For this edition of FinanciElle “Statements”, I had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Sariffodeen, CEO and Co-Founder of Canada Learning Code.
Canada Learning Code is a national not-for-profit organization championing digital literacy education, working nation-wide and across all sectors to equip Canadians with technical skills. To date, the organization has taught over 80,000 learners through their programs, which are offered in over 30 cities across the country. Founded as Ladies Learning Code in 2011, the organization has evolved to run programming for adults, youth and educators through programs Ladies, Girls, Kids, Teens and Teachers Learning Code. Canada Learning Code’s goal is to create 10 million technology learning experiences for Canadians over the next ten years. Technical skills are a tool of empowerment, and it is the organization’s mission to ensure that all Canadians – particularly those who are currently underrepresented in the tech sector – have access to learn these critical skills and be active participants in the digital age.
Paolina: What has been your hardest experience dealing with your business and finance and what did you learn?
Melissa: Cash is queen.
Cash flow and timing (when the money enters and leaves your account) are really, really important. We rely on really generous sponsors and partners to help fund our work and we could be receiving a big donation in a few months but if we don’t have enough money to pay all of our bills up until that point, we’re not going to make it to see the donation. The opposite is true too, you receive a big donation and might think there’s lots of money to be spent but in a few months you realize quickly you could have portioned it off better. What’s the lesson? Be really organized and diligent about the timing of money and plan, plan, plan.
Paolina: What advice do you wish you had gotten about finance when you were first starting your business?
Melissa: Not all money is the same.
Where the money comes from and the terms of money can vary and have consequences on your work. For example, in our early days we would apply for what seemed like every grant that we were a moderately good fit for because we were growing and needed to raise money, however, some of those grants turned out not to be great fits, because they required us to do work we weren’t planning on doing, or in a way that didn’t make strategic sense. So yes, while it was money that helped us grow it wasn’t the ‘right’ money at the right time to move our business forward in the most strategic way. The same could apply to other businesses that might be looking at getting loans or attracting outside investment – understanding the strategic fit is really important before you make a decision. What’s going to be required of you and the money?
Paolina:What topics would you want to learn more about when it comes to finance and your business and why?
Melissa: Forecasting and budgeting – it’s really art meets science and I find it so interesting to see other approaches to helping predict the future (of a business) and manage cash flow.
About Melissa Sariffodeen:
Melissa is a social entrepreneur, leader and big thinker. As Co-Founder and CEO of Canada Learning Code, Melissa has established a reputation as a fierce advocate for women and youth. She is dedicated to ensuring that they have the critical skills, confidence, and opportunities that they need to become passionate builders — not just consumers — of technology and to thrive in our increasingly digital world.
Her efforts to promote digital literacy in Canada have garnered attention from national media outlets like CTV, CBC, and the Globe & Mail — and landed her a spot on Elle Canada’s list of 9 Canadian Women Making a Difference. She’s spoken on the TEDx stage as well as at notable conferences such as Canada2020 and GoNorth. Melissa recently represented Canada as a delegate for the G7’s first-ever Innovation7, focused on the future of work, and has been awarded the Governor General Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, honouring Canadians who advance gender equality.
Melissa holds an HBA degree from the Richard Ivey Business School and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Education Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. She taught herself how to build websites from scratch using HTML when she was 11 years old and has been coding ever since.