Pledging By Example

December 17, 2018 | By: CVCA
Pledging By Example is part two of a three-part series on how the VC & PE industry is giving back to Canadian communities. For more information about the Upside Foundation of Canada, visit their website.

Great leaders put into practice exactly what it is they encourage others to do. When it comes to social responsibility at Espresso Capital, CEO Alkarim Jivraj recognizes the importance of leading the way. One of many philanthropic initiatives the Espresso team is involved with is the Upside Foundation, to which Jivraj personally pledged 1% of his holdings. “If I was going to ask others to pledge, I recognized that I needed to lead by example”, he says.

Jivraj first heard about the Upside through co-founder Rob Antoniades, who he’s worked closely with over the years. When he learned about how the foundation makes it more feasible for early stage, high growth companies to give back, he immediately registered its many benefits. In addition to his personal pledge, he spearheaded multiple pledges by the organization to charities including Sick Kids and Stella’s Place, as well as donations that support the Upside Foundation operating budget directly. He also hosted events to introduce the Upside to the 50 companies in Espresso Capital’s ecosystem.

There are several trends that Jivraj sees playing into the importance of the work the Upside is doing, including the shift from the majority of people working for large companies, to working for smaller companies or becoming entrepreneurs. “The Upside fits perfectly into the trend of the shifting workforce, because in entrepreneurship there is a trade-off between current and future income. Companies and individuals sacrificing current pay for future wealth have the opportunity to share their future upside.” He has also taken note of data around giving that indicates a decline in younger demographics giving less today, as a percentage of their net worth, than they did 10 years ago. Based on this he feels it’s important to promote giving back in as many ways and as much as possible.

The Upside Offers A Great Way To Give

Through the Upside Foundation, companies can donate equity in the form of options or warrants to any of the 85,000 registered charities in Canada, which is something that Jivraj appreciates. “It’s often the bigger charities such as hospitals and health-related causes that get the big donations. But lots of smaller arts and culture-related foundations really struggle, so broadening (philanthropic) participation is important.” Espresso Capital is considering getting involved with Hot Docs next, as they work through their 2019 planning. Decisions around which charities the company will support through the Upside and otherwise are made as a team. They recently supported two girls in India, donating to help build wells that meant they didn’t have to spend hours going back and forth for water and could go to school. This came about after interns at Espresso became passionate about the initiative.

It’s clear that Jivraj’s passion for social responsibility influences the strong philanthropic culture at Espresso Capital, which is also an example for the companies within its ecosystem. He reflects on how startups will eventually become big businesses and recognizes the importance of the private capital industry empowering them to give back. “Instead of deferring the habit of giving, the Upside offers a great way to give, notwithstanding that you don’t have a big pay cheque currently.”

When asked about his personal reasons for giving back, Jivraj’s response serves as a reminder of the importance of not taking for granted the country we live in. “Giving back is especially important to me, as a new immigrant to Canada. It’s a great society and we all need to contribute to keeping it great.”


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