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#Featured: ImpactAlpha Original
By women, for women: The new economics of menstrual pads in Africa.Maria Nantubwe cuts through layers of banana plant fiber and beats two-foot long pieces with an improvised bat. Pulp flies everywhere, exposing long fibers inside the stem. Once dried, the material will become the absorbent center of sanitary-pads used by 40,000 Ugandan women each month.
Nantubwe is part of a cooperative supplying banana plant fibers by the kilo to Bana, a Ugandan startup that produces and distributes sanitary pads through a network of female micro-entrepreneurs. These pads, and others like them, could be a solution for more of Africa’s female population, helping keep women at work and girls at school during their periods while protecting them from sexual violence and prostitution. Manufactured from local materials by women, and sold by women, the pads are helping remedy a public health issue that affects millions in Africa and giving women high earning jobs.
Feminine hygiene is becoming less of a ‘hush hush’ topic on the African continent — rather, it’s a $780 million industry in the making. Journalist and ImpactAlpha contributor Devin Thorpe went to Uganda to learn how Bana pads are made and better understand how the growing market for feminine hygiene products is changing everyday life in Africa.
Read Thorpe’s story, “By women, for women: The new economics of menstrual pads in Africa” on ImpactAlpha.
#Dealflow: Follow the Money
New year, and new deals aren’t slow in coming.
Land O’Lakes loan fund helps farmers make sustainability upgrades. The cooperatively-owned Minneapolis-based food giant has made the first two loans from a $20 million fund to help its member-farmers finance improvements with environmental benefits. The collateral for the loans is the farmers’ stakes in the cooperative itself, giving members a way to use their equity to improve their operations. A Pennsylvania farmer purchased a manure separator, while a third-generation family farm in California used a $1.3 million loan to install a waste digester. Land O’Lakes’ Tina May said at the Conservation Finance conference in New York that she expects the loan fund, which is run through the co-op’s in-house bank, to be exhausted by mid-year when it may be replenished; she had originally sought a $60 million fund. Farmers get an interest-rate reduction in return for providing sustainability data back to Land O’Lakes. “We are the first-ever dairy co-op to do sustainability-based financing like this,” May said, “and first to use equity co-op financing.”
Wonderschool raises $2.1 million to support early learning. There aren’t nearly enough home childcare providers to serve the 21 million young children in the U.S., Omidyar Network writes. The impact investor is part of a group backing Wonderschool, which helps people start affordable, in-home preschools. The startup works with 140 early-childhood programs in California and 16 in New York City, providing licensing and marketing assistance, administration software and other support. Be Curious Partners, Rethink Education, Edelweiss Partners and Learn Capital also joined in the funding, which will allow Wonderschool to expand in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Ulula secures $1 million to monitor global labor conditions. Rising consumer awareness of international labor conditions, including factory deathsand unpaid workers, is pressuring companies to keep better track of their suppliers. New York-based Ulula makes software that connects companies with workers across their supply networks. “Companies can only address and improve working conditions in global supply chains if they have efficient and effective tools,” said Ed Marcum of Humanity United, an Omidyar Group foundation, which contributed to the funding round with impact investor Good & Well.
Aries Clean Energy raises funds for waste-to-fuel projects. Aries Clean Energy builds gasification plants that convert garbage into biogas for clean combustion and biochar, which can be used for fuel, soil amendment and to filter liquids or gases. Aries raised $21.4 million in new equity largely from existing investors and an additional $25 million from Spring Lane Capital for equity in future projects. Aries has plants in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Its latest, in Lebanon, Tenn., makes enough gas to produce 1.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year at full capacity.
Equator Capital Partners raises $62 million for African microfinance. The U.S.-based fund manager reached a first close towards its $150 million goal for its third ShoreCap fund. The fund is backed by development finance institutions, including U.K.-based CDC and the African Development Bank. Over the next 10 years, it will invest in 15 companies offering microcredit and insurance, housing finance, and small business banking. Equator’s first two funds raised $108 million and invested in 25 institutions.
#Signals: Ahead of the Curve
Bond investors aim to get smarter on flood risks. In November, credit rating agency Moody’s warned cities and states that failing to address climate risks could hurt their bond ratings, potentially affecting the flow of trillions of dollars to coastal municipalities. “What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that,” Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s, told Bloomberg. “We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure.” Investors are taking note and some taking steps to learn more about the climate risks to their investments in coastal areas. Breckinridge Capital Advisors, a Boston fixed-income investment manager with $30 billion in municipal bonds under management, has adopted a new flood-risk indicatordeveloped by climate research organization Climate Central. Analysts use the tool to assign municipalities a score of 0 to 100 based on the portion of their population at risk of flooding. “Flood risk has long been a part of our credit research, but we are always looking for new and innovative ways to improve our data, process and analysis,” says Mike Bonanno, a Breckinridge analyst.
- Some cities are taking action: New York is redrawing its flood zones, an effort that will affect where new buildings are constructed and the cost of flood insurance on homes and skyscrapers. The city is still recovering from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused $19 billion in damage.
Straight talk on global development. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh is on a mission — bring private-sector metrics and standards to the U.N.’s Social Impact Finance (UNSIF), a fund founded in 2016 to coax capital towards the 2030 Agenda. He has a blunt message about the Sustainable Development Goals: Inside the U.N., the Goals are not treated with the gravity they deserve, and this puts them at risk for failure.
Take the word “sustainable,” which he finds an empty term. “We have a very serious problem in the world, and that serious problem cannot be achieved by creating buzzwords that make everybody feel happy,” Abu-Ghazeleh told Next City in an interview. He thinks “sustainable goals” sets too low a bar and would prefer the U.N. to aim for “progress goals,” with social-impact indicators that are reported, watched and announced daily, like stocks.
“We had Millennium Development Goals and we failed in achieving them,” he says, suggesting that failure should be seen as a warning about the viability of the SDG Goals.
Abu-Ghazeleh, the founder of a global professional- and education-services company who sits on the UNSIF advisory board, also thinks public agencies need to rethink how they work with the private sector to win financing for the 2030 Agenda. “Governments think of the business community as a party you can call on as you wish and when you wish,” he says. “We are partners when we are decision-makers equally.”
Onward! Please send news and comments to TheBrief@impactalpha.com