New cannabis business Spiritleaf has made a conscious decision to weave social responsibility into their company from day one. By pledging to support the Downie Wenjack Fund and other initiatives, the company is leading the way in showing how businesses can use their position to engage and help their communities. In our ongoing series profiling businesses making a difference, we are proud to publish this Op-ed. 



At Inner Spirit Holdings, we are establishing a chain of retail cannabis dispensaries under our Spiritleaf brand. Building up a cannabis business in Canada as legalization loomed meant that we knew we needed to prepare for some negative perceptions as we moved forward. Therefore, we wanted to make sure that our company was different, and that we would make a difference.


Our objective from day one has always been to create a community-owned company. Instead of having one big shareholder, we wanted to make it open to everyone so that they were able to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the end of the prohibition of cannabis in Canada.


With that, we also took the approach that we have a responsibility to these shareholders and to the members of the communities where we will be opening Spiritleaf stores to invest in those communities. We want to be proactive and do some good. As such, when we set out to find people to work with – from stakeholders to potential franchise partners – discussions around our social responsibility commitment became part of our conversations from day one.


Our main initiative, on a macro level, is the establishment of our Community Spirit Fund. The Community Spirit Fund has been designated to invest in the communities where our Spiritleaf stores will be opening. Through the fund, we would most like to support initiatives that enrich those communities, whether it’s a charitable act, or local projects around music and art.


As experienced retailers, we have even found a way to finance the fund in a way that it directly benefits from sales at our Spiritleaf stores. It is common for franchisors to receive rebates from merchant providers and others for being a franchisor. We have taken the position of contributing these rebates directly into the Community Spirit Fund. Our customers will know that any time they make a purchase at any of our locations, a portion of these proceeds will be invested right back into their community.


We’ve also taken this socially responsible approach to our partnerships. When we first started talking with Newstrike, the parent company of Up Cannabis, about partnering to create experiential lounges in Spiritleaf stores, we started digging deeper about what else we can do with them. For those who are not familiar with this brand, Up Cannabis is backed by Canadian music legends the Tragically Hip. It was during our initial conversations that we found out about The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which Gord Downie started before his untimely passing, to support reconciliation with Indigenous communities through awareness, education, and action.


We believe very strongly in Gord Downie’s message of “Do Something.” In the spirit of spreading awareness, education, and action around reconciliation, we wanted to use our space in each community to be a platform for others working towards this goal. In addition to a five-year pledge to the fund, we will also be establishing a DWF Legacy Room at our head office in Calgary for those who would like to use the space for their reconciliation initiatives, and encourage others to “Do Something.”


At Inner Spirit Holdings and Spiritleaf, we are proud of what we are about to do and become part of. It speaks to the values of our company, and everything that we are doing, to invest in these communities. We have found that as a pioneer in this new industry, we also have the responsibility to not only be open and transparent with the communities that we will be part of, but also be good local citizens wherever we may be.


Trailblazer. Creator. Collaborator. Founder. Darren Bondar, is the President and CEO of Inner Spirit Holdings. The company – which recently closed their IPO –  is led by his strategic planning, determination, and creativity – not just for thinking outside the box, but for creating a whole new box! 

With an uncanny knack for surrounding himself with the best and brightest, Darren has a proven executive management track record and over 20 years’ experience driving sales growth in both the retail and franchise industries. Prior to Inner Spirit Holdings, in 1999 Darren founded WATCH IT!, which ballooned across Canada. He has been recognized with multiple industry awards including numerous Canadian franchise awards of excellence, The Alberta School of Business retail awards, Top Watch retailer award, and a Top 40 Under 40 award. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Ontario and his MBA from the University of Alberta.

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