Opinion

Letter from the editor: Power play

When I was fundraising for The Logic’s angel round back in 2017, I learned firsthand what it was like to be an entrepreneur asking for money. Back then, I had just the kernel of an idea to launch a subscription-first digital news publication in Canada—an idea which, to many potential investors, seemed beyond crazy. (Looking back, I can’t really blame them.)

For the most part, I was inspired by the kindness and generosity of those willing to give me 30 minutes of their time to hear my pitch. They were patient, asked great questions and showed respect for my willingness to enter the arena by launching a company from scratch. 

But there were exceptions. 

There was one venture capital firm in particular at which the dynamic felt off the second I walked into the dimly lit boardroom. Sitting around a large wooden table were at least a dozen VCs, analysts and staffers––notably all men––who seemed to have one purpose: get me so rattled by their questions that I would break. I suppose it was their way of determining whether I had the right stuff, whether I was worthy of their investment dollars.

While I didn’t end up winning them over—which, in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing—I held my own, and secretly even enjoyed the “Dragon’s Den”-like experience. It sharpened my focus for subsequent pitches. But the entire meeting was clearly designed to diminish whatever confidence or power I had before walking into that room.

I thought about power dynamics a lot this week after reading our data reporter Claire Brownell’s superb investigative series on Canada’s charitable foundations.

Like the venture capital industry, foundations have their own funding hierarchy. Foundations fund front-line charities, which in turn fund programs. As Claire’s reporting highlighted, some charities and program directors are upset with how foundations are making use of loopholes in the rules around their spending and, most importantly, about who has the power to make decisions about those rules. 

As one non-profit CEO told Claire, “Nobody in the charitable sector wants to bite the hand that feeds them.”

The Mastercard Foundation, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the entire sector’s funding shortfall, is at the centre of the debate over the disbursement quota. On its board of directors is Michael Sabia, the current deputy minister of finance. While Sabia has recused himself from discussions surrounding the disbursement quota to maintain his seat on the foundation’s board, he remains in charge of a ministry that directly oversees nearly $100 billion—and, because of his recusal, he’s now missing in action in the non-profit sector. That’s 8.5 per cent of gross domestic product and 2.4 million people employed that the Liberals’ star recruit, a man who is arguably the most powerful civil servant in Ottawa, is choosing to ignore.

Even in absence, there is power. 

I do hope you’ll read Claire’s entire investigation, which she began work on shortly after she joined us in February. It’s well worth your time. And, if you’re a subscriber to The Logic, you can watch a recording of this exclusive event from earlier this week, where Claire and our deputy managing editor April Fong take you behind the scenes of the investigation. 

I’m also excited to tell you that this weekend, our reporter Catherine McIntyre is on her way to Glasgow, where she will be covering the UN’s COP26 climate-change conference. 

Catherine has owned the sustainable-finance file since she joined this publication, and her understanding of it is second to none in Canadian media. While she’s at the conference, her daily dispatch, “Live from Glasgow,” will keep you updated on the key takeaways, who’s making news and what it all means for you. 

Subscribers can also join Catherine and me for a live virtual event next Thursday at 12:00 p.m.

It really is a great time to subscribe to The Logic.

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