The Brief | August 27, 2021

The Week in impact investing: Decentralized

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

🗣 Things fall apart. This week’s message from educator and social entrepreneur Sakena Yacoobi offered a bit of counter-programming to the grim news feed from Afghanistan. Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, held out a hand to the country’s new rulers and said Afghanistan’s women are ready to help. “We stand here with Afghanistan when so many left, because Afghanistan is our country, too,” she writes (see Agents of Impact, below). In Haiti, expatriates, local communities, social enterprises and even neighborhood gangs are patching together a bottom-up mutual relief effort in the wake of this month’s earthquake; it’s unlikely to be any more chaotic than the disastrous official response after the country’s 2010 quake (see No. 3). Decentralized finance, or DeFi, means more than cryptocurrencies. In the creative economy, it means a rebalancing of power between gatekeepers and artists (No. 1). In Alabama, it means innovative financing for workforce development and inclusive growth (No. 6). In criminal justice reform, it means listening to and investing in those who have experienced injustice (No. 4). The center cannot hold. Decentralized networks may prove more resilient. – David Bank

👏 Agents of Impact Call No. 30: Capitalism Reimagined. We’re all universal owners now. In financial markets, new calculations of risk and value are upending business as usual. If you thought the ExxonMobil proxy fight was dramatic, the best is yet to come. Engine No. 1’s Michael O’Leary, The Shareholder Commons’ Sara Murphy, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs and other Agents of Impact will talk long term stewardship, investment guardrails and shareholder democracy on The Call. Join ImpactAlpha and Omidyar Network, Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP today

🎧  Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, guest host David Bank talks with Roodgally Senatus about the earthquake relief efforts and growing up in Haiti. And we revisit, “How I Stopped the Taliban From Shutting Down My School,” the TED talk by Sakena Yacoobi, this week’s Agent of Impact. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Sakena Yacoobi, Afghan Institute of Learning. The Taliban holds power in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Not going away are the education centers, health clinics and legal aid services of the Afghan Institute of Learning. “Our democracy may have fallen for now. Ideas do not disappear so easily,” writes Yacoobi, the former Michigan college professor who founded the network nearly 30 years ago, in a widely shared letter. “We will expand our facilities to help those who lost everything, including their homes, in the fighting.” Yacoobi has been here before. When the Taliban were first in power, she founded underground schools in refugee camps in Pakistan and secret schools for 3,000 girls in Afghanistan. When the Taliban fell in 2001, the schools became public learning centers and Yacoobi added health clinics and workshops on love and forgiveness. The institute “was started in secret and it will continue in secret if it must,” she says. For now, the schools and clinics remain standing.

In a second letter this week, Yacoobi made a plea for women, unity and a new narrative. “Our women are not children in need of care. We contribute to the country,” she wrote. “We are here, waiting, and willing to help.” The institute, which enters communities only when requested, has launched nearly 400 education centers, trained 30,000 teachers and educated a half-million children since 1996. Three million patients have been treated at almost two dozen health clinics that have become hubs of emergency food aid and personal protective equipment in the COVID pandemic. A decade from now Yacoobi hopes Afghans will look back at a time when they finally came together. “We put down the guns, we turned away from war and we gave the children books,” she writes. “We took this moment in time and created something far bigger than a shattered nation.” – Dennis Price

The Week’s Big 8

1. Decentralizing the creator economy. Artists are startups. New tech stacks and business models are helping artists, musicians and other creators bypass legacy gatekeepers and build viable businesses. “It would be terribly ironic if the creative economy cannot benefit the creatives,” said Laura Callanan of Upstart Co-Lab. L.A.-based Ear Butter is using blockchain to help musicians secure capital and their intellectual property. “We’ve never thought of them as a business or a startup? Or as CEO of their own company?” said CEO Janice Taylor. “Think about it.” A new tune

2. Climate science talent grab. Generation Investment Management has one. So do Breakthrough Energy, Lowercarbon Capital and BlackRock. What separates the serious climate funds from the dabblers? Climate scientists. Climate change investing “is a mega-scale problem that requires deep understanding of the science behind it,” says Stephan Nicoleau of FullCycle Capital. Your bona fides

3. Building back better in Haiti. This month’s earthquake in Haiti provides an opportunity to learn from the failures of previous recovery efforts. The Haitian diaspora, social enterprises and even the country’s notorious gangs are patching together an ad hoc, bottom-up response that could foster resilience, not only to earthquakes, but also to hurricanes, healthcare and poverty. “Perhaps what we have learned is to do it differently,” said the U.N.’s Amina Mohammed. Step up

4. Correcting criminal injustice (podcast). JustLeadershipUSA trains those affected by U.S. mass incarceration to change the system. DeAnna Hoskins, herself formerly incarcerated, tells host Monique Aiken on The Reconstruction podcast how her own lived wisdom informs the nonprofit’s strategies. “We are proximate to the problem,” she says. “If our voices are not heard, we’re going to continue to recycle this inequity.” Tune in

  • Decarceration-lens investing. “Demand for metrics and data relevant to racial justice has never been higher in the investment industry,” says Rachel Robasciotti of Adasina Social Capital, which is helping investors hone their racial-justice lens. VC firms like Kapor Capital and Village Capital are investing in a pipeline of justice-tech solutions. Check it out

5. Climate-smart farms. Agriculture is both a large carbon emitter and hard hit by climate change. “Farmers are increasingly turning to climate-smart practices to make their operations more resilient and profitable long term,” Artem Milinchuk of FarmTogether writes in a guest post. FarmTogether and other platforms are democratizing access to the $3 trillion farmland market to help farmers transition to climate-resilient agriculture. Dig in.

  • Crowdfunding farmland. Farm crowdfunding platform Steward has rolled out a new Regenerative Capital fund to help sustainably-run farms secure short-term bridge loans. Check it out

6. A is for Alabama. B is for Benefit Corp. Alabama was the 38th state to pass public benefit corporation legislation to let companies embed stakeholders in their company charters. (Better late than never.) The Alabama Power Foundation is anchoring a network of such benefit corporations to surface opportunities for workforce development and “to unravel systemic inequality and provide access to opportunity for all,” Tequila Smith writes in a guest post. Find out more.

7. ESG for kids. The private sector’s role in protecting and nurturing children goes beyond hot-button issues like child labor. ESG frameworks need to consider paid family leave, the affordability of childcare and other family support, argues UNICEF’s Charlotte Petri Gornitzka. “Investing in building an equitable world for all children and young people means ensuring the future of American businesses, markets and communities.” Kid-friendly.

8. Inside the impact taskforce. The COVID pandemic has shattered inertia and created an opening for concerted social and environmental action. Nick Hurd, former U.K. government minister and head of the G7’s new Impact Taskforce, tells ImpactAlpha, “Doors and minds are more open than they ever have been.” The taskforce, which includes Courageous Capital’s Laurie Spengler, LeapFrog’s Andrew Kuper, Generation’s David Blood and other Agents of Impact, will “pull together a picture of what is possible.” Q&A.

The Week’s Dealflow

Spotlight: Agrifood tech. Bangalore-based TartanSense secured $5 million for robotics-as-a-service for India’s farmers. The company makes and leases tractor-powered robotic devices for weeding and spraying to help India’s smallholder farmers cut costs, boost productivity and reduce their need for increasingly scarce farm labor. One obstacle to its original, electric-powered designs: spotty electricity in India’s rural areas. “Electric-powered robots are a good thing to have,” TartanSense’s Jaisimha Rao told ImpactAlpha, “but, practically, it wasn’t working out.” 

  • Also this week: AgNext scored $21 million for sensors for Indian farmers… Sustainable agri-feed venture Beta Hatch in St. Louis secured $10 million, with backing from Lewis & Clark AgriFood… Regrow raised $17 million to help farmers monetize carbon reductions.

Low-carbon transition. Urbint secures $60 million to prevent critical infrastructure failures… RACEnergy in Hyderabad secures $1.3 million to develop electric vehicle battery swapping stations for smaller cities… OGCI Climate Investments, John Crane and Energy Innovation Capital back Kairos Aerospace’s $26 million round to identify methane leaks and emissions from oil fields… PNC Financial Services Group pledges to invest $20 billion by 2026 in green buildings, renewable energy, clean transportation and issuing sustainability-linked debt… Gresham House sustainable forest fund raises $175 million.

Driving impact. Goldman Sachs acquires ESG investment specialist NN Investment Partners for $1.6 billion. Federated Hermes acquires the BT Pension Scheme’s remaining stake in Hermes Investment Management… CapShift clinches $5 million to help philanthropic and financial institutions direct donor-advised funds toward impact investing opportunities… Boston Impact Initiative-backed WeSpire raises $13 million to help corporations boost employee engagement with ESG initiatives.

Health and wellbeing. Element5 raises $15 million for software to support home-based healthcare, senior care and hospice providers in the U.S. and India… Bangalore-based Ultrahuman scores $17.5 million for a wearable monitor to help diabetes patients manage the disease… South Africa’s VitruvianMD secures early funding for low-cost, AI-powered diagnostic devices for low-resource health facilities… Bridges Fund Management’s sustainable growth fund exits The Vet and two other companies.

Clean energy. Apollo backs FlexGen with $150 million to expand grid energy storage… Solar energy software company Terabase Energy will acquire PlantPredict… Form Energy scores backing from TPG’s $5.4 billion climate fund… South Africa-based early-stage hardware investor Savant invests in small-scale biogas venture Renewco.

Digital transformation. Brazil’s Nuvemshop scores $500 million to support digitization of small businesses… Nigeria’s Alerzo raises $10.5 million to digitize informal businesses… Essmart, a logistics platform for India’s informal retailers, secures funding from Insaan and other investors.

Financial inclusion. Brazilian fintech Cora raises $116 million to provide digital loans to small businesses… LeapFrog takes a stake in Ghana’s Fidelity Bank to expand access to financial services… Remittance-payments platform Zepz (formerly WorldRemit) scores $292 million from Farallon Capital, LeapFrog, Accel and others.

The Reconstruction. Makhers Studio raises $250,000 from RSF Social Finance to make affordable housing from recycled shipping containers… change:WATER Labs, Boddle Learning and DrugViu share $500,000 as the winners of Next Wave Impact’s Founders of Color Showcase.

The Week’s Jobs

Illumen Capital seeks a director of investments in the San Francisco Bay Area… The Black Economic Alliance Entrepreneur’s Fund is recruiting a managing director… Stanford University’s Stanford Impact Labs is hiring an executive director… Boston Impact Initiative has an opening for an impact investment associate in Boston… Alterna Impact is looking for an impact investment manager in Guatemala City… Social Finance is looking for a data analytics associate in Boston… The National Community Reinvestment Coalition has multiple positions open in the Washington, D.C. area.

King Philanthropies seeks a portfolio manager… Microsoft is hiring a strategic partnerships manager of philanthropies in Amsterdam… Aspen Institute is looking for an associate director in New York… Kiva is recruiting a U.S.-based director… Camelback Ventures seeks a chief operating officer and a senior lead of conscious tech… Paul Ramsay Foundation is recruiting an impact investing lead in Sydney… Candide Group is hiring a portfolio analytics manager in Oakland… Also in Oakland, PolicyLink is hiring a manager for the office of the founder-in-residence… Mission Driven Finance is looking for a data systems coordinator.

BlueMark seeks a senior associate of impact investing research in New York… Also in New York, UN Women is looking for an innovative finance, ESG and second-party opinion consultant… North Sky Capital is recruiting a secondaries investment professional of private equity in Minneapolis… The JPMorgan Chase Institute seeks a vice president of inclusive banking research in New York… For the Long Term is hiring a corporate governance director… LeapFrog Investments is looking for a communications content lead in Sydney… LOCUS Impact Investing is recruiting a manager of asset management and servicing in Richmond, Va… The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation has openings around the world.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Aug 27, 2021