Lise BirikundavyiBack to Blog

It was when I went back to Burundi at 18 that I knew I wanted to do something that was in line with promoting economic development in black communities. I was born in Burundi but grew up in Canada. My family moved to Montreal when I was one, so that my father could obtain his PhD in applied mathematics. My dad’s original goal was to go back to Burundi, but the civil war started, and we stayed in Canada. I was always curious about what Burundi was like. The negative portrayals of Africans and the Black community at large by the media never made sense to me and did not align with what I saw in my parents who were educated, ambitious, and resilient. Going back to Burundi as a young adult, I was amazed at the beauty of the country and the intellect of the people. It lit a spark in me and fuelled my desire to work to change the narrative.

Another inflection point in my life came, following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. I had been back in Canada for less than a year after having lived and worked in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire for several years. Living in West Africa, I was surrounded by Black people and so the microaggressions and racism Black people faced back home was not top of mind. Coming back to Canada at that specific time, we could see the aggressions were evident, people were protesting despite the threat of the pandemic, as they had had enough of constantly being made to feel like second class citizens. It was a brutal reminder of how much my people were hurting. I said to myself, ‘here I am trying to solve issues in other places, while at home in Canada there's a lot to be fixed for our community’. I believe that economic empowerment is the fastest road towards true empowerment, so I co-founded BKR Capital with Isaac Olowalafe in late 2020, which is the first black-led institutionally-backed venture capitalist (VC) fund in Canada. We invest in the best black-led tech start-ups and our goal is to invest 90% in Canada and 10% in the rest of the world. A significant number of the black population here are first or second-generation immigrants who maintain strong links to where they are originally from - in the Caribbean or Africa - creating businesses that have a strong economic potential in Canada and often synergies with their home country/region. As a result, investing in Black Canadians achieves a double impact.

As great as it is that we have made history as the first black-led VC in Canada, it’s 2022. We want our success to create opportunities for more Black fund managers in the country.