News | Effects of the Pandemic: Digital transformation and systems level social change

Effects of the Pandemic: Digital transformation and systems level social change

 November 23, 2020

Yaletown Partners recently hosted the third edition of its annual Speaker Series— this year in virtual format—featuring valuable insights from prominent thought leaders from across Canada and abroad.

Discussions at this year’s event revolved around the impact of recent global changes on geopolitics and the acceleration of digital transformation on businesses, as well as opportunities for systems level social change. We hosted two panels, with a keynote address by retired Vice-Chair of IBM and former Chairman of TD Bank John Thompson in-between.


The opening session, entitled “Geopolitical and Macroeconomic Effects of the Pandemic”, was moderated by Yaletown Managing Partner Salil Munjal and featured Canada’s 22nd prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper; UK-based Varun Chandra, Managing Partner at strategic advisory firm Hakluyt & Company; and Genevieve Morin, Chief Executive Officer of Quebec-based labour-sponsored fund Fondaction.

Prime Minister Harper opened the discussion by observing that the crisis engendered by Covid-19 has accelerated the rise of technology and the transition of business to technology platforms. With huge debt loads being assumed by governments and their inability, or unwillingness, to raise taxes or cut services during these challenging times, leveraging the cost-saving effects of technology is one of the few ways that governments today can cut costs in a politically palatable manner.

Mr. Chandra, speaking to us from his office in London, was of the view that Covid-19, in and of itself, has not necessarily led to a fundamental shift in how countries and businesses are aligned. However, it has absolutely accelerated trends that were already underway. He observed that political courage and competence, or a lack thereof, have been the key drivers of public policy success or failure in this crisis.

In the view of Madame Morin, the economic effects of the pandemic highlight a need to transform the economy; not merely recover it. This transformation must be structural; quick fixes will not suffice. We must consider the social and environmental impacts of our investments. Not only is this the right thing to do, recent experience has shown that failure to consider Environmental, Social and Governance factors will lead to lower financial returns.

In his keynote address and subsequent discussion with Yaletown Managing Partner Salil Munjal, Mr. Thompson advised venture capitalists to focus on a broad set of emerging technologies because different technologies are going to impact the productivity and profitability of industries in different ways. In keeping with his message of encouraging diversification in technology-focused investment portfolios, Mr. Thompson walked our audience through a range of new technologies and their potential effects on the economy of the future.


The second panel, moderated by Yaletown Principal Sophie Gupta, discussed “Opportunities For Systems Level Social Change in These Rapidly Changing Times” and featured Michael Lewkowitz, Founding Partner at Possibilian Ventures, an emerging venture capital fund manager focused on systemic transformation; Jessica Nordlander, COO at crowdsourcing intelligence platform Thoughtexchange, a Yaletown portfolio company; and Wes Hall, ICD.D, Chairman & Founder of Kingsdale Advisors and Co-Chair of the BlackNorth Initiative, which has as its mission to end anti-Black systemic racism by utilizing a business first mindset.

Under the overarching theme of diversity and inclusion, Mr. Lewkowitz began by encouraging corporate Canada to “include everybody”: If we do not make the best possible use of our human capital and our collective capabilities, how can we design a future that is sustainable and resilient?

Ms. Norlander sees leadership as the assumption of responsibility for resource distribution. Corporate resources must be allocated between things that companies are already good at, and things they are going to have to be good at in the future. A proper forward-looking perspective includes innovation and inclusion of a more diverse group of talent.

Mr. Hall, a leading voice in Canada’s ongoing conversation on diversity and inclusion in business, pointed out that for every 10% more diverse a company’s management team and board is, that company will earn 1% more in EBIT. As he stated, “Leaving money on the table is not something that investors like to do, and when companies do that, we find they are susceptible to shareholder activism.”


Following this well-attended virtual event, Yaletown Partners has received positive feedback from all quarters. Attendees are encouraged to continue to follow Yaletown on social media for further insights and to stay-tuned for next year’s Speakers Series event—to hopefully be held in-person!

As a gesture of gratitude for the panellists’ time and insights, Yaletown Partners has made a donation to Mr. Hall’s BlackNorth Initiative, which aims for a systemic transformation consistent with the values espoused by Yaletown.

In case you missed the event, here is a short recap video, featuring several minutes of highlights: