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The Brief: Special Agent of Impact, turning ImpactAlpha inside-out, food distribution in Tanzania, Elizabeth Littlefield on corporate sustainability



Greetings, Agents of Impact!

The ImpactAlpha team has hijacked this week’s “Agent of Impact” to pay tribute to our very own David Bank, who is celebrating his si…gnificant birthday today (of course he doesn’t know we did this!) Happy birthday, David! And happy reading, all.

– Zuleyma, Dennis, Jessica, Amy, Isaac, Lyneka and Beth

Special Agent of Impact

David Bank, ImpactAlphaThe editor and CEO of ImpactAlpha decided to treat impact investing as a journalism “beat”… then it became one. “The new lords of finance come, not to bury capitalism, but to refine it,” Bank wrote back in 2012, when the ashes of the financial crisis were still smoldering. The Occupy movement had tarred Wall Street with a broad brush; financial innovation had earned a bad rep. Bank’s story in The Atlantic (and then later, the first post on ImpactAlpha) opened inside the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, with him struck by “statistical whiz kids” pitching “complex new bonds, loan-guarantees, and hybrid structures of debt and equity.” Their target wasn’t mortgages, he wrote. “It was women’s economic empowerment. It was energy efficiency improvements and ranch-land conservation. It was small businesses in Africa.” In a profession that prides itself on trend-spotting, Bank’s gift is calling trends earlier than most. As a young muckraker at the Los Angeles Daily News and The Mercury News, he put a human touch on local issues. Later at the Wall Street Journal, he narrated tech’s transformation of business as it upended notions of value, risk and opportunity. Bank founded ImpactAlpha to tell the story of how social and environmental “impact” would do the same.

Bank has grown ImpactAlpha from an occasional blog to an essential daily read (or listen) for professionals across the impact investing industry – from impact’s boldface names to its B-school beginners. Week in and week out, he challenges, critiques and champions the field, celebrating “agents of impact” while pushing them to think bigger and go bolder. Perhaps his ultimate motive: “Willing into existence, by sheer force of exhortation for the alpha in impact, the reversal of polarity of tens of trillions of dollars in assets,” he quipped recently. When the COVID crisis hit, sending cities into lockdown and markets tumbling, Bank willed a counter narrative: that COVID would create the urgency to make progress on challenges like climate and inequality, rather than an excuse to abandon them. Bank led his team in charting the disruption, from OMG and Mobilization, to the Trillions in impact capital needed to respond and usher in a sustainable and inclusive future. “This is history in the making,” he told his editorial team this week. If we’re able to turn a global pandemic into a tipping point for inclusive prosperity, it will indeed be the story of a generation. We wouldn’t want any other Agent of Impact narrating it.

Featured: ImpactAlpha Original

10x Challenge: ImpactAlpha opens channels for collaboration and content. The growing community of Agents of Impact has been ImpactAlpha’s beat as well as our audience. You are our collaborators and contributors as well. Since the coronavirus crisis upended everything, we’ve been working harder than ever to channel your investments, your initiatives and your insights. We have added a weekly podcast, doubled our guest posts (including Elizabeth Littlefield’s, below) and bolstered our partnerships across the impact landscape. We provided The Brief free to all registered users, upgraded our enterprise subscribers with “all-in” site licenses, and increased the number of free stories available on ImpactAlpha.com. Our scholarship fund is helping subscribers stay connected in difficult times.

To be honest, we have struggled to keep up with demand, and with the scope of the unfolding story. Participation has soared in our Agents of Impact conference calls, most notably last week in response to our “10x challenge” to ramp up impact investing in the face of COVID-19. To help you stay connected, and to help us keep track, we are turning our editorial Slack channels inside-out – and opening them to all Agents of Impact. Our aim is to help you connect with each other on the challenges you are working on – and to enlist you to help us cover our expanding beats. In the spirit of 10x, we are seeding 10 conversations; we will add (and cull) topics per your interests:

  • #Agents-of-Impact. Check-in and introduce yourself. Update your mood. Offer your services and ask for help.
  • #Frontier-Finance. Share solutions for capital providers and impact enterprises in emerging markets, with a specific design focus around a stabilization and liquidity fund for small and growing businesses.
  • #Community-Capital. Expand the channels and flow of capital for local and place-based investing and entrepreneurial ecosystems, with special focus on CDFIs and local loan funds, Opportunity Zones, alt-ownership models, and models for individual relief.
  • #Impact-Tech. Identify opportunities and insights in healthtech, fintech, edtech, alt-protein and more.
  • #Inclusive-Capital. Share strategies and opportunities that are gender smart, have a racial equity lens, drive diversity and overcome implicit bias.
  • #Climate-Regeneration. Accelerate financing for renewables, agriculture and food, water and soil, conservation and landscapes in the race to net-zero.
  • #System-Change. Engage around repricing risk, reforming markets, incentivizing impact and reforming indexes and benchmarks.
  • #Management-Measurement. Call out impact-washing while you geek out on impact management, data and disclosure.
  • #Catalytic-Capital. Pull the levers of risk and return with flexible terms, patient capital, credit enhancement and blended finance.
  • #Social-Mobilization. Tune us in to civic engagement, public policy, new forms of organizing, and the growing youth mobilization.

Here’s how to participate, in five easy steps:

  1. Go to ImpactAlpha’s Slack channel.
  2. Click on “Channel browser” in the left column.
  3. Add yourself to any of the discussion channels above (or join a channel directly by clicking on the links above).
  4. Join the conversation with a note or a link.
  5. Not yet on Slack? Sign up here and you’ll be added to the new channels.

Share, “10x Challenge: ImpactAlpha opens channels for collaboration and content,” by David Bank on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

East Africa Fruits raises $3.1 million to address Tanzania’s food distribution challenges. East Africa Fruits estimates that half of crops grown in Tanzania are wasted because of inefficient supply chains and an unreliable cold chain for storing food. East Africa Fruits is a produce distributor that works with Tanzania’s smallholder farmers to acquire, store and deliver goods from farm to market. The seven-year-old company is profitable but needed working capital and growth capital to expand. It has now raised $2 million in Series A equity funding from Goodwell, FINCA Ventures and elea, and roughly $1.1 million in debt. MCE Social Capital contributed a portion of the debt.

  • Regional peers. East Africa Fruits’ model is similar to Twiga, in Kenya, which raised a $24 million funding round in December. While Twiga is shifting focus toward bigger growers as it expands, East Africa Fruits plans to use its funding round to expand its smallholder farmer and informal vendor networks and build out additional services for them. “There’s significant room for East Africa Fruits to grow, as a profitable, sustainable, high-growth small-to-mid-sized business,” FINCA Ventures’ Alex Evangelides told ImpactAlpha.
  • Informal market shift. East Africa Fruits’ customer base is comprised of informal vendors and mom-and-pop shops, as well as high-end hotels and restaurants. The company’s decision to focus more on its underserved customers has helped it weather COVID, Evangelides said: East Africa Fruits’ sales have continued to grow amid the pandemic because of demand from grocery stores and kiosk owners.
  • Check it out.

Australia launches A$300 million fund to accelerate hydrogen-based energy. Hydrogen can be an important part of the transition to low-carbon energy. The Australian government’s Advancing Hydrogen Fund will invest in hydrogen fuel plants that serve both the domestic and export markets. Australia sees potential for the hydrogen industry to generate thousands of jobs, contribute billions of dollars to GDP and help “reliably integrate extensive renewable generation into the electricity grid.”

Impact Voices: Pass the Mic

Corporate sustainability and COVID-19: Three signs of hope for a brighter future. There is a tendency to assume that long-term thinking and sustainability will fall by the wayside in the COVID-19 crisis. “I believe there are clear and hopeful signs to the contrary,” says Elizabeth Littlefield in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. Littlefield, who headed the Overseas Private Investment Corp. during the Obama administration, now leads the sustainability practice at Albright Stonebridge Group, the strategic advisory firm led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Littlefield cites a new ‘just do it’ mindset, renewed respect for science, and even ‘our common humanity’ as signals that businesses will step up to their social responsibilities in the aftermath of the pandemic. “The global pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our system that societal commitments to sustainability are meant to address,” Littlefield writes.

  • In the short term: “Companies will be judged on their ability to weather the COVID-19 economic crisis while marshalling resources to support their employees, customers and suppliers through both economic and health crises,” Littlefield writes.
  • Through the recovery: “Companies will be judged on their ability to rebuild more environmentally, socially and economically resilient institutions.”
  • In the aftermath: “Corporations are going to experience far greater—not less—pressure to do right by shareholders, regulators, consumers, and civil society. More investments are likely to flow to companies and funds with strong sustainability credentials.”
  • Share this post.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Fifty Years is hiring a chief of staff in San Francisco… Sarona Asset Management seeks a director of investments for its Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund in Singapore… Techstars is accepting applications for its Workforce Development Accelerator for startups addressing current labor market challenges… JLens is hosting a virtual Jewish Impact Investing Summit on May 18-19 from 12-3pm ET… MPC Caribbean Clean Energy will hold an online briefing on COVID-19’s impact on renewable energy in the Caribbean this morning at 9am ET.

Thank you for reading. 

–May 7, 2020

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