The Brief | April 10, 2024

The Brief: Reconnecting communities divided by highways

The team at


Greetings Agents of Impact!

In today’s Brief:

  • Reparative infrastructure for divided communities
  • Cross-border payments in Africa
  • Charting a course for business after ‘Peak Fink’

With bridges, buses and bike lanes, Reconnecting Communities rebuilds ‘civic muscles’ along with neighborhoods. “We’ve seen firsthand how a piece of infrastructure that is supposed to connect people can sometimes have the opposite effect,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said two years ago to launch the Biden administration’s Reconnecting Communities program in Birmingham, Ala. (for background see, “Tear down this road: Cities start to remove highways that divide and disadvantage communities”). The program’s ambitious goal: to stitch together communities torn apart by ill-conceived federal highway projects and undo the legacy of racial segregation. Buttigieg returned to the Alabama city this week to tout $14.5 million in federal funding to reconnect historic downtown neighborhoods divided since the 1960s by I-65. From Alaska to Wyoming, communities received grants for projects ranging from bus rapid transit to pedestrian bridges over highways in a second round of Reconnecting Communities awards that brought the program’s total to $3.5 billion for 177 projects.

  • Seats at the table. Early reviews suggest Reconnecting Communities may be even more transformative than anticipated. “This is a whole new civic muscle,” said James Hardy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which offers technical assistance to grantees (disclosure: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsors ImpactAlpha’s coverage of Muni Impact). Projects have brought together grassroots health equity organizations, transportation advocates, government agencies and private-sector players. “We are seeing a level of cross-sectoral partnership that you do not ever see in transportation-oriented projects,” Hardy said.
  • Different strokes. Some projects are uniquely local, like board-roads atop permafrost in rural Alaska. Others, like lanes for pedestrians and bikes along the I-10 in New Orleans, are familiar across the country. In St. Louis, a 20-mile greenway will connect more than a dozen mostly-Black city neighborhoods, parks, business districts and transit hubs. The project is “helping make St. Louis a vibrant community with green spaces, art, and equitable economic development along the way,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones told ImpactAlpha.
  • Private investment. The grants in many cases cover only a portion of a project’s total costs. The St. Louis Brickline Greenway’s $9.9 million Reconnecting Communities grant will cover roughly half of the $20 million needed for a bridge over I-64 that will serve as the greenway’s hub. Project organizers are looking to raise $155 million from private donors for the overall greenway project’s $245 million cost. Communities, says Hardy, “are absolutely going to need creative investors to come alongside them.”
  • Keep reading,With bridges, buses and bike lanes, Reconnecting Communities rebuilds ‘civic muscles’ along with neighborhoods,” by Andrea Riquier on ImpactAlpha. 

Dealflow: Financial Inclusion

Africa50 and Oikocredit lead $14 million round for Zeepay’s cross-border payments. Remittance inflows to Africa are expected to top $55 billion this year. But Africa is the most costly region in the world for inbound money transfers – $200 transfers incur fees of almost 8%, on average. Ghana’s Zeepay is simplifying the process for sending money across borders by linking international money transfer services like Visa, MoneyGram, Remitly, Ria and Transfast to mobile wallets and bank accounts in Africa and the Caribbean. The company also offers services like remittance insurance and payment services for refugees. Altogether it has facilitated over $3 billion in transactions in more than 20 countries. 

  • Economic lifeline. Remittances play a critical role in financial security and inclusion for many African and Caribbean households, said Oikocredit’s Samuel Kibiri. Infrastructure investor Africa50 backed Zeepay as a “digital infrastructure” investment. “Foreign currency inflows from remittances are the lifeline for many African economies with sizable diaspora populations, especially in the current economic environment,” said Africa50’s Raza Hasnani.
  • Institutional investors. Ghanaian fund manager Injaro Investments, I&P and Verdant Capital also invested in the round. Injaro, which last year closed its fund with backing from Ghanaian pension funds and insurance companies, said its investment in Zeepay “represents an important first step in building linkages between Ghana’s pension funds and exceptional local businesses, which are important drivers of Ghana’s economic growth.”
  • Check it out

Dealflow overflow. Investment news crossing our desks:

  • Cariloop raised $20 million to help employers provide services and coaching to employees who are caregivers for family members. (Axios)
  • Bangalore-based PlatinumRx raised $800,000 for its prescription delivery service for senior centers, rehab facilities and homes across India. (Financial Express)
  • France’s Weenat raised €8.5 million ($9.2 million) with backing from Dutch impact investor Pymwymic, German impact fund ECBF and others, to help farmers monitor crops and weather patterns to mitigate water scarcity. (EU Startups)
  • Demark’s Reduced raised $6 million to upcycle agricultural waste into new food products through fermentation. (Reduced)
  • South Korea-based AITRICS raised $20.1 million for its AI-based health monitoring system that can predict patient deterioration. (Mobi Health News)

Podcast: Agents of Impact

Alison Taylor: The broken chain from transparency to accountability to corporate action (podcast). The era of cake-ism (as in having it and eating it, too) has come to an inglorious end. “I think we’re in an era of sober, restrained consideration of tradeoffs – and anchoring on treating workers with dignity and respect,” NYU’s Alison Taylor argues on the latest Agents of Impact podcast. In retrospect, “Peak Fink,” as she calls it, can be dated to the beginning of 2020, when BlackRock CEO Larry Fink declared in his annual letter that companies that embrace purpose “will enjoy greater long-term prosperity, as will investors, workers and society as a whole.” That was then. Taylor, a professor at the Stern School of Business, wrote Higher Ground: How Business Can Do the Right Thing in a Turbulent World” to chart a more focused and realistic course for ethical business, and to challenge many of the assumptions of responsible and sustainable investing. 

  • Theory of change. “We’ve told ourselves this story, that transparency will lead to more trust, and transparency will lead to better behavior. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never lived in such an untrustworthy era,” Taylor told host David Bank. “We seem to be assuming that the average consumer, the average employee, even an informed investor, can somehow navigate through these disclosures and tell some story about whether the company is good or bad. And this story, I’m not saying it’s baseless, but it is not really true.”
  • Modest proposals. In Taylor’s view, the problem comes from pressuring corporations to act like governments when they don’t have structures or mechanisms to represent stakeholders. Instead, she suggests companies take three more limited steps. First, end the contradiction between corporations’ stated values and positions and their political spending and lobbying. Second, be realistic about the issues and challenges that are directly material to a company’s operations and performance. And finally, “Take a human rights approach” to corporate culture. “Anything related to people in your organization and your wider ecosystem, no company can say, ‘That’s got nothing to do with me.’”
  • Keep reading, “The broken chain from transparency to accountability to corporate action,” and listen to Alison Taylor’s conversation with David Bank on the ImpactAlpha podcast network.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Ownership Works is hiring an associate director of client advisory services in New York… The International Energy Forum seeks a senior analyst for its energy markets and data division… The Curt Bergfors Food Planet Prize is accepting nominations for sustainable food system initiatives from around the world… Equity Bank is looking for a sustainability group director in Nairobi… The IFC is recruiting a senior environmental and social development specialist in Bangkok… Palladium seeks an analyst for climate action and disaster management, relief and rehabilitation in Mumbai… Also in Mumbai, MSCI is looking for an India ESG ratings specialist.

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

Thank you for your impact!

– April 10, 2024