The Brief | August 30, 2022

The Brief: Letter from a Black fund manager, valuing lived experience, green infrastructure in Africa, early wildfire detection, parametric crop insurance

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Featured: Lived Experience

Thoughts of a Black fund manager. Agents of impact are used to grappling with difficult, complex and even painful systemic issues. Less often discussed is the toll of this daily work on practitioners, many of whom are personally affected by the problems they are committed to solving. In a guest post for ImpactAlpha, Thaddeus Fair, fund manager for Living Cities’ Catalyst Family of Funds, shares the personal challenges that come with leveraging capital to close America’s racial wealth gaps. “While helping lead the cheer for social progress, I too have experienced these traumas as a Black man,” he writes. “One day, I am closing an investment into a BIPOC-led investment fund with a lens of changing the landscape and moving society forward. The next, yet another unarmed Black man is murdered by law enforcement.”

  • Space to heal. “I don’t have the luxury of putting on the ‘racial equity’ suit when I come to do this work only to remove it once I ‘clock out,’” Fair says. “I pondered quitting this space countless times because I couldn’t handle what it was taking from me.” Fair shares that deep meditation and “a fierce liberatory search inward” has helped him anchor and heal. Rock climbing, baking bread and exploring the outdoors have helped him pause and reflect, he says. “We are not superheroes, and it is OK to not be OK.”
  • Check in. Ask your colleagues of color how they’re doing. “The gravity of the mass we carry is immense,” says Fair. “The perceived strength we are showing you in times like this may not often be real and certainly isn’t unshakable.” He shares his thoughts, he says, “in the hopes that revealing the points of weakness in my own journey can provide a light to another soul who may find themselves where I have been and often still am.”
  • Keep reading, “Thoughts of a Black fund manager,” by Living Cities’ Thaddeus Fair.

The competitive advantage of lived experience. Founders who have personally faced the challenges of our increasingly diverse and dynamic workforce and economy “can provide fresh insight into the challenges of underserved communities and into invaluable opportunities to drive incredible impact,” Taylor McLemore of Techstars and Angela Jackson of Kapor Center write in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. Techstars recently invested in 20 companies with CEOs who have lived through the challenges they are tackling. After two years, the investments represent $134 million in market capitalization. “Investors must explicitly and intentionally communicate that they value diverse lived experiences,” say McLemore and Jackson. Doing so “will serve as a powerful competitive advantage.”

  • Virtuous cycle. Entrepreneur Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins created the payment-processing platform Promise while working as an anti-poverty advocate in the Bay Area. She recognized the importance of providing people with a way to pay their bills with dignity; Promise has helped countless clients avoid utility shut-offs, license revocations, and incarceration – while recovering millions of dollars for utilities and government agencies. Such entrepreneurs, say McLemore and Jackson, “are creating businesses with an immensely strong product-market fit, generating a greater return on investment and, ultimately, driving even more funding toward diverse entrepreneurs.”
  • Keep reading, “The competitive advantage of lived experience,” by Techstars’ Taylor McLemore and Angela Jackson of Kapor Center Investments.

Dealflow: Climate Adaptation

Rockefeller Foundation taps satellites and AI to guide green infrastructure in Africa. The foundation is backing a digital platform to aid policymakers in understanding how and where resilient infrastructure could mitigate climate shocks and promote economic development. The partnership with predictive analytics company Atlas AI and energy access coalition e-GUIDE will collect and analyze community-level data to identify green infrastructure opportunities in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. E-GUIDE, a collaboration between Rockefeller and five U.S. universities, uses artificial intelligence to predict energy consumption in Africa, particularly in agriculture. Atlas AI builds hyperlocal socio-economic datasets. “Efforts to drive change in energy, agriculture and transportation must be integrated in order to make opportunity universal and sustainable,” said Rockefeller’s Zia Khan.

  • Climate adaptation. Countries in Africa together contribute less than 3% of global carbon emissions but are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Better data insights can guide African governments in helping local populations weather climate impacts. Through the partnership, e-GUIDE will build new tools “to measure how infrastructural developments such as roads, electricity systems and agriculture lead to economic development,” said Jay Taneja of partner institution UMass Amherst.
  • Check it out

Dryad secures €10.5 million for ‘ultra-early’ wildfire detection. Extreme heat waves, exacerbated by drought, set many parts of Europe ablaze this summer. Hotter temperatures are pushing severe wildfires to Germany and other northern European countries. Berlin-based Dryad says its low-cost solar-powered sensors, which can be mounted on trees in forests, can detect wildfires and improve response time. Dryad’s sensor networks monitor lakes, rivers and oceans. eCAPITAL led the Series A round, alongside Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Toba Capital and Semtech. “Wildfires represent a huge global problem that has not been resolved effectively for too long,” says eCAPITAL’s Paul-Josef Patt. This year, wildfires have burned about 1.6 million acres in Europe, an area more than eight times the size of New York City, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

  • Wildfire solutions. Wildfires in the U.S. have burned nearly six million acres this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Sacramento, Calif.-based Gridware is building hardware with sensors for detecting anomalies that could ignite fires. Forest resilience bonds can help finance forest restoration projects that are beyond the budgets of state and federal agencies (listen to Blue Forest Conservation’s Zach Knight on ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact podcast.)
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Family Forest Carbon, a forest-carbon and conservation initiative of the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, secured $4.8 million from Link Logistics.
  • A program backed by Access Ventures will provide $100,000 each to five organizations addressing barriers to employment in Louisville, Ky. and southern Indiana.
  • AjoMoney scored an undisclosed amount of funding in a pre-seed round led by Tekedia Capital to digitizing traditional savings circles in Africa.
  • Mumbai-based impact fund Ankur Capital backed IBISA to make agri-insurance products more accessible and affordable for India’s smallholder farmers.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

The Bridgespan Group is hiring an editor in Multnomah County, Ore… The Pew Charitable Trusts is looking for a principal associate for its Enduring Earth initiative in Washington, D.C… VCC Social Enterprises is recruiting a staff accountant in Christiansburg, Va… The Segal Family Foundation is hiring a partnerships officer in Warren, N.J.

The Clinton Foundation is looking for a senior community manager for inclusive economic growth and recovery, based in New York… Need help? Engage a Duke Fuqua School of Business Case i3 consulting team on your ESG or impact investing project. Apply by Wednesday, Aug. 31.

Climate month. Venture for ClimateTech will hold its virtual For ClimateTech Summit and Global Innovation Challenge from Sept. 13-15… Climate Week NYC will take place from Sept. 19-25… Carbon Trust’s Climate Tech Investor Forum will showcase U.K. climate tech innovators, Thursday, Sept. 22 in London… MIT Technology Review will hold its ClimateTech conference Oct. 12-13.

Correction. ABC Impact, a private equity impact investor owned by Temasek and independently managed, has signed the Operating Principles for Impact Management. ImpactAlpha incorrectly stated that Temasek had signed onto the principles.

Thank you for your impact!

– Aug. 30, 2022