The Brief | August 20, 2019

The Brief: Policy incentivizes for impact investing, affordable modular housing, biodigesters in Cambodia, diagnostics devices in Kenya, stakeholder primacy

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Series: What’s Next

Setting the Table: How government policy can help mobilize private capital for public good. The Business Roundtable’s new statement of corporate purpose (see Signals, below) could have been lifted from any number of impact investing white papers. The 300-word statement ticks boxes for creating value for customers, investing in employees, promoting diversity and inclusion, dealing ethically with suppliers, supporting communities and protecting the environment before it ever gets around to talking about shareholders. It’s another sign that corporate leadership, not to mention popular sentiment, is in many ways out ahead of government policy when it comes to charting a new approach to business and finance. Indeed, “Redefining fiduciary duty” is at the top of Amit Bouri’s list of policy changes governments can make to mobilize private capital for the public good.

In the latest edition of ImpactAlpha’s What’s Next series, the CEO of the Global Impact Investing Network opens up a public policy discussion and invites Agents of Impact to weigh in. He cites France’s “90-10 rule” (mandating that companies offer employees access to savings funds that invest in “solidarity-based enterprises”); rules in South Africa and Brazil that require companies to report environmental, social and governance, or ESG, data; and U.K. requirements for disclosure of gender pay-equity performance. Governments “have a unique power to accelerate systemic change by giving innovation a hospitable place to seed and scale,” writes Bouri, who says governments also can use tax incentives to encourage investment in impact and mandate impact measurement. “If impact investing is going to be the new normal, government can help define the norms that get us there.”

Keep reading, “How government policy can help mobilize private capital for public good,” by the GIIN’s Amit Bouri on ImpactAlpha. 

  • Calling all policy wonks. Where has policy succeeded in catalyzing impact investment? Where has it failed? We invite responses of up to 300 words by Thursday, Aug. 22 at [email protected] (or simply reply to this email).

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Blokable secures $23 million for modular housing that promises affordability. A third of U.S. renters are burdened by housing costs; every state faces an affordable housing shortage (even rural renters feel the pain). But in the commercial real estate world, many developers say they build high-end housing because it’s the only market where the economics work. Housing manufacturer Blokable raised $23 million to fix that. The Seattle-based company’s modular housing system can be manufactured affordably and quickly constructed for market-rate or affordable housing projects. Blokable manages the development process from design, planning and manufacturing to delivery, on-site construction and operational support. The company aims to have “a transformative impact on our acute housing crisis,” Blokable’s Nelson del Rio said in a statement. The Series A financing will support a second manufacturing facility and ramp up production. The round was led by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, with backing from Building VenturesKapor Capital, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, and others. Check it out.

Beneficial Returns offers impact-incentivized loan to ATEC Biodigesters.The Cambodia-based company makes and sells biodigesters to farmers on a pay-as-you-go basis, enabling families to convert farm and household waste to biogas. The deal is Beneficial Returns’ seventh investment and second investment in biodigester business, after Mexico’s Sistema.Bio. Singapore-based Impact Investment Exchange facilitated the deal through its Impact Partners platform.

Commsignia raises $11 million for road safety sensor network. The Hungary- and U.S.-based company will use the funding for its sensor-based communication network that allows cars to “see beyond their line of sight.” The firm’s technology is in use in Las Vegas and pilot sites in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

Ilara Health secures seed funding for pay-as-you-go diagnostic devices.The Kenyan startup helps doctors and their patients access affordable health diagnostic equipment with installment payments. It raised $735,000 from ShakaVC, Chandaria Capital, Villgro Kenya, and a group of angel investors.

Signals: Ahead of the Curve

Stakeholder primacy: CEOs redefine the role of business in society. The statement from nearly 200 CEOs redefining ‘corporate purpose’ to include customers, workers, communities and suppliers, along with shareholders, catches them up with other business leaders, not to mention impact investors. Put another way, the Business Roundtable is a lagging, not leading, indicator. Smart CEOs have long known long-term value creation means satisfying multiple stakeholders. The pledge from CEOs of AppleIBMJohnson & JohnsonJP Morgan and other companies does reset default assumptions away from “shareholder primacy,” the dominant corporate ethos of the last few decades. Now they must back it up with real progress for those stakeholders. “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the CEO members of the Business Roundtable said in a new ‘statement on the purpose of a corporation.’ Among non-signatories of the pledge: Roy Harvey at AlcoaStephen Schwarzman of Blackstone and Larry Culp of General Electric.

  • Why it matters. The pledge to “stakeholders” is a pivotal moment, saysBeeck Center’s Sheila Herrling, who wrote earlier this summer that use of the term “represents an intentional shift from a shareholder primacy approach that maximizes short-term profit and returns” to a structure accountable and “responsive to a broader group of those who can affect or be affected by the achievement of the company’s objectives.”
  • Impact alpha. Purpose drives value. One in four U.S. assets ($12 trillion) already take into account environmental, social or governance, or ESG, factors, either when selecting investments or through shareholder resolutions. In May, Harvard’s George Serafeim presented evidence to the Roundtable that “firms with strong purpose and strategic clarity about that purpose and firms with strong material ESG performance create more value.” Thousands of Benefit Corporations and Certified B Corps. have integrated mission into their business practices.
  • From resistance to revival. The move from the CEOs arrives as public sentiment shifts about the role of corporations in an increasingly unequal U.S. economy. Multiples studies show dissatisfaction with capitalism as practiced is growing among young people – and even Republicans. More interesting may be the dominant preference for making business a part of the solution. Nearly three-quarters of 1,026 adults polled in July by Fortune/New Paradigm Strategy agree that public companies should be “mission driven” as well as focused on shareholders and customers.
  • Follow the talent. In the end, it may be the competition for next-generation talent driving the rethink from CEOs. Talent wants impact. Four out of five adults ages 25 to 34 in the Fortune/New Paradigm poll say they want to work for “engaged” companies.
  • Executive watch. The onus is now on the Business Roundtable CEOs to turn pledges into action, says As You Sow’s Andrew Behar. In recent years, the business association has spearheaded efforts to deny shareholders the right to raise the very concepts that the Roundtable has now adopted, says Behar. “If the Roundtable’s new statement is to be taken seriously, we expect to see it withdraw its ongoing attempts to eliminate shareholders’ voices and welcome the engagements designed to implement these new practices.”
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Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Omidyar Network’s education team is recruiting a global head of people and culture in Redwood City, Calif… Shell Foundation is looking for a regional manager for East Africa in Nairobi… AgDevCo is hiring an investment manager in Nairobi or London… Blue Haven Initiative seeks an operations assistant in Cambridge, Mass.

Thank you for reading. More all day at

– Aug. 20, 2019