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CEO Update | March 2024


Read our latest CEO Update, as originally published in Inspirit Foundation’s Winter 2024 newsletter.

As the weeks unfold, and the humanitarian crisis continues in Palestine, I find myself unable to look, and unable to look away. As a mother, the images of children—the dead, the starving, those held hostage—are particularly unbearable as I think of the parents who will never be able to escape their suffering. I also know that my Gen Z kids are looking at the same images on social media. In my weariness and fatigue, I have lost my ability to help make sense of the world for them; we simply don’t talk about it anymore. My own silence, even as I criticize the silence of our cultural, media, and arts institutions in the face of a genocide.

Meaningful work has always been an antidote to hopelessness; I have been lucky in that I have worked primarily in organizations that are aligned with my values. The Foundation is no different. I was keenly reminded of this as we tried—imperfectly—to navigate the fog and confusion to act on some urgent initiatives in our priority sectors. Grantee partners have told us that they don’t worry that their funding will be affected if they voice legitimate concerns about the ongoing war, a very real risk in this climate. In fact, the United Nations has raised the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices as a significant concern globally. Funding is fragile and funders hold the power. This was reinforced for me when I learned about not-for-profits in the Netherlands worried about foundations adding clauses to contracts that forbid any criticisms of Israel’s actions.

While some of our work is public, much of it is behind-the scenes. It’s these conversations that have tested my ability to hold on to a common sense of humanity. CEO peers who have been told that they cannot talk about a ceasefire or allude to the suffering of Palestinians. Journalists who are terrified of losing their jobs for challenging legacy media framing of the war, or for attending vigils in Canada that recognize the deaths of their peers in a war that that has killed more journalists than any other single conflict. Artists who self-censor as they see what legacy institutions have done to those who speak out.

Aside from continuing the urgent and responsive work listed above, in 2024, we will deepen our efforts to support the capacity and infrastructure of our partners and grantees through large multi-year operational grants. This means fewer grants to new organizations, but at the same time, we want to make sure there is always some capacity for new ideas, nascent organizations, and emerging fields. These updates, along with changes to our application process will be posted on our website this month.

The work of the Narrative Change Lab continues; we are pleased to announce the first ever operational grant for The Mosquers, the Edmonton-based organization that builds connections and influence across North America. More grants, research initiatives, and a new fund for Muslim creatives will be announced this year. By the end of 2024, our funding to support narrative change for Canadian Muslims will have increased nearly five-fold over the past five years. And just as important, we are building partnerships, including one with the Béati Foundation in Québec, to support this work.

We will also continue to advance the burgeoning ecosystem of non-profit and community focused journalism funding in Canada. We’re working with the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Local News Research Project at Toronto Metropolitan University to develop educational resources and collaborating with other foundations to develop new funding criteria for equitable journalism that centres communities and civic engagement.

As we promised in 2023, we’re re-imagining Inspirit’s granting to Indigenous communities within the arts and media sectors going forward. We are exploring how to move this work to Indigenous organizations. Our ongoing relationship with the Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund, which included a capital transfer of Inspirit’s financial assets in 2021, has inspired us to address the continued lack of Indigenous-led arts and media funding in Canada. We are excited by the possibilities and look forward to sharing more in the future.

The past year was a positive one for our portfolio. Our benchmark—which is a composite of traditional indexes on the stock market—earned a return of 10.68%. Our portfolio performed at a rate of 14.92%, an outperformance of 4.24%. If we calculate financial outperformance compared to our benchmark since our inception, we see outperformance of over 9%. Since our commitment to a 100% impact portfolio years ago, Inspirit continues to be an example of how impact investing can drive both financial returns and positive impact simultaneously.

Our work around economic justice has also led to an explicit portfolio allocation to investments that earn 0% interest, in an effort to align our money even tighter to our mission. Examples of these no-return investments include ACBN Microloan Fund, a loan pool for Black business owners, and Windmill Microlending’s Cost+ ZERO Financing, a capital source offered to Muslim newcomers aligned with the principles of Islamic Finance.

As a foundation, Inspirit tries to move beyond words to act. For my kids, the antidote to helplessness is also to act—to march for a ceasefire week after week, to attend fundraisers for humanitarian organizations, to connect with other young people who see what they see; Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist kids who validate each other in the face of so much invalidation. This is where I see the hope. I am awed by their moral clarity, their intelligent critiques, and their ability to navigate the world at a time where so much is outside their control. And on top of it all, be so united in their common humanity.


Sadia Zaman, CEO