Tonya Surman

We never do our best work alone—that's why the best workplaces are collaborative ones.

Founding CEO of The Centre for Social Innovation

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Tonya Surman | Founding CEO of The Centre for Social Innovation
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Tonya Surman is upending our notions of work, innovation, and community by shaping them into a new model of social entrepreneurism. Having worked with dozens of social start-ups, Surman speaks about the emerging economy, and how creative business models and collaborative strategies are engaging all types of stakeholders, and making the world a better place. 

“The new economy is all about collaboration.”

Tonya Surman is the founding CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation—the celebrated coworking space that houses non-profits and social enterprises at three locations in Toronto and one in New York City. The shared ecosystem at CSI removes logistical barriers like overhead costs, but, more importantly, it creates a flourishing environment of cross-pollinating ideas and boundless innovation. CSI also runs crowdfunding platform Catalyst and a microloan program for social enterprise called Catapult.


Tonya Surman is a Global Ashoka Fellow, which is considered by many people to be a Nobel Prize for social entrepreneurs. For five years, through the bust and boom, she ran a dot com social enterprise. She is the co-founder and former chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, and is a founding trustee of the Awesome Foundation Toronto. Previously, Surman was the founding Partnership Director for the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, whose work helped lead to substantial legislation that banned chemicals and BPAs in baby bottles. She has been recognized as a “Leader in Social Change” by the Canadian New Media Awards.   


“Tonya Surman is an energetic speaker and a skilled motivator! Her own experience is inspiring! Staff at the Lavin Agency are extremely professional.”

Groupe Convex

“Tonya Surman was great at the conference—our team very much enjoyed her insightful keynote and I believe it encouraged attendees to think on a higher level. It was particularly relevant for attendees in more strategic level roles. Thank you for your help with making it happen!”

People Focus Conference

Speech Topics

Social Entrepreneurship
The New Social Innovation Paradigm

The Centre for Social Innovation offers a stunning window into “the new economy of social innovation.” Why has the CSI been so prescient, so successful? And what can the rest of us—non-profits and corporate giants alike—learn from its community-powered example? In this talk, Tonya Surman outlines three trends in social innovation that are changing mainstream discourse. Addressing audiences of all levels—but especially young start-ups, hungry to be part of the solution—Surman discusses entrepreneurism, collaboration, the power of local and why, above all, your mission must be systems-changing. It’s not about non-profits asking for free money; it’s about harnessing innovative new business models that produce real, and lasting, change.

The Collaborative Economy Turning Capitalism on Its Head

“Bigger is better” thinking is falling away and the fundamentals of capitalism are being shaken. What kind of economy is going to replace capitalism as we currently know it? Having worked with hundreds of social start-ups, Tonya Surman shares an insider’s view on the emerging collaborative economy, where it is going, and how your organization can participate and benefit. Surman shares concrete insights into collaborative consumption, open governance, scale, and ultimately, why working together is the business model of the future.

Corporate Social Responsibility
The Enlightened Corporation Why Doing Good is Good for Business
Many leading companies are asking: what does a growth strategy look like in an age where corporate social responsibility is no longer an advantage, but the default? In this forward-thinking talk, Tonya Surman outlines how corporations can use their infrastructure, their resources, and their capital to build a new economy, inspire vibrant employees, and fortify a stable consumer base that is in alignment with their values. Touching on branding, employee fulfillment, and other concepts in social innovation, Surman’s keynote offers persuasive proof that, more than ever, it is in the corporate best interest to make the world a better place.