The Brief | February 4, 2019

Gender-lens declaration, agtech in India, healthtech in Nigeria, BP’s climate concession, Agents of Impact in Mexico

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Gathering Agents of Impact in Mérida, Mexico. The Latin America Impact Investing Forum gathers this month on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Alongside the formal activities, ImpactAlpha will be engaging local entrepreneurs and investors and other Agents of Impact in our first event in Latin America, Feb. 20. Interested in joining this invitation-only event? Let us know and we’ll follow up with details.

Featured: Impact Voices

Ceniarth’s Diane Isenberg: ‘I am a gender-lens investor.’ The $400 million family office deployed over $40 million last year in global funds and enterprises that, given the role of women in underserved rural communities, must attend to gender and power dynamics in underserved communities. “Yet, I still did not consider myself a gender-lens investor,” Isenberg writes in a guest post in ImpactAlpha. Now, she does. What changed? In short, Suzanne Biegel’s Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London last year. “I emerged with a much fuller picture of the gender-lens dialogue and a conviction that not only is it relevant, but, given our work at Ceniarth, we have a leadership role to play in the field,” Isenberg writes.

Isenberg maps the connection between a gender-lens and Ceniarth’s “impact-first capital preservation” strategy, which directs capital to high-impact, lower-risk investments. Last year, the group’s investments included Global Partnerships, ProMujer and Root Capital, all with goals of boosting rural livelihoods. In her post, Isenberg lays out for the first time the investment firm’s three-pronged gender-lens strategy, around women as customers, women as leaders, and Ceniarth’s own women-led team. “We understand that in some parts of the world, it is incredibly challenging to build diverse, talented teams,” writes Isenberg. “That said, when our investees do not have a woman on the management team, they better have a damn good reason why they do not.”

Read, “I am a gender-lens investor,” by Ceniarth’s Diane Isenberg on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Edquity raises early funding to help students weather financial strain. The New York-based education venture’s financial planning tools help low-income, first-time and underserved students manage the ever-rising costs of two- and four-year college in the U.S. Lumina Foundation’s impact fund invested $500,000 in Edquity to support students in identifying schools matched to their academic and financial circumstances, and help schools support financially strained students at risk of dropping out. “We know technology has never and will never solve structural poverty,” said Edquity’s founder David Helene. But tech “has a transformative role to play in providing for more equitable postsecondary outcomes and supporting our most financially vulnerable college students.” Learn more.

India’s AgNext raises $2 million for its farm monitoring tech. The agtech venture’s crop-monitoring technology is aimed at bolstering profits on India’s farms. Hundreds of millions of people make their living in Indian agriculture, but many centuries-old farming businesses struggle to keep up with labor costs. AgNext Technologies raised $2 million from early-stage tech investor Kalaari Capital and impact investor Omnivore for its sensing devices that monitor crop conditions and quality. The funding comes less than a year after Omnivore backed AgNext’s seed round. Dig in.

Health diagnostics startup Stack Dx secures funding from Microtraction. Inaccurate or late diagnoses leaves diseases untreated in Nigeria and other African countries. Poor equipment, poorly trained personnel, scarce resources, and inadequate oversight spurred a call by the World Health Organization to improve early and accurate disease diagnosis. Lagos-based seed investor Microtraction backed Stack Dx’s low-cost at-home testing kits and drop-in labs. Tests cover cancers, autoimmune and hormonal disorders, viral and bacterial infections, allergies and genetic disorders. Stack Dx is Microtraction’s eighth early stage investment. Read on.

Signals: Ahead of the Curve

BP agrees to align ‘capex’ with climate goals, as institutional investors flex muscles on risk. Divide and conquer: Growing splits in every industry, including oil, set up natural experiments between companies’ approach to the low-carbon transition and their resilience to the disruptions ahead. Now comes BP which, under pressure from global pension funds, agreed to align its capital-expenditure, or capex, with the Paris climate accord. Taken to its logical conclusions, such accounting could accelerate the shift of investment away from fossil fuels. Oil companies’ spending on low-carbon assets accounted for only about 1.3% of their total capex last year.

  • European tilt. Together with Shell’s agreement, also under institutional pressure, to link short-term carbon emission reductions with executive pay, BP’s agreement to recommend a ‘Yes’ vote on a climate-risk shareholder’s resolution signals the deepening divide between European oil and gas majors and most U.S. oil companies. A report from CDP last year ranked BP 11th among majors for its resilience to the low-carbon disruption that already is underway. While BP ranked 5th in its pursuit of low-carbon opportunities and its corporate governance, low resilience to “Physical Risks” (16th) pulled down BP’s score.
  • Different models. Shell is staking out its transition into low- or no-carbon energy production. BP, in contrast, is signaling it will remain an oil and gas company, “but it will invest only in projects that are viable in a decarbonizing world (which effectively means shrinking over time),” says Andrew Logan, who directs the oil and gas program of Ceres, which helped press the resolution. An analysis from Carbon Tracker last year suggested that as much as 30% of BP’s future capex is outside the scope of the Paris agreement “which means that this commitment will entail real change,” Logan told ImpactAlpha. Shell and BP, he said, “seem at least to be charting a direction that we can encourage other companies to follow.”
  • Institutional shift. Leading global pension funds that are seeking to force a reckoning on climate-related risk. Concessions at Shell and BP came after pressure from Climate Action 100+, representing institutional investors representing $32 trillion in assets that are targeting the biggest greenhouse gas emitters (see, “Pension funds tell companies: ‘No excuses’ for inaction on climate change”). Earlier, Maersk, the world’s largest container shipper, pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Investors, companies, workers and communities “have a shared interest in urgent and bold action to fulfill the Paris Agreement goals,” Anne Simpson of $354-billion CalPERS said in a statement.
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Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Chris Slevin, previously Senator (and presidential hopeful) Cory Booker’s legislative director, joins Economic Innovation Group as vice president… Institute for the Future is hiring a labs director in Palo Alto, Calif…. Bridges Fund Management seeks an impact and finance director and an impact analyst… The Fund for Employee Ownership is hiring a business analyst in Cleveland, OH (see, “Evergreen Cooperatives launches fund to catalyze employee ownership)… La Cocina is looking for a director of earned income and other roles in San Francisco… Shortlist is recruiting a data scientist in Mumbai, Hyderabad or Nairobi (see, “Shortlist closes $2 million for recruitment tools for Indian and African talent”).

February 4, 2019.