The Brief | April 3, 2020

The Week in impact investing: Essential

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact!

Impact Briefing. On ImpactAlpha’s new weekly podcast, host Brian Walsh talks with Jessica Pothering about flattening the curve of small and growing business failures in emerging markets (see No. 1, below), and with Amy Cortese about this week’s Agent of Impact. Check out this week’s show, and subscribe on AppleSpotify or wherever you listen.

Thanks to the hundreds of Agents of Impact from around the world who participated in yesterday’s Call No. 14, “Resilience capital for small and growing businesses.” We’ve shared some audio highlights in the podcast and we’ll have a full report and audio replay next week.

– David Bank, editor

The Week’s Agents of Impact

Essential workers. They are the ones who are going to get us through this. Not the bankers and CEOs, hedge fund managers nor even impact investors. Essential workers are *not* working at home because they are, well, essential – ostensibly meaning valuable, not expendable. “This is a cry for help,” said Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, who was fired after organizing a walk-out of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse to demand the company sanitize it after at least two workers tested positive for COVID-19. Workers rose up across the country this week. Just as no investor likes to take uncompensated risk, neither should workers. Employees of Amazon-owned Whole Foods staged a sick-out, demanding paid leave for self-quarantines, free COVID testing, and hazard pay. Bus drivers, garbage collectors, poultry workers and Instacart employees also walked out. Nurses at HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest hospital chain, protested the lack of protection.

ImpactAlpha has recognized frontline health workers as Agents of Impact. So too are warehouse and retail clerks, delivery drivers and plant workers, farm hands and caregivers. COVID-19 has exposed the overlooked, underpaid workforce that keeps the economic wheels turning and lets the well-off virtually shelter in place. The full list of essential workers is here. “The working and the poor are more exposed,” said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young, who found nearly half of upper-middle employees were working at home, versus just 3% of workers in the lowest income group. Near Bakersfield, Calif., migrant farmworkers who don’t carry immigration documents do carry letters from their employer declaring them “critical to the food supply chain,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. “It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,” Nancy Silva, an immigrant from Mexico, told The New York Times. In Massachusetts, union members asked GE to retool plants to make much-needed ventilators, rather than shut down. “Each of our stakeholders is essential,” CEOs declared last summer, as they redefined the purpose of a corporation. “Investing in our employees,” they went on, “starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.” Now would be the time for CEOs to come through on their commitment to “deliver value” for essential workers and other stakeholders, as they said, “for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.” – Amy Cortese

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The Week’s Big 5

1. Keeping emerging market entrepreneurs afloat. Thousands of viable and growing businesses around the world are being forced to pivot, pause, furlough and fire due to COVID’s unexpected – and unprecedented – global shutdown. In emerging markets, capital providers are scrambling to scrape together funding, creative solutions and emotional support to keep the heart of local economies beating. Stabilization and liquidity.

  • How development finance can help. Development finance institutions are stepping in with multi-billion dollar commitments to backstop cash-strapped emerging market governments. In a guest post for ImpactAlpha, Dalberg’s Edwin Macharia, Jesse Baver, Kusi Hornberger and Rachna Saxena call on development finance leaders to coordinate liquidity facilities, focus on the most vulnerable, and expedite deals. Take action.
  • Scaling up the response. The United Nations calls for a $2.5 trillion package to shore up emerging market economies. In the U.S., new localists call on the federal government to appropriate $25 billion to the dozens of local small-business emergency funds. Dial it up.
  • Sneak peak. We got the scoop on The Entrepreneur’s COVID-19 Playbook,” Kyle Westaway’s 40-page guide to stimulus money, tax breaks and legal tips for surviving and thriving during the pandemic. (Westaway’s “Weekend Briefing” can help bridge those no-ImpactAlpha days.)

2. Powering COVID-age learning. Online education peaked in 2015 at about one-third of U.S. students. Now, it’s likely the only option for the rest of the school year. In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, Achieve Partners’ Daniel Pianko rounds up the raft of technology platforms “working to keep the engines of learning running smoothly.” Take notes.

3. The carbon bubble has burst. The coronavirus is “a game-changer” that will “permanently alter the energy industry and its geopolitics,” declared Goldman Sachs. “The oil industry as we know it is dead,” concluded i(x) investments’ Trevor Neilson. Whether oil stays dead depends on whether investors want to finance debt-burdened, money-losing, carbon-intensive companies – or the transition. The first test: how trillions in global relief packages are spent. Future forward.

4. Impact investors tackle challenges of COVID – and capitalism (podcast). In an interview with ImpactAlpha’s David BankAmit Bouri of the Global Impact Investing Network says the coronavirus crisis has laid bare urgent issues of inequality. Impact investors have an opportunity to lead “a more resilient system that can better weather the shocks coming out of the crisis.” Read on and listen in.

5. Putting his money where his mouth is. In ImpactAlpha’s latest series, Matthew Weatherley-White of Caprock Group shares how he’s integrating impact and sustainable principles into his personal portfolio. His number one issue: climate. “If we don’t figure out how to arrest global warming, these other issues will become irrelevant. So I’m giving it everything I got.” Hear him out.

The Week’s Dealflow

COVID relief. African Development Bank issues a $3 billion social bond to combat COVID-19… France commits €4 billion to see tech startups through corona crisis… LISC is raising a $100 million fund for COVID relief… Africa-focused Vital Capital launches $10 million debt fund for coronavirus relief (note link correction).

Health and well-being. LeapFrog leads $55 million investment in MedGenome to expand genetic testing in South Asia… Gilde Healthcare raises €416 million to back affordable healthcare companies… Finnfund backs Kasha to expand women’s health access in East Africa.

Circular economy. Vericool clinches $19.1 million for eco-friendly packaging… Qarnot raises $6.5 million to use data servers to heat buildings.

Fund news. Vickers Venture Partners raises $200 million for sixth fund… New fund planned by DBL Partners.

Innovative finance. Seychelles’ ‘debt-for-conservation’ deal paves the way for more blue bonds… Abu Dhabi plans Gulf region’s first social impact bond.

Smart cities. With a temporary pivot, Via ride-sharing platform raises $200 million… Lillium secures $240 million for electric ‘air taxis.’

Everyday investors. Singapore’s OB Asset Management debuts SDG fund for retail investors.

The Week’s Talent

Eiji Ueda, the co-head of Asia-Pacific Securities for Goldman Sachs, replaces Hiro Mizuno as chief investment officer of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund… Robert van Zwieten, founder of The Serendra Group, joins Convergence as managing director for the Asia-Pacific region… Paul Munday joins S&P Global Ratings’ Sustainable Finance team in London… Rodney Sampson, founder of Atlanta’s Opportunity Hub, joins Draper Goren Holm as venture partner… Cari Hanson takes the helm of SOCAP as CEO Lindsay Smalling transitions.

The Week’s Jobs

The World Economic Forum is looking for a head of impact measurement and management… In Washington, D.C., Open Road Alliance seeks an investment analyst/associate and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs seeks an executive director… Blackstone seeks a vice president of measurement and reporting for its Strategic Partners – Blackstone Impact Asset Management group in New York… Confluence Philanthropy seeks a chief operating officer in Oakland or New York.

Thank you for reading.

–Apr. 3, 2020