The Brief | January 22, 2021

The Week in Impact Investing: Creativity

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

Creative construction. Poetry and music lifted this week’s U.S. presidential inauguration, helping connect and inspire a weary nation. Culture and creativity move us. In a series of essays this week in ImpactAlpha, artists and investors explored how creative industries also provide good jobs, on-ramps to opportunity, and solutions to challenges from racial injustice to climate change (see No. 1, below). “We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what ‘just’ is isn’t always justice,” shared inaugural poet Amanda Gorman (see Agent of Impact)

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Brian Walsh breaks down creative economy opportunities with Upstart Co-Lab’s Laura Callanan. We also listen, again, to some of the lines from Amanda Gorman, inaugural poet and this week’s Agent of Impact. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share, and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

The Week’s Big 5

1. Creativity, culture and capital. As more businesses are seeking impact alongside profit, “so too must our cultural institutions and creative industries now engage in the global effort to achieve just and sustainable impact economies,” writes Sir Ronald Cohen to introduce a collection of dozens of essays from Nesta, Fundación Compromiso and Upstart Co-Lab. ImpactAlpha presented four of the essays this week. 

  • Culture connects us. People are using culture and creative activity to create jobs, raise voices and build hope,” writes American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Local arts organizations, he writes need “investment – of financial capital, or human resources, or public recognition – to reach a wider audience and eventually be part of global solutions. Connect
  • Safeguarding Africa’s creative and cultural moment. The economic and social benefits of Africa’s cultural renaissance are at risk in the COVID pandemic. HEVA’s George Gachara calls for a transformational finance facility to provide space for creative practitioners to recover and reinvent. Seize the moment
  • Driving economic opportunity in Atlanta. Creative industries in Georgia employ 200,000 people and represent a combined $37 billion in revenue. “Atlanta has leaders that believe in creative industries,” writes Invest Atlanta’s Sheoyki Jones of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority. Go local.
  • Aligned capital for creative entrepreneurs. Hamburg-based Purpose Ventures is helping creative founders across the globe grow businesses while maintaining ownership and control. “The world needs creative leaders and solutions,” write Purpose Ventures’ Alexander Kühl and Camille Canon. “It’s our job to foster their creativity and preserve their impact through aligned investments.” Line up.

2. Betting billions on electric mobility. Investors and corporations can’t get enough of electric cars, trucks, fleets, batteries and charging infrastructure. Rivian, backed by Amazon, raised close to $2.7 billion at a valuation of $28 billion. The 100% electrification of vehicles requires investments of more than $2.5 trillion over the coming decade, according to Bank of America. Dive in

3. Developing local energy developers. The time is right to replace aging infrastructure and create jobs in marginalized communities with distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar, electric vehicles for last-mile delivery and mass transport, indoor urban food production, and small scale waste-to-energy systems, writes Spring Lane Capital’s Rob Day in a guest post. Needed: pathways for local project developers to get in on the action. “Most of the project developers in the renewables and sustainability space in the U.S. do not come from the disadvantaged communities that need them the most,” Day says. “Local project developers are key to ensuring a just energy transition.” Check it out

4. Day One climate action. U.S. President Joe Biden kicked off his ambitious climate and racial justice agenda with an ambitious set of executive orders: rejoining the Paris climate agreement, addressing the impact of climate change on disadvantaged communities, and revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, to name a few. More

5. New books for a new era. The disruptions of the past year have upended business as usual. Among the new books charting the course forward: 

  • Systems change. In 21st Century Investing, The Investment Integration Project’s Bill Burckart and Steve Lydenberg suggest financial strategies to drive systems change.
  • Roadmap to net-zero. In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates details the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need. 
  • Participatory funding. ImpactAlpha contributor Meg Massey and Village Capital’s Ben Wrobel profile grantmakers and investors who are ceding decision-making power in Letting Go: How Philanthropists and Impact Investors Can Do the Most Good by Giving Up Control.
  • Collect the full set.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Amanda Gorman, poet. Following Lady Gaga and J.Lo at a star-studded inauguration, the 22-year old poet stole the spotlight. Accolades poured in from Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Al Gore, who pointed new fans to Gorman’s call to climate action, Earthrise.” Gorman’s soon-to-be-published books of poetry, including one for children, jumped to the top of bestseller lists. Gorman demonstrated the vital social role of poetry and the arts. Her performance, The New York’s Times’  Dwight Garner said, felt like “the beginning of a remade connection in America between cultural and political life. A sleeping limb was tingling back into action.” The performance was all the more remarkable considering Gorman, like Biden, has worked to overcome a childhood speech impediment. Her inaugural poem, finished in the aftermath of the mob attack on the Capitol, describes “a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” 

“Culture connects us,” the cellist Yo-Yo Ma says in an essay published this week on ImpactAlpha. It is “how we create meaning, find purpose, understand each other, experience wonder and construct new realities.” To meet the challenges of racial injustice, climate change and a bitterly divided populace, artists such as Gorman are helping construct new narratives. Hundreds of creative professionals signed a letter urging Biden and vice president Kamala Harris to create a cabinet-level arts and culture agency. “Your candidacy was framed as a battle for the soul of this country,” they wrote. “You need artists and arts workers to win this battle.” Gorman, a self-described “skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” is part of a generation stepping up to that work. As “The Hill We Climb” concludes:

The new dawn blooms as we free it 
For there is always light
if only we’re brave enough to see it 
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

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The Week’s Dealflow

Low-carbon transition. Breakthrough Energy Ventures raises an additional $1 billion for cleantech startups… Renewable Resources Group and Capricorn Investment Group float a $250 million SPAC… Nuveen acquires clean energy infrastructure investor Glennmont Partners… Off Grid Electricity Fund invests in Energy Systems Group to bring solar electricity to Haiti.

Fund news. SEAF launches a new gender lens fund… Lion’s Head closes a $400 million Facility for Energy Inclusion… Merchant Capital closes a $22 million affordable housing tax credit fund. 

Agrifood investing. U.S. buyers test sustainability strategies at Peter Pan Seafood… DeHaat raises $30 million to support smallholder farmers in India. 

Digital transformation. Google invests in Dunzo to advance India’s digital economy… OZE secures $700,000 to support small businesses in Nigeria. 

Health and wellbeing. Aledade snags $100 million to expand value-based healthcare… Unseen Capital gets Eli Lilly backing to support diverse healthcare entrepreneurs. 

Skills and education. Two Sigma Impact and BayPine invest in workforce educator Penn Foster… uLesson raises $7.5 million for online learning in Africa.

The Week’s Talent

The Kresge Foundation taps Tosha Tabron, ex- of Invest Detroit, as a social investment officer and promotes Joe Evans to portfolio director and a social investment officer… Sarah Gelfand, ex- of Fidelity Charitable, joins BlueMark as managing director… Sandbox Industries names Kelsey Maguire and Binoy Bhansali as managing directors.

The Week’s Jobs

Omidyar Network is hiring a chief of staff in Washington, D.C… VertueLab seeks a two-year climate impact fund fellow… The Social Entrepreneurs’ Fund seeks an analyst in Brooklyn… Convergence is recruiting a regional representative for Latin America… The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities team is looking for a finance director in Arlington, Va.… London Business School’s Startup Hub is hiring a research associate in entrepreneurship… Arctaris Impact Investors is hiring an associate in Boston… The Boston Ujima Project has internships available for investment research and fund management in Boston. 

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 22, 2021