The Brief | September 21, 2021

The Brief: Private climate capital trumps public commitments, inclusive fintech in Africa, workforce tech in India, U.S. forest resilience bonds

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

👏 The Call: Optimizing for Impact. The regulators are coming. Duke University’s Cathy Clark will provide a quick how-to on impact measurement and management to get you ready for the E.U. and the SEC (see, “Managing investments to meet goals for impact – and expectations of regulators”). If you don’t yet know what ‘SFDR’ means, join Agents of Impact Call No. 31, Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP today.

Take the Optimizing for Impact challenge. Nearly 1,000 people are taking Clark’s course, Impact Measurement & Management for the SDGs.” If you’re one of them, add your certificate of completion to your LinkedIn profile and share your updated profile with us. The first 100 people who do so will be recognized by ImpactAlpha and get a prize from CASE at Duke. The first winner: Reinvestment Fund’s Caroline Rosch Hoover. “Let’s get better at measuring #ImpactThatMatters,” she writes on LinkedIn. “Take a break from Netflix and binge this.”

Featured: Climate Week

On climate action, private investors urge governments to jump in (the water is warming). Many global leaders are still being coy about their climate ambitions. Private funders are stepping up theirs. “My message here today is: The money for ambitious climate action is there. The private financial sector is being transformed,” Mark Carney, now a U.N. special envoy, said to open Climate Week NYC. Added the former head of the Bank of England, “Ambitious climate action is not just possible, it will be profitable if countries act.” 

Exhibit A: Corporations and banks put up $1 billion for Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to drive down costs and spur commercial adoption of critical emissions-reduction technologies. The blended-finance fund, launched by Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy, is keying in on direct air capture, green hydrogen, long-duration energy storage and sustainable aviation fuel. Last month, Catalyst pledged – contingent upon passage of the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – to mobilize $1.5 billion over three years to kickstart demonstration projects across the initiative’s four focus areas.

  • Decarbonization tools. French utility Engie debuted Ellipse, a “carbon intelligence platform” to help businesses track emissions footprints and optimize decarbonization investments… The nonprofit Circulate Initiative released a Plastic Lifecycle Assessment Calculator to assess the climate impact of waste management practices in Asia… Oliver Wyman and Climate Group collaborated on “Getting Real: a blueprint for a commercially smart climate transition”… Carbon Tracker will detail oil and gas companies most exposed to stranded assets. The full Climate Week calendar.
  • Keep reading, “On climate action, private investors urge governments to jump in (the water is warming),” by Amy Cortese on ImpactAlpha. Other climate new crossing our desks:
  • Fresh off its investment in eco-chemical maker Solugen, New York-based Carbon Direct invested $17.7 million for a minority stake in LEILAC, the decarbonizing cement subsidiary of Australia’s Calix Ltd
  • Los Angeles-based Fifth Wall, a $2.5 billion venture capital firm focused on real estate, raised $140 million from multiple real estate firms for its climate tech fund. Fifth Wall hopes to raise a total of $500 million.
  • Nickel-hydrogen battery startup EnerVenue raised $100 million in a round led by Schlumberger and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures.

Sponsored by Morgan Stanley

Innovations selected for Sustainable Solutions Collaborative. Learn how Morgan Stanley is helping to advance breakthrough innovations for global sustainability. Meet the cohort.

Dealflow: Inclusive Fintech

Lendable backs Finclusion Group to drive financial inclusion for underserved Africans. Singapore’s Finclusion offers credit and financial services through a variety of consumer brands in Africa. It has deployed more than $310 million in loans to 240,000 employees and employers, small businesses and other customers. A debt investment of $20 million from Lendable will help the company expand in East and Southern Africa. Lendable provides debt financing for fintechs that help low-income and women borrowers increase their incomes or reduce their costs (see, “How Lendable parses risks and returns to mobilize capital for inclusive fintech in emerging markets”).

  • Financial inclusion. Egypt’s Kashat raised nearly $1.8 million in bridge financing to provide small loans for unbanked and under-banked Egyptians via its mobile fintech platform.
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Three workforce ventures score funding to link workers with jobs in India. Workforce tech ventures aimed at blue-collar workers are leveraging mobile technology to address a supply-demand imbalance in India’s labor force. Apna, BetterPlace and Vahan, which connect blue-collar and gig workers to available work opportunities, each scored investor capital in the past week. Mumbai-based Apna had the biggest raise, securing $100 million in a round led by Tiger Global Management that valued the company at $1.1 billion.

  • Pandemic shift. India has roughly 300 million blue-collar and gig workers; some estimates go as high as 450 million. Workers are leaving the agriculture sector in search of new opportunities. Labor in the growing e-commerce, delivery and logistics sectors is in high demand. Bangalore-based Vahan scored $8 million for its blue-collar recruitment platform that includes an AI-bot on WhatsApp. The pandemic has “given a boost to the digitization of recruitment and training processes,” said Vahan’s Madhav Krishna. BetterPlace, also in Bangalore, raised $24 million for its worker recruitment and onboarding platform.
  • Check it out

Steward raises $8.8 million for online lending for sustainable farms. Steward pools investments from individuals to provide capital to sustainably-run farms, fisheries and food producers. The online platform has provided more than $7 million in loans since 2017 (for context see, “Steward revamps its ‘crowdfarming’ model with short-term loans for sustainable farms”). The Grantham Environmental Trust’s Neglected Climate Opportunities and Australian investment firm Tripple led the Series A round.

  • Family affair. Additional funding came from Ponderosa Ventures co-founder Evi Steyer, whose billionaire father Tom Steyer last week launched Galvanize Climate Solutions, and her mother, banker and angel investor Kat Taylor.
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Omidyar Network India and Chiratae Ventures invest in Gurgaon-based HexaHealth to accelerate digitization of surgical care.
  • India’s Tinkerly scores early funding to enable Indian students to learn robotics and coding online, in local languages.
  • Lightship Capital leads a financing round for feminine care brand Femi Secrets.

Signals: Innovative Finance

‘Forest resilience bonds’ show an ounce of prevention can slow wildfires – and provide returns. In a corner of the Tahoe National Forest in California that has escaped this year’s devastating wildfires, crews have been working to thin smaller trees, manage controlled burns and deploy other proven interventions to improve forest health. Whether such practices can reduce the intensity of wildfires on a large-scale is not fully clear. But a local utility, the Yuba Water Agency, is satisfied with the efforts. The utility is repaying the private investors who put up the money for the preventive measures. “They’re paying for the increases and improvements in water quality and quantity, as well as the reduced fire risk to some of their infrastructure,” says Abby Gritter of Blue Forest Conservation, which arranged the “forest resilience bond” that paid for the work. Investors include the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Calvert Impact Capital and CSAA Insurance Group. “This is a new financial market where commercial investors have not necessarily gone before,” says Rockefeller’s Adam Connaker.

  • Protecting communities. In many places across the western U.S., forests have as much as 10 times the natural biomass. When combined with a hotter and drier climate, the region is a tinderbox. Blue Forest is gearing up to launch its second forest resilience bond, also in Tahoe National Forest, but closer to homes and communities. Blue Forest is touting the benefits of preventing catastrophic fires like the Dixie fire, which last month destroyed the town of Greenville, Calif. “In addition to the wildfire resilience and health of the forest, there’s also an element of protecting communities,” Gritter said. The forest resilience bond let crews complete projects in four years that had been projected to take 10-12 years.
  • Keep reading, “‘Forest resilience bonds’ show an ounce of prevention can slow wildfires – and provide returns,” by Roodgally Senatus on ImpactAlpha.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Enigma’s Marc Da Costa joins the board of Media Development Investment Fund… Peter Gajdos, ex- of IPM Group, joins Fifth Wall as partner and co-lead of climate tech investments… Cisco is hiring a climate impact portfolio manager in Evansville, Ind… Rally Assets seeks an impact data analyst in Toronto… Local Enterprise Assistance Fund is recruiting a loan officer and a loan associate in Boston… Social Finance is looking for a director of advisory… POCIT is connecting people of color to hundreds of jobs in tech.

Thank you for your impact.

– Sept. 21, 2021