The Brief | July 9, 2021

The Week in impact investing: Breakthrough

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

☎️ Capitalism reimagined. Elevating the power (and wages) of low-income workers is not typically at the top of investors’ agenda. But a fairer distribution of productivity gains and economic growth may be just what capitalism needs, agreed participants on last week’s Call No. 29, sponsored by Omidyar Network. Hundreds of Agents of Impact zoomed in to rewrite rules and design policies for the stakeholder economy. The recap and the video

🎧  Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, ImpactAlpha’s Amy Cortese and David Bank join host Brian Walsh to talk fusion, the transformational energy source long in coming but slow to arrive (see No. 1, below). Special guest: Bob Mumgaard of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

🙌  Drive your organization’s impact with ImpactAlpha for Teams. Hundreds of enterprises, funds and institutions are sharing ImpactAlpha’s The Brief, posts, podcasts and Calls to showcase their leadership inside and outside of their firms. Drop us a note (or reply to this email) to get started on ImpactAlpha for Teams.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Howard University. Good journalism can make people uncomfortable. Well-told stories prompt readers and listeners to challenge assumptions, rethink narratives and relearn histories. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project did all of those things. The New York Times’ features and podcasts on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved people to Virginia centered the role of slavery in American history and lifted up the contributions of Black Americans in challenging the nation to live up to its ideals of freedom. The series, not without controversy, succeeded in presenting a more comprehensive picture of U.S. history. It landed at a moment of racial reckoning in the U.S., and jumpstarted a debate on critical race theory. The framework posits that racism isn’t just the product of individual bias but is embedded in legal systems and policies. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Backlash ensued. In less than four months, Fox News has mentioned critical race theory more than 1,300 times. A half-dozen states have passed anti-critical race theory laws; another 20 have introduced similar legislation. Testifying before Congress, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, injected some common sense: “What is wrong about having some situational awareness about the country that we are here to defend?” Good journalism ignites public conversation.

Good journalism deepens understanding of the past to help citizens build a better future. This week, Hannah-Jones accepted a tenured position at Howard University. Backed by $20 million from the MacArthur, Ford and Knight foundations, she will establish a Center for Journalism and Democracy to train aspiring journalists across multiple historically Black colleges and universities. Howard’s gain is the University of North Carolina’s loss, after a tenure controversy derailed Hannah-Jones’ appointment at her alma mater. She will be joined at Howard by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, like Hannah-Jones a MacArthur genius, who himself sparked a national conversation on reparations. “Our press does not reflect the nation it serves and too often struggles to grasp the danger for our country as we see growing attacks on free speech and the fundamental right to vote,” said Hannah-Jones. The new center will “produce journalists capable of accurately and urgently covering the challenges of our democracy with a clarity, skepticism, rigor, and historical dexterity that is too often missing from today’s journalism.” – Dennis Price

  • Share Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Agent of Impact story and like it on Instagram.
  • Impact of Agents. With her 15% Pledge, Agent of Impact Aurora James of Brother Vellies has helped get 385 Black-owned brands on the shelves of Macy’s, Gap, Sephora and other retailers.

The Week’s Big 7

1. Commercializing fusion. After decades of research and development, fusion energy shows new promise as a scalable, carbon-free source of power. More than two-dozen venture-backed startups have raised a combined $2 billion to commercialize fusion power. “Solve nuclear fusion, solve a lot of the world’s problems,” said Future Ventures’ Maryann Saenko, an early investor in fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Plug in.

2. Inclusive fintech boomlet in Africa. Fintech ventures have claimed nearly half of the $1.2 billion raised by African startups in the first half of 2021. The roster of impact investors active in this month’s deals include Accion Venture Lab, Alitheia Capital, Bamboo Capital, Flourish Ventures, FMO Ventures, Investisseurs & Partenaires, Mercy Corps Ventures and Novastar Ventures. Dive in.

3. Indoor agriculture. Record shattering weather is making the case for “controlled-environment agriculture.” The latest signal: Equilibrium Capital raised $1 billion for its second controlled-environment food fund, triple the size of its first fund.

  • Going public. Greenhouse venture AppHarvest, an Equilibrium portfolio company, went public on the Nasdaq last year via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Novus Capital Corp.
  • Farming unicorn. Vertical farming startup Bowery Farming raised $300 million in a round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company. It is the first unicorn in the climate-tech portfolio of Urban Us.

4. Climate finance fits and starts. Funds dedicated to renewables ($52 billion) out-raised conventional energy funds ($8 billion) more than six-fold last year, according to financial data provider Preqin. Separately, multilateral development banks committed $66 billion in climate finance last year (a 7% increase from 2019) and brought along another $85 billion in co-financing. Most of the multilateral funding went to climate mitigation; only a quarter was pegged for climate adaptation. Go deeper.

5. Gender-smart investing is ready for primetime. “If you hesitate, you will miss both a great business opportunity and a chance to create a better and more equal society,” CDC Group’s Nick O’Donohoe wrote in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. CDC and other development finance institutions more than doubled their commitment to grow the 2X Challenge, the G7’s gender finance initiative, to $15 billion. Onward.

6. From cleantech to impact investing in China. China’s emissions-reduction goals have private equity and venture capital firms moving into the backyard of Asia Green Fund, one of the earliest private equity firms focused on China’s transition to a low-carbon economy. Next up: opportunities to drive social impact, such as affordable housing for migrant workers, said Asia Green’s Bo Bai in a Q&A with ImpactAlpha. Check it out.

7. Scaling impact via mergers and acquisitions. The crises of the last year caused nonprofit leaders to consider creative alternatives, including mergers and acquisitions. “The sector should build on this momentum,” wrote Dalberg’s Jeffrey Berger and Noah Elbot in a guest post. “It is time to mainstream M&A planning as a key tool for scaling impact, not a rushed desperation measure.” Read more.

Bonus: Philanthropy’s deal with the Devil. The capital structures of top foundations “resemble the business model of hedge funds, typically allocating 80% to 90% of assets to opaque ‘alternative’ holdings—private equity, distressed debt, partnerships organized in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and similar,” Clara Miller, former president of the Heron Foundation, wrote in Nonprofit Quarterly. Miller digs into the private equity industry’s move into rental housing and advises foundations: “Stop undermining grantees’ goals by investing in companies that work against them.”

The Week’s Dealflow

Fund news. BlackRock will launch a $500 million green infrastructure fund for Asia, Latin America and Africa… Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase are partnering on a public-equities ESG fund focused on health and nutrition… Social Investment Scotland partners with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and 10 other U.K.-based universities to launch Impact 12 to invest in mission-led university ventures.

Clean energy. The Rise Fund and Norfund commit $125 million to Indian solar energy company Fourth Partner Energy… GM’s philanthropic group launches a $25 million Climate Equity Fund to facilitate equitable adoption of electric vehicles and clean tech… Nigeria’s OneWattSolar issues an Islamic-finance compliant green bond to expand off-grid solar access in Africa.

Returns on inclusion. The Community Development Trust partners with Volunteers of America National Services to invest $2.3 million to preserve affordable housing in Puerto Rico… Woodforest National Bank and American Express National Bank commit $8.8 million to community development financial institutions… AllHere, a Black- and woman-led edtech company, scores $8 million to help U.S. schools improve attendance.

Low-carbon transition. California-based Fortera secures $30 million to convert CO2 into cement… AXA IM acquires the Muhammad Yunus-backed carbon offset marketplace ClimateSeed from BNP Paribas… Active Impact Investments closes $54 million fund for early-stage climate tech investments.

Small businesses. The International Finance Corp. is allocating $40 million to Sagicor Bank to help Jamaica’s small businesses rebound from the pandemic… MaxAB raises $40 million to digitize Egypt’s mom-and-pop stores… Green Gold Farms secures $1.6 million to help Ghana’s agri-sector boost local organic food production. 

Circular economy. Bridges Fund Management sells a majority stake in U.K.-based second-hand book retailer World of Books to private equity firm Livingbridge… Apollo takes a controlling stake of Italian eco-packaging producer Reno De Medici. 

Financial inclusion. Nigerian fintech FairMoney raises $42 million to expand banking and lending services as a newly licensed microfinance institution… Pomona Impact backs Mexican neobank Vexi. 

Inclusive economy. Singapore’s Workmate secures a $10 million loan from Lendable to grow its marketplace for informal workers… India payments platform DanaMojo raises 30 million rupees from Social Alpha and individual investors. 

Vaccine delivery. Zipline secures $250 million for drone delivery in Africa, Japan and the U.S… Adjuvant Capital backs VitriVax to deliver vaccines in resource-poor settings. 

The Week’s Talent

Tonnetta Carter, ex- of Medical College of Wisconsin, joins gener8tor as associate director of investments… Lisa Mensah of Opportunity Finance Network and John Rogers Jr. of Ariel Investments were among the Black leaders who spoke with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo about ways to address the racial wealth gap… Erika Danina Williams, ex- of Oceanside Museum of Art, is named vice president of client development at RSF Social Finance.

Lisa Fedorenko, ex- of Marshall Investments and Reinventure, and Glenn Bartlett, ex- of Amber Electric, will run Alberts Impact Capital, launched by the Australian family behind AC/DC and other music bands… The Urban Land Institute appoints Peter Ballon of CPP Investments as global chair… Cathay Dinas, ex- of Uptima Entrepreneur Cooperative, joins Backstage Capital as director of operations… Gigi Kamali, ex- of Biome, is named director of development at Notley… Heba Ali, ex- of Egypt Ventures, is named managing director of Endeavor Egypt.

The Week’s Jobs

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition is hiring a program manager and a special assistant to the chief of community finance and mobility… Imperative 21 is hiring a lead of narrative and strategic communications in New York… The Common Fund for Commodities is recruiting a junior project manager in Amsterdam… The Carrot Project is recruiting an executive director in Boston… BlackRock has openings for an impact-focused director in its Alternative Solutions Group and an alternatives-focused vice president for its Impact Opportunities Fund in New York… Twilio is recruiting a senior director of strategic initiatives for social impact.

M&G is hiring an impact director in London… Shaper Impact Capital seeks a volunteer thought leadership/social media influencer… Generation Investment Management is hiring a growth equity analyst in London… Align Impact is looking for an investment analyst of private funds in Santa Monica, Calif… CapShift seeks a director of finance in Boston… Nonprofit Finance Fund is recruiting a manager of business development in Los Angeles or Oakland… Domini Impact Investments is hiring a senior marketing and shareholder communications associate in New York.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– July 9, 2021