The Brief’s Big Ten: BlackRock’s impact, off-grid finance, environmental risks and returns



Greetings, ImpactAlpha readers!

#Featured: The Brief’s Big Ten

  1. BlackRock drops the impact bomb. Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, sent a stern message to corporate executives: Demonstrate that you’re making positive social contributions or risk losing BlackRock’s backing. Fink’s warning could upend how businesses measure success, writes Ross Baird, chief executive of Village Capital, on ImpactAlpha. “Lots of CEOs talk about the impact their company has, and market around that impact,” he says. “It’s rare for a company executive to think, ‘If my company doesn’t make an impact, my stock price will go down; I’ll lose money; and the board will fire me.’” Read Baird’s full take.

BlackRock just did one thing that changed the game for anyone who invests

2. Environmental risks … Storms, fires, climate change and other environmental hazards are the biggest social and economic threats facing the planet in 2018, says the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, released ahead of the WEF’s summit in Davos next week. The positive? Economic growth could be a powerful tool for mitigating those risks if resources are deployed appropriately. More on the details of the report here.

Economic growth to the (climate) rescue?

3. … and renewal. Restoration efforts are attracting conservation investments. Mexico is tapping hotel insurance premiums to finance renewal of coral reefs. The penalties owed by palm oil producers are being leveraged to pay for reforestation. Hear more — along with chants of “Nature reduces risk!” from podcast regulars Imogen Rose-Smith, Brian Walsh and David Bank — on the latest Returns on Investment episode.

Nature Reduces Risk: Financing large-scale conservation (podcast)

4. Investors clamor for India fintech. The returns from financial technology startups in the country are among the highest in the world, says a report from PwC and Startupbootcamp. Improving regulatory conditions, demonetization, and e-payment companies’ hunger for new markets is driving an explosion of Indian startups and funding. We at ImpactAlpha can barely keep up with all the deals.

Keeping up with India’s fintech rush

5. ImpactUs shuts its digital doors. The online impact broker-dealer has suspended operations. Backed by the Ford, Kellogg and MacArthur foundations and others, the year-old marketplace was helping find investors for about a dozen impact ventures and community development finance institutions. “Unfortunately, we have had to make the difficult decision to cease operations,” said a statement on the ImpactUs website. Other online impact investment matchmakers have met a similar end. Here’s what we know.

ImpactUs marketplace suspends operations

6. China ramps up offshore wind. The world’s most populous — and polluting — country is already the largest solar-energy producer. Within a few years, it is likely to overtake the U.K. and Germany in offshore wind production. A drive for cleaner, more efficient economic development and its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change are key motivators. Find out more.

First the sun, now the wind

7. Achim Steiner’s plan for investing in SDGs. The new chief of the UN Development Programme wants to do for the Sustainable Development Goals what he did for renewable energy in a decade as head of UN Environment: Drive private dealmaking. The opportunities are in the trillions of dollars. “The markets of tomorrow are defined by the SDGs,” he says. Watch ImpactAlpha’svideo interview with Steiner here.

Global goals, country plans: How Achim Steiner is making SDGs investable (video)

8. The off-grid solar frontier. Pay-as-you-go solar company BBOXX sees opportunity in places often deemed too risky, like the Democratic Republic of Congo. All it takes are “customers without electricity, access to mobile money, and a good telecom signal,” says Mansoor Hamayun, BBOXX’s CEO. Read more.

For solar energy, follow the cell phone signal

9. More on off-grid solar. Off Grid Electric raised $55 million to expand into Ghana. The company’s rooftop solar systems power 150,000 homes and businesses in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Côte d’Ivoire. Series D funding was backed by Helios, the $3 billion African private equity firm, and GE Ventures. Off Grid will partner in Ghana with French energy giant EDF, which also is a partner in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana’s CH Group.

10. #Dealflow too big to wait for: Rise Fund edition. TPG’s $2 billion Rise Fund is backing mobile-banking startup Varo Money’s $45 million funding round, led by private-equity firm Warburg Pincus. Rise Fund backed Varo as part of its mission to help people ‘save regularly, spend wisely and borrow responsibly,” says Rise Fund’s Maya Chorengel. Varo is a no-fee online-only banking service that offers loans and an FDIC-insured account with The Bancorp Bank.

That’s a wrap. Have a great weekend! Please send news and comments to TheBrief@impactalpha.com.

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