea of protecting and advancing those spaces and began to study, volunteer and become more broadly engaged in the field. What began as a functional decision (to entire the nonprofit sector) became the seat of a newfound passion. I did my master’s degree and, upon graduation, discovered the Centre for Social Innovation, which was just celebrating its first year anniversary. I was inspired by what I saw – a new way of operating that demonstrated collaboration and which mixed a social mission with a market-based operating model. When I saw a job posting I lobbied heavily for being hired! And I haven’t looked back since… it’s been an incredible journey of discovery, development and both personal and professional fulfillment.

3. How do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration comes from the people I meet every day. As I indicated above, I never really felt passionate about a specific cause or sector, so when I see this in others – extraordinary passion, drive and creativity in their field – I am inspired to help them along their path. This field is growing in leaps and bounds and I feel so excited for the future.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?

I am a bit of a workhorse so I don’t often use my “reset” button. But ultimately, it’s time with my wife and friends – disconnected from anything at all related to social change – that helps ground me and energize me for the tough work ahead.
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