Interview by Sherlyn Assam. 

Inspirit Foundation is giving a $1 million endowment and $350,000 in unrestricted donations to the Foundation for Black Communities. PANL Perspectives spoke with Sadia Zaman, CEO of Inspirit Foundation, to learn about the process behind this historic capital transfer. Inspirit and Laidlaw foundations were Canada’s first and only foundations to answer FFBC’s call for support, pledging 3.5% of their capital base. Inspirit promotes inclusion and pluralism through media and arts, support for young content creators, and impact investing—specifically addressing discrimination based on ethnicity, race or religion.

Can you explain the process behind  the capital transfer to the Foundation for Black Communities?

Sadia Zaman, CEO of Inspirit Foundation

Zaman: I don’t think anything we did was something that anybody who is looking at the sector from a position of abundance wouldn’t do.

Given the data, given the historical implications, the role of slavery in Canada, given proximity to blackness — however that happens for people, whether it’s through your board, your employees, your personal life, whatever — in the context of all of that, I think that it would have been deeply problematic had we not acted, because inaction is also its own form of violence.

For us, there were no big moments at the board meeting where people had to be convinced. I think the board is so incredibly connected on the ground, but also in different ways to all sorts of issues. And there was no ‘sell.’ It was implicitly something that the board understood. The only thing for us was that we’d never done a capital transfer before. That was what was new.

Can you speak about the significance or difference between making a capital transfer and giving unrestricted grants?

Zaman: Yes, that was very deliberate. We wanted to give the Foundation for Black Communities immediate access to unrestricted funds because they needed to hire people. There are all kinds of fiduciary structures that have to be set up. And the Foundation for Black Communities staff are all working day and night trying to make this happen. So, how do we ensure that they don’t burn out, that they’re able to actually have some bricks in place? The capital transfer is about giving up power and letting the leadership of the FFBC decide what’s best for communities. This transfer of power was key to our decision-making.

As you saw in the Unfunded report, Black-led organizations receive significantly less grant money. What’s your grantmaking process like? How can you advise other grantmakers to make their grants more accessible and inclusive of marginalized communities?

"Unfunded: Black Communities Overlooked by Canadian Philanthropy" reviews Canada’s top 10 foundations and finds that they gave only 0.03% of their grants to Black-led organizations and 0.13% to Black-serving organizations.

“Unfunded: Black Communities Overlooked by Canadian Philanthropy” reviews Canada’s top 10 foundations and finds that they gave only 0.03% of their grants to Black-led organizations and 0.13% to Black-serving organizations.

Zaman: In the past two years, we’ve been focusing the work on narrative power and shifting narrative power. Within that, we’re always prioritizing two areas (reconciliation and Islamophobia) when we can. But we also know that there’s intersectionality between all sorts of groups, and our priority areas overlap.

I think everyone just understood the systemic nature of what happened to Black communities and other communities as well. So, most of our grants are unrestricted. During the pandemic, we moved to virtually the bare minimum in terms of reporting from grantees. We were really working with trust, being careful about our fiduciary duties, but not letting them paralyze us. I think the process, as we’re now a year into the pandemic, is still very much unrestricted.

What was your biggest takeaway from the Unfunded report? What was surprising to you, if at all, and how do you think it will help advance other foundations to take the same step as you and Laidlaw Foundation, in terms of supporting FFBC?

The FFBC’s mission is to ensure Black communities have the resources they need to thrive and define their own futures.

Zaman: The sector saw the report. There are no surprises in it. There was  very significant media coverage of the report. The question for me is, knowing that, what are the things that people are still struggling with? Nothing in the report surprised me. And maybe that’s it. Maybe it just affirmed what we already knew.

Sadia Zaman is the CEO of Inspirit Foundation. She’s on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Sherlyn Assam is an MPNL student at Carleton University. She’s also a freelance journalist on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Her work can be found at (Photo of waves is courtesy of Chris Chan and Unsplash.)

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in , , ,
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