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By Sara Lyons

Vice President

Community Foundations of Canada

sara lyons.png

The Role of Philanthropy in Impact Investing

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I have been involved in the charitable sector for about 20 years and I love how it is values-driven, full of hard conversations and laughs, passion and juicy intellectual questions.


Over the years I have been inspired by how the charitable sector navigates between people and communities, and systems. There is so much creativity and thoughtfulness in the sector and the uniqueness of being driven by purpose not profit.


The charitable sector has a critical role in driving sustainable development as a conduit for community knowledge, a source of innovation and a place to navigate diverse participation and leadership.

Sara's Reading List

The SDG Framework for Charities


A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector

Mercer & Omidvar

This report provides a solid understanding of current challenges and opportunities for the charitable sector.


Philanthropy and the SDGs: Getting Started

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

A solid overview of how foundations can get started aligning their work - investments, operations, and grantmaking - to the Sustainable Development Goals. 


Generation SDG: Empowering Canadians Through Sustainable Development

Waterloo Global Science Initiative

An important foundational piece for Canadian institutions interested in advancing the SDGs with a focus on community-level implementation. Key sections dive deep in community ecosystems and planning; partnerships; accountability; innovation funding and finance. 


A Canadian North Star: Creating an Advanced Economy Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals

Brookings Institution

This report is a rallying cry for SDG investment and action in Canada, and identified how all sectors of the economy have a role to play.


Impact Investing in the Philanthropy sector


The Philanthropist

Pearson and Lyons

This short article makes the case for Canadian Foundation to get involved in impact investing and describes some of the barriers and opportunities. 


Financing Social Good

RBC, MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, Purpose Capital

A very detailed overview of the impact investing landscape in Canada: history, products, ventures, supply, demand, the role of government. 


State of responsible investing in Canada’s foundations
Environment Funders

Environment Funders (formerly Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Network – CEGN)  is a national network of philanthropic foundations and other organizations that support efforts to transition toward a more sustainable world. This 2018 publication is an overview of the state of play for Canadian foundations with respect to responsible investing and recommendations for how they can be supported to go further. 


Impact Investing Guidebook for Foundations 2019 Primer

Community Foundations of Canada

A solid, approachable and practical overview of how foundations in Canada can move sustainable development forward through a range of impact and responsible investing approaches. Includes case studies as well as a legal primer for foundations. 


Webinar on Foundations’ investment strategies

Hosted in the context of the Foundation Investing 2.0 program- a collaboration between Canada’s philanthropy networks and leading advisors, this webinar is about how foundations can adjust their investment strategies to support a Just Transition.


MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

Assessing the appetite, activity and barriers for impact investing among Canadian foundations.


How Foundations are Using Impact Investing to Advance Racial Equity

Stanford Social Innovation Review Series

A collection of articles and a webinar that asks important questions about how social finance is a tool for equity that asks important questions about who controls capital and who can access it. 


Investing in reconciliation

Carol Anne Hilton

An article about the Indigenous economy and its importance with a call for increased access to capital. 


Collaboration for place-based impact investing

the Urban Institute

A very detailed guide coming out of the US that focuses on collaboration amongst foundations in the area of place-based impact investing.

About the Author

Sara Lyons is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives for Community Foundations of Canada (CFC). In her role, Sara’s focus is on driving CFC’s strategy, partnerships and leading key areas of focus for the organization, such as settlement, youth, reconciliation, and social finance.


Recently, she spearheaded the development of the Impact Investing Guidebook for Foundations, alongside a range of partners. She is currently leading CFC’s implementation of the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Fund, a precursor to the Social Finance Fund.


Over her years with CFC, Sara has played a leadership role in bringing foundations together for impact, often in partnership with the corporate sector and government such as through the Community Foundations and the Environment program, Vital Signs, the Youth Catalyst Fund and the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees. Prior to this, Sara worked in politics and urban issues.


A graduate of McGill and the University of Toronto, she is a frequent speaker on philanthropy, innovation, and social finance. Sara is currently the Board Chair of the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, a charity that transforms philanthropy and contributes to positive change with Indigenous communities by creating spaces of learning, innovation, relationship-building, co-creation, and activation.

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