The Brief | December 2, 2021

The Brief: The Reconstruction this time, microfinance acquisition, fusion frenzy, Chris Sacca on climate, impact-linked education finance muni-bond impact

The team at


Greetings, Agents of Impact! 

Featured: The Reconstruction

Retelling the history of the past to change the story of the future (video). That the past is never dead – it’s not even past, as William Faulkner observed – was hard to dispute last month in the courtroom in Charlottesville, Va., where organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally were found liable for $26 million in damages under state law. The federal conspiracy charges in the case were brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to protect newly freed citizens from racist vigilantes intent on undermining the just-ratified 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The ongoing sesquicentennial of the historical Reconstruction era provides ample opportunities to plumb the present-day relevance of the pivotal period after the Civil War when, as playwright Gene Bruskin says, “American almost did the right thing.”

ImpactAlpha is pleased to present an (abridged) video version of Bruskin’s musical, The Moment Was Now, for viewing in advance of next week’s Agents of Impact Call (RSVP). The play reimagines the early years of the Reconstruction era, when, like today, the rules and power relationships of America’s political and economic systems were in flux. Set in 1869 Baltimore on the eve of a historic labor convention, Bruskin sets up a dramatic encounter led by Frederick Douglass, who brings together Black and white labor leaders (Isaac Myers and William Sylvis) and Black and white advocates for women’s suffrage (Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Susan B. Anthony) to grapple with the intersecting challenges of race, class and gender. The story of labor organizing across racial lines resonated with Bruskin, who returned to musical theater after he retired from 37 years as a union organizer. “Reconstruction was a moment when it all was under consideration and everything was possible,” he says. “How do we not have another play, written decades in the future, about how we missed this moment now?”

Keep reading, “Retelling the history of the past to change the story of the future,” by David Bank on ImpactAlpha.

  • 🎥 Special showing. Watch the (abridged) video of The Moment Was Now.
  • 👋 Join Agents of Impact Call No. 36: The Reconstruction this time, with Gene Bruskin, Bill Fletcher Jr., former president of TransAfrica Forum, 1863 Ventures’ Melissa Bradley and Monique Aiken, host of ImpactAlpha’s podcast series, The Reconstruction, Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP today.

Dealflow: Impact M&A

Microfinance lender MicroVest is acquired by development company DAI. MicroVest launched in 2003 to expand access to capital to microfinance institutions in emerging markets and facilitate impact investment opportunities for foundations, religious institutions, investment advisors and institutional investors. Development advisory firm DAI acquired the Bethesda, Md.-based lender to bolster its investment management arm, DAI Capital. “We now have a capital budget to systematically think about how we scale this business,” MicroVest’s Gil Crawford told ImpactAlpha. 

  • Fundraising challenges. MicroVest manages about $260 million, down from $392 million in 2017, as the firm pared back its portfolio to weather the pandemic. Crawford said DAI, a larger, employee-owned company with a 50-year track record in emerging and frontier markets, is well-aligned with MicroVest’s development and impact missions.
  • Dig deeper.

Commonwealth Fusion raises $1.8 billion for a clean energy game-changer. Fusion satisfies two cravings of climate investors: for a silver bullet to solve the zero-carbon energy challenge and for investment opportunities that can absorb super-sized checks. Fusion promises to generate clean, safe, abundant energy using the same process that powers the sun – and it will require massive sums of capital before it is commercially viable. The $1.8 billion round for MIT spin-off Commonwealth Fusion Systems is the largest ever raised for a fusion company, for now. The company in September completed a test of its high-temperature superconducting magnets, paving the way for net-energy, a critical fusion milestone, in 2025 (for background, see, “Long coming but slow to arrive, fusion energy approaches a milestone on path to commercial deployment”).

  • Fusion race. Venture-backed fusion energy startups are amassing giant war chests to commercialize fusion. Vancouver-based General Fusion last week raised $130 million. Helion Energy, based in Everett, Wash., secured $500 million in early November, with the potential to unlock another $1.7 billion if it hits performance milestones. Another contender, TAE Energy, rounded up $280 million in April after hitting a technical milestone.
  • Mission possible. Commonwealth expects to begin generating commercial power from a fusion plant by early next decade. The company is “making possible what seemed impossible, one technical milestone at a time,” said venture capitalist John Doerr, who joined the financing round led by Tiger Global Management. Other new investors include Bill Gates, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, George Soros, Emerson Collective, Footprint Coalition and Google.
  • More.

Chris Sacca eyes new fusion and carbon capture funds to address the ‘petro-orgy.’ Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital raised $800 million in August for four climate-focused funds. The Silicon Valley investor is looking to double down on fusion energy (see above) and carbon capture technology with two new funds. “For life as we know it to have a chance at surviving the hangover of a 170-year all-you-can-eat oil and gas buffet, we have to both reduce emissions and suck CO2 out of the sky,” Sacca tweeted. Ryan Orbuch, who led the carbon removal team at digital payments company Stripe, will lead Sacca’s carbon-removal investing efforts.

  • Climate signals. Stripe was an early buyer of carbon removal credits from Climeworks, Charm Industrial, Project Vesta and CarbonCure. Lowercarbon’s new fusion-focused fund signals that key breakthroughs in the long-promised technology are near. Producing more energy than it takes to generate fusion, or net energy, will be “the Kitty Hawk moment for energy,” Sacca wrote in a letter to LPs. Lowercarbon is an investor in fusion startups Commonwealth Fusion (above) and Zap Energy.
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Dutch loan fund links better terms to better educational outcomes. The Impact-Linked Fund for Education will deploy social impact incentives and impact-linked loans to education-focused social enterprises and market-based nonprofits serving youth in the Middle East and Africa. The fund was launched as a Dutch nonprofit foundation by impact advisory firms Roots of Impact and iGravity. Zurich-based Jacobs Foundation and the Swiss government’s Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation have committed an initial $6.5 million. The partnership will “provide policymakers with an efficacy test on models that can be scaled,” said Jacobs Foundation’s Fabio Segura.

  • Education access. Separately, a $100 million partnership between Chicago-based nonprofit Opportunity International and Dutch impact investor Oikocredit aims to increase access to affordable and quality education for 1.6 million children in low-income countries.
  • Check it out

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Energy market access provider Leap secures backing from Japan Energy Fund, a $100 million clean energy fund.
  • Forum Mobility snags $7.5 million in seed financing to expand a heavy-duty decarbonization and electrification program for fleet operators.
  • German development finance institution DEG backs India’s Annapurna Finance to provide microloans to women borrowers.

Impact Voices: Locavesting

How municipal impact investing can improve quality of life for historically excluded communities. To improve educational equity, a Dallas school district issued a voter-approved bond to finance student and family resource centers in underserved neighborhoods. In Newark, municipal bonds helped finance the replacement of nearly 21,000 lead-contaminated residential service lines. “Municipalities are uniquely positioned and responsible for building the physical infrastructure and public goods that better enable all citizens to participate in an inclusive economy,” write Larry Bellinger, Erin Bigley, Matthew Norton and Marc Uy of AllianceBernstein in a guest post. “Investors can put muscle behind the political and civic will to make a difference.”

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Robert Eccles of Oxford’s Said Business School, Ford Foundation’s Roy Swan, Nat Keohane of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and other experts are joining KKR’s sustainability advisory council… Cathryn Peirce, ex- of Compass, becomes Carbon Zero Financial’s co-founder and CEO… EnerNOC’s David Brewster joins the board of advisors at Leap… Shariq Syed and Vishnu Amble join Energize Ventures as chief financial officer and head of investor relations and capital markets, respectively.

Koen Popleu and Monika Kumar, both ex- of Candriam, join Lazard Asset Management as portfolio managers on the firm’s sustainable investing and ESG team… Janney Chang Lucki, ex- of Spring Mountain Capital, joins Arctaris Impact Investors as director of investor relations… Mission Investors Exchange is hiring a programs and initiatives coordinator… Chloe Capital is partnering with Ascender to host “Invest In Women” in Pittsburgh next year.

Thank you for your impact.

– Dec 2, 2021