The Brief | July 8, 2024

The Brief: Indigenous edge in regenerative agriculture

The team at


Greetings Agents of Impact! Welcome back from the long weekend (in the US) to new political configurations in France, the UK and, perhaps, the US. As always, we welcome your takes on the ever-changing landscape for impact-driven finance. Drop me a line at [email protected]. – David Bank

In today’s Brief:

  • Indigenizing agriculture finance
  • Nuveen links climate change and inequality 
  • Carbon credits for clean cookstoves 
  • Drawing out data on children  

Lending to Native-led producers gives Akiptan an edge in regenerative agriculture (podcast). Indigenous lenders and investors are demonstrating new ways of doing business, shaped by and tailored to Indigenous communities themselves. Akiptan, a Native community development financial institution on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, SD has loaned more than $27 million to businesses and producers in nearly 30 tribal communities (see, “Native-led financial institutions tackle challenges of lending to businesses in Indian Country“). “Native agriculture is regenerative by nature,” says Skya Ducheneaux, who grew up on a cattle ranch on the reservation and now leads Akiptan. “There is something born and ingrained in all of our producers that if you take care of the land, the land is going to take care of you. It’s the norm, and it’s the expectation.” That’s a mechanism for value-creation in a context where commercial agriculture and factory farming account for 17% of global carbon emissions and contribute to degradation of land, soil and water, labor exploitation and, not coincidentally, land theft from Indigenous communities. It’s business and finance as usual that presents the real risk, Ducheneaux says. “Extractive financing leads to extractive practices, and that leads to poor quality of life, stressed cash flows, and depleted resources.” 

  • By and for Native growers. Akiptan was started by the Intertribal Agriculture Council, a nearly 40-year-old organization that connects Native-run farms and producers to business resources. The organization observed “a huge gap and frustration with traditional capital in Native agriculture,” Ducheneaux tells ImpactAlpha on the Agents of Impact podcast. “IAC turned the frustrations into a CDFI built by Native producers for Native producers.” In Bend, Ore., Sakari Farms, an Inupiaq tribal producer, grows and sells traditional foods, teas and spices, and teaches farming methods to community members. Ducheneaux spoke with ImpactAlpha’s David Bank on the sidelines of the Common Ground Summit on regenerative agriculture in Kauai, Hawaii last year.
  • Trust-building. Even as a Native-led CDFI, Akiptan has confronted the innate distrust that many Native growers and producers feel toward lenders after centuries of predation and exclusion (see, “Mobilizing capital in Indian Country“). “We are very intentional about our relationship building,” Ducheneaux says. “We beat down those walls until we are friends with everybody. We know who has a senior graduating high school or a sick elderly grandmother.” She adds, “The thing I’m probably most proud of is that we take clients from traditional financial institutions all the time. [Our clients] are like ‘Can you refinance my debt?’ No one has ever refinanced our debt, no one has ever taken one of our clients.” 
  • Catalytic capital. Native investors and intermediaries are demonstrating patient capital and deal-making to support businesses and community resilience. Navajo Power on the Navajo Nation, for example, is cutting tribal communities into profits for renewable energy projects built on their lands. Raven Group’s Indigenous Outcomes Fund puts Indigenous communities in charge of designing social and climate programs for their benefit. Siċaŋġu Co. is blending finance to restore a buffalo herd on the Rosebud Sioux tribal lands in South Dakota. Ducheneaux says its patient lending approach had led to a default rate of nearly zero. “There’s a risk in not doing financing how we’re doing it, in not doing it regeneratively.”
  • Read on and listen to, Lending to Native-led producers gives Akiptan an edge in regenerative agriculture (podcast),” on ImpactAlpha. Catch up on all of our Agents of Impact podcasts on the ImpactAlpha Podcast Network. 

Dealflow: Climate Investing

Nuveen Private Equity Impact secures $147 million to tackle climate change and inequality. Nuveen, the $1.3 trillion investment management arm of insurance giant TIAA, is betting that “climate change and inequality, two of the biggest challenges the world faces, can be addressed by commercial businesses,” said Nuveen’s Rekha Unnithan. Unnithan said changing regulations and consumer sentiment makes such solutions “a compelling investment opportunity.” Nuveen’s second impact private equity fund has secured commitments of $147 million in a first close from global investors, including Danish pension fund Velliv. “We believe that impact investing demonstrates how generating returns can go hand in hand with addressing the world’s challenges, whether they are social, environmental or a combination of both,” said Velliv’s Anders Stensbol.

  • Climate resilience. Velliv backed Nuveen’s $218 million inaugural impact fund, which also focused on climate change and inequality. That fund invested in eight global businesses, including Perch Energy, a Boston-based manager of community solar projects. Nuveen says the new fund will invest with a climate resilience lens to extend basic financial services to low-income consumers. Two years ago, Nuveen enlisted Shell Foundation to help it deploy growth capital to companies providing clean energy access in Asia and Africa.
  • Share this story.

Electric cookstove maker ATEC raises $3.8 million to expand in Asia and Africa. Cambodia-based ATEC is tapping carbon credits to reduce prices for electric cookstoves, combining two hot trends to serve rural households (see Signals, below). ATEC’s induction stoves are connected to the Internet, enabling it to produce what it says are auditable and verified carbon credits. Like other forms of carbon credits, offsets based on emissions reductions from clean cookstoves have been criticized for overstating their impact. “ATEC’s ability to combine IoT, ensure data accuracy, and utilize carbon finance will be instrumental in democratizing access to clean cooking,” said Gilles Vermot Desroches of Schneider Electric Energy Access Asia, which co-led the $3.8 million Series A round with Spark+ Africa Fund.

  • Clean cooking. ATEC will use the funds to help expand beyond the 10 countries it serves in Africa and Asia, strengthen its R&D, and forge partnerships with last-mile distributors and carbon buyers (see, “Leveraging the carbon markets for clean cooking, climate justice and social impact”). More than 850 million Africans use charcoal or wood for cooking. In Asia, two-thirds of cooking is fueled by coal, firewood and other biomass sources. Firewood alone is a major deforestation culprit and is linked to around 2% of global emissions. “Given greater rates of electrification and improving grid/mini-grid reliability in many African countries, electricity is a clean, modern cooking option for a growing number of consumers,” Peter George and Xavier Pierluca of Spark+ said in a statement.
  • More.

Circular cement and solar steam startups snag funding for industrial decarbonization. Clean tech startups are making headway in steel, aluminum, cement and other heavy industries that have been notoriously difficult to decarbonize. New York-based GlassPoint, which builds, owns and operates large solar steam facilities, raised $2.5 million from German venture capital firm MIG Capital. The investment extends the company’s Series A financing round last year, which was led by German climate tech investor 300PPM. Glasspoint will use the funding to complete a solar process heat plant in Saudi Arabia.

  • Circular cement. Separately, Cambridge Electric Cement garnered £2.3 million (nearly $2.9 million) in seed funding led by Zero Carbon Capital, alongside existing investors Legal & General, Cambridge Enterprise Ventures, and other investors. UK-based CEC has devised a way to use pulverized concrete waste from demolished buildings in place of lime-flux in steel recycling to produce a material virtually identical to a key ingredient in Portland cement. The funding will enable CEC to ramp up production at a steel recycling facility in Wales.
  • Read more.

Dealflow overflow. Investment news crossing our desks:

  • Inside Capital Partners secured $55 million for its second Inside Equity Fund to invest in waste recycling, renewable energy, packaging and building material companies in Africa. (APEN)
  • UK-based Natcap scored $10 million in Series A financing, backed by Pelican Ag and Oxford Science Enterprises, to help businesses screen for nature-related risks. (Natcap)
  • Altrove, a French climate tech startup, clinched €3.7 million ($4 million) to use AI to design and build alternatives to rare earth elements and other materials critical for the net-zero transition. (TechCrunch)

Signals: Child-lens Investing

Investors find child-lens impact through interviews with customers for cookstoves, clean energy and microfinance. Child-lens investing goes beyond childcare, education and child nutrition to include clean energy, microfinance and other sectors. “We need visibility into how children are being impacted across all sectors, especially in strategies that do not target children directly or intentionally but where impact nonetheless occurs,” Erin Egan Watson of UNICEF USA’s Impact Fund for Children and Lindsay Smalling of 60 Decibels write on ImpactAlpha. The organizations are gathering data from customers for clean cookstoves, solar lighting and microfinance lending to help investors better understand the impact of their investments on children. Energy customers report feeling safer because of access to brighter and more reliable light; children use the light for studying and often do better in school as a result. Improved cookstove customers mention reduced risks to children in terms of air pollution and associated health effects. For microfinance, “the degree to which children’s education really benefits from microloans was quite startling,” VisionFund’s Johanna Ryan said after 60 Decibels interviewed more than 2,500 VisionFund clients that are supporting over 10,000 children. 

  • Data-driven insight. Simple changes to standard impact survey practices, such as asking how many children live in a household, or tagging qualitative responses where children are mentioned, could unlock powerful insights related to impacts on children, the authors say (see, “Addressing the broken child care system with impact investments.”). The Clean Cooking Alliance Venture Catalyst Fund, working with 60 Decibels, found that 57% of survey respondents reported improved family health after getting a clean cooking stove. UNICEF research has shown that almost 600,000 children under the age of five die each year from respiratory infections related to air pollution and second-hand smoke. “Even investment strategies that don’t directly target children have child-related impacts,” the authors write.
  • Asking questions. A growing number of investors recognize the various ways their investments impact children (explore UNICEF’s framework in “Unicef leads investors to see their investments through children’s eyes”). The Global Child Forum tracks more than 1,000 publicly listed companies to develop a children’s rights benchmark for corporations. Canadian VC Cross-Border Impact Ventures backs affordable health technologies that advance maternal, newborn, and child health. Calvert Impact Capital collects data on how children are impacted by its Community Investment Note. “We were really surprised that some of our funds already were thinking about children and centering children in their work,” Calvert’s Caitlin Rosser told ImpactAlpha last year. “Just start asking questions.”
  • Keep reading, Investors find child-lens impact through interviews with customers for cookstoves, clean energy and microfinance,” by Erin Egan Watson and Lindsay Smalling on ImpactAlpha.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Luiz Amaral steps down as CEO of the Science Based Targets Initiative. The move comes after a controversial decision by Amaral to loosen carbon offsets guidelines and a call by his colleagues to resign… ING Americas promotes Cindy Jia to head of sustainable finance… Working Power seeks a special projects associate in Washington, DC… Sandpiper Ventures is hiring a senior investment analyst.

Phoenix Capital Group is looking for a content program manager… VentureESG is hiring a research fellow… Madison Community Foundation has an opening for a vice president of community impact… PSP Investments is on the hunt for a Montreal-based senior director for cleantech investments for its Canada Growth Fund… Children’s Investment Fund seeks a climate analyst in London.

👉 View (or post) impact investing jobs on ImpactAlpha’s Career Hub.

Thank you for your impact!

– July 8, 2024