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CEO Update | November 2023


Read our latest CEO Update, as originally published in our Fall 2023 newsletter.

As the war on Gaza began, the Foundation’s board held an emergency meeting to discuss what we should say as a justice-centered organization, and a foundation with a priority to address Islamophobia. The discussion left me with a deep respect for a very intelligent, culturally competent board that refused the binary of a Jewish-Muslim conflict, that referenced Indigenous experiences, that saw connections to how African-American men were routinely dehumanized through slavery. The discussion prioritized pluralism; the ultimate vision of Inspirit.

This initial discussion about a statement was followed by many others, all seeking to find the right words, to incorporate the experiences of staff, to recognize the profound silence of all our major institutions. Historically, as an organization that is not on the frontlines, the Foundation amplifies the work of grantees and does not issue statements. But this felt very different. Through countless conversations it became clear that the stakes felt impossibly high, and yet so incredibly low in the face of an unfolding genocide. And then, as all good decision-making recognizes context, the local context changed again. Alarming spikes of anti-Palestinian racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia here in Canada affected board and staff in day-to-day life. The board decided safety was paramount. There would be no statement, and once again, we would act.

Practically, as a foundation focused on shifting narrative power through and within media and arts sectors, we saw the very real implications for creatives and journalists in Canada. We heard from grantees, did outreach to journalists and academics, and validated our assumptions around where support was required immediately. We are in the midst of setting up an emergency fund for journalists who need immediate peer and other supports as they cover this story in an increasingly hostile political and social environment. We have also had initial conversations about research that dissects media coverage and editorial framing and the very real-world consequences for communities in Canada. We are looking for partners to join us in this work; if you work in philanthropy, media and arts/culture, please reach out to us.

Now, more than ever, we need independent journalism that provides fact-based information, challenges inequities, and supports democratic engagement and participation. In our efforts to strengthen the growing field of journalism philanthropy in Canada, we released Funding Journalism: A Guide for Canadian Philanthropy. This ‘nuts-and-bolts’ tool is the first of-its-kind in Canada and is the result of Program Manager Ana Sofía Hibon’s leadership along with collaborators, April Lindgren from Toronto Metropolitan University and the Local News Project, and Sara Krynitzki from Philanthropic Foundations of Canada. We hope this guide can offer practical ways for Canadian philanthropy to connect journalism, civic engagement, and a just society.

This fall, we also attended festivals hosted by our partners: the Mosquers in Edmonton and the Muslim International Film Festival in Toronto, among others. These organizations are leading the way in showcasing new and compelling stories by Muslim filmmakers and are playing a vital role in bringing Muslim creatives together for networking and collaboration. In the new year we will also be announcing a fund, the first of its kind, for Muslim creatives in Canada. Much of the groundwork was laid by Program Manager Angie Balata. After three years she is moving on to new adventures and we wish her all the best.

Over the course of the year, Inspirit also made the decision to transition our entire fixed income allocation of our externally managed portfolio in publicly traded securities, to in-house and focused on private impact investments. By continuing to ask ourselves how our capital can be catalytic, we have also decided to dedicate a portion to investments that bear zero interest. We want to support projects and organizations that are tightly aligned with our mission; one example is Windmill Microlending’s Cost+ ZERO loan fund that is aligned with principles of Islamic finance so capital can be more accessible to Muslim newcomers.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Raven Capital Annual General Meeting and Indigenous Impact Feast in Victoria. The morning showcased Indigenous founders building digital election platforms for reserves, designing modular homes, and creating hair care products. The founder stories continued that afternoon at the Wawaditla (Mungo Martin) Big House. Witnessing the fire, the songs, and the many ceremonies lifted me out of a place of continuous grief into something more hopeful.

The challenge now is to continue to hold on to that hope. Here, I look to the Foundation’s updated mission statement: the Inspirit Foundation advances racial, social, and economic justice by investing our assets and funding media and arts for change. This captures our work in a wholistic way and provides the guardrails. It reminds me that a mission that feeds into a bigger vision of pluralism, the sense that we all belong, is needed more than ever. We have to keep trying, and that trying feels like a sliver of hope.

Sadia Zaman, CEO