A coalition of Black executives is launching a new fund to make long-term investments to support Black-led organizations and businesses across the country, seeking to combat systemic racism in corporate Canada.
At least three dozen Black Canadian business leaders have joined together to create the Black Opportunity Fund, in partnership with the Toronto Foundation, a community organization that supports philanthropy. The group has begun work to raise capital and hopes to secure backing from businesses and philanthropists as well as governments.
The fund’s founders are seeking to create a large and sustainable pool of capital to back structural solutions to fighting racism. A number of different organizations already support Black initiatives, but the funding they provide is often short-term or for one-off initiatives, said Jaqui Parchment, chief executive officer of consulting company Mercer Canada. The Black Opportunity Fund is designed to make more sustained investments that increase economic opportunity in an array of sectors, connecting private businesses with grassroots organizations.
It is also an effort to sustain the momentum created by a wave of demonstrations against systemic anti-Black racism that has swept across North America and the world. That, in turn, has brought renewed attention to a lack of diversity in the executive ranks and boardrooms of Canadian companies.
“There’s really an acute need for an initiative that is long-term, multi-year, that will invest in Black communities,” Ms. Parchment said. “It feels like there is a moment of awakening and we have to seize it.”
The recent wave of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by white police officers in Minneapolis in May, has created a surge in public awareness of anti-Black racism and empathy for those disadvantaged by it. “But there is such a strong economic argument as well” to break down the barriers that disenfranchise Black people in the work force, Ms. Parchment said. “We can’t do that any more.”
The fund’s investments are intended to be wide-ranging, but will have a particular focus on education, health care, community support and housing. The coalition chose the Toronto Foundation as a partner to help with granting and investment operations in an effort to deliver funds in a cost-effective and efficient manner, Ms. Parchment said.
Black business leaders spearheading the fund include Ray Williams, vice-chairman at National Bank Financial, and Starlight Capital CEO and chief investment officer Dennis Mitchell. Several members come from banking and capital markets, including BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. head of global markets Deland Kamanga, and TD Asset Management head of global real estate investments Colin Lynch. But its leaders also come from fields such as technology, life sciences, marketing and human resources.
Each of the 36 Black business leaders who have signed on to the coalition will be contributing some of their own money, Ms. Parchment said. And though the fund’s founders have not set a public funding target, she pointed to a recent $300-million commitment Canada’s government made to the Equality Fund, a new partnership to advance equality and economic opportunities for women, as an example.
Funding partners will be announced as they’re confirmed, and the coalition plans to provide a summary of its activities by the end of the summer.
“We have high expectations,” Ms. Parchment said. “We are going to be calling on the government to deliver on some of the nice words that have been said over the past few weeks and really put some money down.”
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