The Brief | January 19, 2021

The Brief: Brief birthday, Yo-Yo Ma on culture and capital, energy inclusion in Africa, sustainable development SPAC, new books for a new era

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

The Brief turns four. Our birthday is easy to remember: we launched the week of the inauguration in 2017. In the first issue, we said we aimed to help the impact community rise to the new challenges and hold the Trump administration accountable. “The impact investing community’s deep thinking and long experience in valuing social and environmental benefits is a skillset the country and the world need now more than ever,” we wrote. “Because this too shall pass, we’re going long-term to keep us all on track toward 2030,” the deadline to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. More than a thousand Briefs later, ImpactAlpha is re-upping for this week’s new beginning. The challenges are big; the opportunities even bigger. The skillsets of Agents of Impact are truly needed more than ever – and we’re still on deadline. Impact on

– David Bank

Featured: Impact Voices

Culture connects us: Yo-Yo Ma on creating jobs, raising voices and building hope. On his pre-pandemic global tour, American cellist Yo-Yo Ma paired two dozen concerts of Johann Sebastian Bach’s suites for cello with ‘days of action’ to inspire people to draw meaning and purposeful action from culture. In Jakarta, Ma collaborated with SukkhaCitta, a sustainable fashion enterprise reviving traditional manufacturing to end the exploitation of women. In Montreal, he worked with Wapikoni, which uses audiovisual tools to foster the personal and professional growth of Indigenous Canadians. The day of action in Washington D.C. ended at the Anacostia Art Center, which uses culture-focused businesses to build Black equity. “People are using culture and creative activity to create jobs, raise voices and build hope,” Ma writes in an essay on ImpactAlpha. To deepen and broaden that impact, he says, many of the local organizations he worked with “need investment – of financial capital, or human resources, or public recognition.”

Ma’s essay is part of “Creativity, Culture & Capital: Impact investing in the global creative economy,” a new collection edited by Nesta, Fundación Compromiso and Upstart Co-Lab, launched today to mark the U.N.’s Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This week, ImpactAlpha is running exclusive excerpts to highlight the real-world impact of creative industries, including fashion, food, film, music and design. In addition to Ma, we’ll hear from George Gachara, who manages Heva Fund, an East African creative industries investment facility; Purpose Ventures’ Alexander Kühl and Camille Canon, who are backing creative entrepreneurs in Germany, the U.S., Switzerland and Chile; and Sheoyki Jones of InvestAtlanta, which is prioritizing creative industries in the city’s economic development. “Creativity is the new normal,” writes Fundacion Compromiso’s Carolina Biquard, “the answer to facing the present and approaching the future.”

Keep reading, “Culture connects us,” by Yo-Yo Ma on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Lion’s Head closes $400 million Facility for Energy Inclusion. The debt facility was launched in 2017 to finance off-grid renewable power producers in Africa with projects of 25-megawatts or smaller. It has raised nearly $400 million in mixed financing, including $145 million in equity. The fund, managed by U.K.-based Lion’s Head, has committed $100 million in debt, bridge loan and mezzanine investments to projects in nine countries. 

  • Final close. A new $24 million commitment brought Germany’s KfW equity investment in the fund to $52 million. Other backers include Norway’s Norfund, the African Development Bank, and the European Commission. 
  • Renewables ramp-up. Africa’s energy development has been largely driven by fossil fuels. Recent research found that new financial and policy incentives will be necessary to scale renewables development on the continent.
  • More

Renewable Resources Group and Capricorn Investment Group float a SPAC. The partnership, called Sustainable Development Acquisition I Corp., aims to raise $250 million to acquire companies “delivering solutions to global environmental challenges in alignment with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.” The special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, will focus on opportunities in agrifood, renewable energy, water, and environmental resource management and infrastructure. The registered public benefit corporation aims to be the first such “blank check” company to achieve B Corp. certification. Check it out.  

Unseen Capital gets Eli Lilly backing to support diverse healthcare entrepreneurs. The COVID pandemic has vividly demonstrated how minority communities in the U.S. are disproportionately exposed to health threats and unequally served by health services. Eli Lilly & Co. is investing $30 million in a fund managed by newcomer Unseen Capital to support minority-owned and led healthcare ventures addressing inequities in health services and access. Unseen is looking to raise $100 million to invest in 50 companies. 

Signals: Ahead of the Curve

New books on new rules for a new era of business. From the COVID pandemic and climate change to the racial justice uprising and assaults on democracy, the tumultuous events of the past several months have upended business as usual and accelerated shifts underway. A slew of new books attempt to chart a course forward (and enhance that bookshelf in your Zoom background). “Co-create, don’t compete” is No. 6 among Judy Samuelson’s Six New Rules of Business: Creating Real Value in a Changing World,” just published by Berrett-Koehler. Samuelson, who runs the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program, offers a guidebook for the new stakeholder capitalism. Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer suggests that business has become society’s most trusted institution. Almost 9 in 10 respondents expect CEOs to lead on societal issues; 7 in 10 say business should step in where government fails. Among Samuelson’s new rules: Reputation and trust, rather than balance sheets and tangible assets, drive business value (Rule No. 1). And corporate purpose can help companies transcend short-term pressures (No. 2). 

  • Impact investing. In “Making Money Moral: How a New Wave of Visionaries Is Linking Purpose and Profit,” due next month, Judith Rodin and Saadia Madsbjerg, both ex-Rockefeller Foundation, chart the rise and future of sustainable investing. “The real opportunity for companies – and something investors are increasingly seeking – is to reshape the core strategy,” they write, boosting long-term profits by delivering positive social and environmental impact. Examples: Koninklijke DSM, a Dutch life-sciences company, has focused on advancing the SDGs. In Belgium, Umicore has transformed itself from a mining company to a recycler of metals. (Wharton School Press)
  • Beyond ESG. Complex, interlocking challenges require system-level solutions. In “21st Century Investing, Redirecting Financial Strategies To Drive Systems Change,” The Investment Integration Project’s Bill Burckart and Steve Lydenberg demystify what it means to be a system-level investor (see, “Call No. 22: Rooting out racism as a systemic risk). Their aim: to show investors how to tackle structural racism, climate change and inequality by integrating such thinking into their practices. (Penguin Random House
  • Getting to net-zero. Bill Gates has been studying climate change and investing in innovative solutions for more than a decade. His Breakthrough Energy Ventures has invested in solutions from battery tech to regenerative hydropower and low carbon steel. In “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need,” coming next month, Gates offers a roadmap to net-zero emissions. (Penguin Random House)
  • Inclusive energy transition. We’re in the midst of an historic transition to clean energy. But will it be inclusive? Northeastern University’s Shalanda Baker explores the intersection of climate, race and energy access in “Revolutionary Power, An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition.” Baker urges people of color, poor people, and Indigenous people to help create a new energy system that upends the inequality in the current system. (Island Press)
  • Power shift. The past year has brought new scrutiny to how impact investments are made and who benefits. “The social sector, along with so many of our institutions, is at a moment of reckoning,” write ImpactAlpha contributor Meg Massey and Village Capital’s Ben Wrobel in “Letting Go: How Philanthropists and Impact Investors Can Do the Most Good by Giving Up Control.” The book, due next month, explores the emerging landscape of “participatory funding” with profiles of grantmakers and investors who are ceding decision-making power. (New Degree Press
  • Get smart.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

President-elect Joe Biden names Maggie Thomas, Sonia Aggarwal, David Hayes, Jahi Wise, Cecilia Martinez and Jeff Marootian to his climate team… Sandbox Industries names Kelsey Maguire and Binoy Bhansali as managing directors… Omidyar Network is hiring a chief of staff in Washington, D.C… VertueLab seeks a two-year climate impact fund fellow… Convergence opens design funding windows for Asia Natural Capital and Indo-Pacific… Applications are being accepted for the 2021 Ashden Awards for outstanding climate solutions. 

Croatan Institute is hosting “Investing in racial equity 50 years after the Civil Rights movement,” with Croatan’s Sharlene Brown, Keith Beverly of GRID 202 Partners, Vicki Lee Parker-High of North Carolina Business Council, and Capital Group’s Mike Lear, today at 1pm ET… 5×15 is hosting “Mission economy,” a conversation between economist Mariana Mazzucato and Financial Times columnist Rana Foroohar, Wednesday, Jan. 27… Mission Investors Exchange is hosting “Public policy wins to benefit communities: the roles for mission investors in 2021,” with MIE’s Melanie Audette, Urban Institute’s Shena Ashley, Lisa Mensah of Opportunity Finance Network, and Fran Seegull of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 19, 2021