The Brief | March 9, 2022

The Brief: Investing in press freedom, emerging fund managers, decarbonization in Asia, lease-to-own solar, nature-based health solutions

The team at


Greetings! Thank you to the hundreds of Agents of Impact who turned out for yesterday’s Call, “Operationalizing ESG.” Coming up Tuesday, March 22: Managing political risk. 

Featured: Democracy and Peace

How Media Development Investment Fund calculates political risk to back press freedom (Q&A). Western investors in Russia are running away from political risk. For more than two decades, Media Development Investment Fund has run toward such risk. The investor exodus from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine has been portrayed as a statement against autocracy. MDIF makes a different kind of statement in countries where freedom is under threat: financing independent news outlets as key pillars of peace and democracy. “Political risk is part of our business model,” MDIF’s Harlan Mandel says in an interview with ImpactAlpha. “If there is no political risk, we’re not going to work in a given country.” As democracies around the world come under threat, MDIF’s experience offers lessons for investors of all impact stripes who are working to build businesses and support robust societies.

MDIF’s evergreen general fund has invested more than $100 million in debt and equity in 40 countries since 1996. The $6 million MDIF Media Finance fund has provided affordable loans to media companies in Malawi, Serbia, India – and Ukraine, where MDIF’s current and former clients in the country are essential sources of information. “They’re defiant,” Mandel says. MDIF is backstopping its portfolio companies with cash and, with other media support organizations, finding flak jackets and newsprint to replace Ukraine’s newsprint supply, which had come almost entirely from Russia. MDIF has had no investments in Russia since 2016, when it was forced to walk away from its investments in independent, regional press outlets after being declared “undesirable” by Russia’s prosecutor-general. Misinformation contributed to the Yugoslav wars, the genocide in Rwanda and the current crisis in Ukraine, Mandel says. “We’re betting that our investments are going to contribute to moving these countries into more accountable environments, governments, societies.” If that happens, he says, “Our investments are going to do better.” 

Dealflow: Gender Alpha

Visa and Ford foundations back Black-led fund of funds to support diverse female managers. Connecticut-based Fairview Capital Partners teamed up with Ford in 2019 to launch Fairview Foundations Emerging Managers Fund, a fund that invests through diverse fund managers, particularly those managing small and new funds. The move was part of Ford’s $1 billion endowment commitment to mission-related investing. Ford reupped in the Fairview fund, joined by Visa, to target diverse women-owned firms. “This is an excellent opportunity to seek superior financial returns and advance inclusive capitalism at the same time,” said Ford’s Roy Swan

  • Women rising. Separately, entrepreneur Lolita Taub is launching Ganas Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm for overlooked and community-driven startups based in the U.S. and Latin America. Ganas is looking to raise $10 million to write checks of around $100,000 for pre-seed and seed-stage companies. Taub has raised $1.2 million from investors, including Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton.
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South Korea’s SK Group invests $100 million in 8 Rivers’ cleantech solutions. Seoul-based conglomerate SK Group has pledged to help reduce 200 million tons of carbon emissions in South Korea and the Asia-Pacific region by 2030. The investment in Durham, N.C.-based 8 Rivers, which specializes in green hydrogen, direct air capture, biomass, carbon removal and other net-zero technologies, will establish a joint venture to deploy projects in Asia.

  • Low-carbon transition. “Decarbonizing the global economy is both a multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity and, more importantly, an environmental and social necessity,” said 8 Rivers’ Cam Hosie.
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Off Grid Electricity backs Solengy’s solar products for rural Haiti. The $17 million renewable energy fund, launched by the government of Haiti in 2019 with backing from the World Bank, aims to electrify 200,000 households over the next decade. The fund, which is managed by Bamboo Capital, has invested in Alina Eneji, Palmis Eneji and Energy Systems Group to provide affordable solar power systems for households and businesses in rural areas, where electrification rates are as low as 5%.

  • Clean energy access. Solengy, which has run a solar products and installation business in Port-au-Prince since 2017, will use the loan to provide lease-to-own financing in rural areas, “allowing commercial and residential customers to install solar power systems, using clean and sustainable power while lowering their monthly electricity costs,” said founder Rowolson Kuhn. USAID’s Haiti INVEST program facilitated the deal.
  • Haiti’s woes. Haiti has yet to recover from last year’s hits, including the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and an earthquake that devastated the country’s southern region (for context, see “Can investors help Haiti build back better this time?”). In the absence of strong political leadership, armed gangs have expanded their grip, causing a spike in violence and insecurity.
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • In Ovo raises €34 million ($37 million) in Series B funding led by the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund to improve poultry welfare and sustainability.
  • Woman-led health tech venture Jude snags €2.4 million ($2.6 million) in pre-seed funding to make plant-based and biodegradable bladder-care supplements for women.
  • Big Bold Health secures $4 million in Series A financing led by S2G Ventures for nature-based immune health solutions. 

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Kristina Wyatt, ex- of the Securities and Exchange Commission, joins Persefoni as deputy general counsel and senior vice president of global regulatory climate disclosure… BlackRock seeks a vice president of sustainable product innovation in New York… The Nature Conservancy is hiring a communications manager for NatureVest, preferably in Washington, D.C. or New York.

Ceniarth seeks an analyst in London… Accion is looking for a senior manager of strategic partnerships and a senior director of strategic institutional partnerships in Washington, D.C. or Baltimore… Phenix Capital has an opening for an impact investing fundraising intern in Amsterdam… ProFellow rounds up a dozen venture capital and impact investing fellowships.   

Thank you for your impact.

– Mar. 9, 2022