Education Tech | August 3, 2017

Impact ETFs, tech for the visually-impaired, education’s OpenTable, inclusion through inclusion…

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Greetings, ImpactAlpha readers!

What will impact investing look like in 2030? Our friends at the Global Impact Investing Network are working on a roadmap to accelerate impact investing toward the next stage of market development. You can have your say on what needs to be done and share your vision for the future in a short survey.

#Dealflow: Follow the Money

Rockefeller Foundation seeds ETFs created by non-profits. Exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, are bundles of stocks that trade in the public markets. Most track a specific stock market index. Rockefeller Foundation is putting upa $300,000 grant to Impact Shares, based in Dallas, to let non-profit organizations create their own ETFs. Organizations would identify company stocks that are important to their missions — veterans’ organizations might select companies committed to hiring vets, for example — and bundle them into an ETF. Impact Shares’ goal is to find a major nonprofit for every social issue. “If you really can organize corporate America around specific causes then you can make a meaningful difference,” says founder Ethan Powell. Socially-responsible ETFs are growing as an investment option: ETFdb lists 38 socially-responsible ETFs in its database.

Thinkerbell Labs raises seed funds for visually-impaired learning device. One-third of the world’s 39 million blind people live in India. Literacy rates among the visually-impaired are low; in India, fewer than 5% of blind childrenreceive an education. Thinkerbell Labs, based in Bangalore, has developed a Braille learning device called “Annie” that teaches students to read, write and type in Braille. The U.K. royal family tried out Annie last year. The seed funding from Indian Angel Network and Anand Mahindra from India’s Mahindra Group conglomerate will support the product’s launch in India and piloting in the U.K.

Sawyer raises $6 million to build an “OpenTable for education.” The Chan Zuckerberg initiative and other investors are backing Sawyer to help parents and caregivers identify and schedule classes and activities for their kids online, much the way they book gym class or restaurant reservations. “None of these [educational] vendors run on any type of [sophisticated] software,” Sawyer’s Marissa Evans Alden says. The company says it has signed up hundreds of vendors across the U.S. to use the platform to manage registration and payments and is building its own selection of classes. Sawyer’s latest funding was led by Advance Venture Partners and included 3311 Ventures, Female Founders Fund, and Collaborative Fund.

See all of ImpactAlpha’s recent #dealflow.

#Signals: Ahead of the Curve

Pro Mujer is fighting exclusion with inclusion. Maria Cavalcanti has some advice for financial institutions now adopting a gender lens: Don’t exclude men. The CEO of Pro Mujer, one of Latin America’s largest women’s organizations, says it’s “critical to include men and families in the conversation on gender equality.” In an interview with NextBillion’s Scott Anderson, Cavalcanti said, “Men can be role models, key allies and activists, and have a powerful role in shaping the future generation.” Pro Mujer in 2014 and 2015 provided $660 million in loans to 250,000 clients, as well as 2.1 million health services through its centers and mobile clinics. It ensures health services are offered to its clients’ partners and children. More women in Latin America are becoming entrepreneurs out of opportunity than necessity, says Cavalcanti, but still face barriers to finance and networks. To boost Pro Mujer’s “one-stop shop for empowerment” Cavalcanti is partnering with fintech and tech companies to offer clients mobile loan processing and payment options. Cavalcanti, who was a founder of FIRST Impact Investing, took leadership of 27-year-old Pro Mujer last year.

#2030: Long-termism

Dark Shadows. The rumblings of a trade war with China sent us looking for scenarios for how things may play out by, say, 2030. A particularly dire forecast comes from historian Alfred McCoy, whose new book, “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” is due out next month. By 2030, China is likely to surpass U.S., economically and militarily, says the professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness. After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2030 the U.S. dollar eventually loses its special status as the world’s dominant reserve currency.”

“Suddenly, there are punitive price increases for American imports ranging from clothing to computers. And the costs for all overseas activity surges as well, making travel for both tourists and troops prohibitive. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, its forces begin to pull back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. Such a desperate move, however, comes too late. Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying its bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.”

The seeds of American decline were planted long before the Trump administration, McCoy told The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill in a podcast interview. But current events are bearing out his thesis, he says, from weakened alliances, through withdrawal from global agreements, to cutbacks in scientific research — and he doesn’t even mention the looming brinksmanship over the national debt limit. China, meanwhile, is investing trillions in its “One Belt, One Road” strategy to integrate Eurasia with railroads, ports and pipelines. “There will be lots of tensions that are going to occur in the society from what will be a major rewriting of the American social contract,” McCoy said. “This will not be pleasant.”

Onward! Please send any news and comments to [email protected].