The Brief | March 3, 2023

The Week in Impact Investing: Grounded

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact!

🗣 Taking root. Technology took a backseat to natural assets like land, farms and people at this week’s Latin American Impact Investing Forum, or FLII, in Mérida, ImpactAlpha’s Jessica Pothering and Amy Cortese reported from the Yucatán capital (see also, “Latin America’s impact entrepreneurs find opportunities in nature-based solutions and smarter services for low-income consumers”). To join sessions on regenerative agriculture and biodiversity, Agents of Impact walked past cenote sinkholes and through haciendas’ lush gardens. Latin American fund managers like SVX Mexico, Vox Capital and Asymmetrica are giving investors access to new strategies in sustainable agriculture, land restoration and conservation. Agri-lender Root Capital and other local operators have become key players in the Biden administration’s efforts to stem migration from Central America with investments in livelihoods, small business and climate resilience. Meanwhile in Ukraine, CrossBoundary is facilitating investments through a network of local partners to build economic resilience, as the firm’s Scott Richards shared in a guest post. 

Nature and community resonate as investment themes in the U.S. as well, as David Bank found at the Sorenson Impact Summit in the snowy Wasatch mountains of Utah (see below). Brooklyn-based BlocPower and Fresno-based Bitwise Industries demonstrated the opportunity in bottom-up solutions, with large fund raises to help low-income communities transition to cleaner energy sources and good jobs, as ImpactAlpha’s Roodgally Senatus reported. Andrea Riquier reported how negative outcomes on the ground in cities like Kalamazoo, Michigan demonstrate the need for ESG standards in municipal bond markets. Dalberg’s Rachna Saxena and Shruthi Jayaram argued that investments in the care economy gain an edge when they also deliver for care workers. Smitha Das of World Education Services previewed the organization’s shift toward “trust-based investing.” She encouraged other investors to rethink the how as well as the what of investing. “Together, we can begin to acknowledge and dismantle inherent power dynamics in the investment process and shift power to the communities we invest in.” – Dennis Price

The Week’s Impact Briefing

🎧 On this week’s podcast. 2X Global’s Sana Kapadia joins host Monique Aiken to ring in Women’s History Month and talk about the state of gender-lens investing. Plus, the headlines. 

The Week’s Convenings 

Skiing is believing. The powder was deep and so were the conversations at the Sorenson Impact Summit, held this year at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah. Some highlights:

  • Opportunity Zone recap. The capital-gains tax break designed to drive capital to low-income census tracts has gotten a bad rap, according to Jim Sorenson, founder of Sorenson Impact Group and an early champion (see, “Sorenson’s Catalyst Fund crafts real estate opportunities with public funds and impact strategies”). At the summit, Economic Innovation Group’s John Lettieri shared interim results of the program, which sunsets in 2027. By the end of 2020, half of the more than 7,000 designated Opportunity Zones already had attracted nearly $50 billion in equity capital under the program, with an average 20% jump in investment activity and positive spillover to surrounding communities. Housing prices increased but rents did not, he said. “The headline here is that we’re in uncharted territory in terms of the scale and reach of this policy,” Lettieri said. “We’ve never seen a policy achieve what I’ve just described.”
  • Diamonds in the asphalt. CNN commentator Van Jones is known for his public policy advocacy, including the bipartisan prison reform bill he helped shepherd into law in 2018. Increasingly, he’s investing for impact as well (he participated in this week’s financing for BlocPower). When Jeff Bezos dropped $100 million on Jones (along with Dolly Parton and José Andrés) in 2021, Jones created Innovations in Justice Tech fellowships and now the $1 million Justice Innovation Prize to attract founders to disrupt the $90 billion incarceration industry (one such startup is Rasa Legal, which helps people expunge misdemeanor convictions from their records). “No pressure, no diamonds,” Jones said in his keynote, arguing that challenges in low-income and communities of color represent outsized investment opportunities. Jones pointed out Obsidian Investments’ Michael Lythcott in the audience. Obsidian has backed Portland-based Opconnect to build high-speed EV chargers so rideshare drivers in low-income neighborhoods can reap premiums for green rides, and Chicago-based Kinnexx, which hires formerly incarcerated workers to build modular electric homes. “There are diamonds in the asphalt, but you have to know how to find them,” Jones said.
  • Nonprofit scaling. Overhead costs would not seem to be the most obvious subject for a popular movie, but director Stephen Gyllenhaal has crafted a compelling documentary exploring the topic. Gyllenhaal screened his upcoming film, “Uncharitable,” based on Dan Pallotta’s book (and TED talk), which challenges the still-prevailing narrative that nonprofits should starve their operating infrastructure along with their leadership and employees. The rise and fall of Pallotta, the organizer of AIDS rides, breast cancer walks and other innovative fundraising efforts, forms the core of the film, which also revises the historical view of other overhead “scandals” involving the Wounded Warrior Project, Invisible Children (of Kony 2012 fame) and other nonprofits. Expect a lively discussion of what it takes to build large-scale, high-impact nonprofits when “Uncharitable” is released in September.
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The Week’s Dealflow

Deal spotlight: ESG in private markets. Limited partners in venture capital and private equity funds are deemphasizing ESG considerations, according to a survey by Adams Street Partners. One reason: the difficulty of backing up ESG claims with clear evidence and reporting. New York-based ESG data and benchmarking platform Novata raised $30 million in Series B financing this week to streamline ESG measurement and benchmarking for private companies and private-markets investors. “As our industry continues to grow, we all face increasing expectations from investors, regulators and the broader society to ensure that strong investment performance is delivered alongside responsible business practices,” said Erik Hirsch of Hamilton Lane, which led the latest round. 

  • Impact management. Early backers of Novata, including the Ford Foundation and S&P Global, also reupped in the round. Other investors include Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, as well as partners and managing directors from private equity firms including Clearlake Capital, Hellman & Friedman and The Vistria Group. The Vistria Group’s Mona Sutphen joined Novata’s board of directors last month.
  • Benchmarks. The range of investors “underscores how major facets of global economic activity are coming together to address our most critical common challenges,” said Novata’s Alex Friedman. He said Novata has contracts with more than 3,500 private-market clients. Novata in November launched benchmarking tools to help clients compare key non-financial data against public and private market industry averages.
  • Market forecast. Global ESG assets are on pace to exceed $53 trillion by 2025, which would represent more than one-third of assets under management. New York-based BlueMark raised $3.8 million early last year for impact verification and assessment from investors, including the Ford and Rockefeller foundations. Morningstar acquired ESG research firm Sustainalytics in 2020.
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Clean energy. Divert raised $1.1 billion to convert food waste into renewable natural gas… Clean energy developer Ameresco will acquire Enerqos Energy Solutions… U.K.-based GeoPura, which converts green hydrogen fuel into electrical energy, secured £36 million… South Africa’s Jaguar New Energies secured $10 million in debt financing for solar energy expansion… Afrigreen Debt Impact Fund secured €87.5 million for small-scale commercial and industrial solar in Africa.

Climate tech. New York-based XL Batteries raised $10 million in seed funding… U.K.-based EO Charging raised $80 million to provide smart-charging solutions for electric car, van, truck and bus fleets.

Financial inclusion. Egyptian fintech startup Hollydesk snagged $1 million to help small and mid-sized businesses in Egypt manage and track daily expenses… Planet42, which provides vehicle financing to low-income and underbanked earners in South Africa, raised $100 million… Serena Ventures backed SoLo Funds, a Black-owned personal finance startup. 

Fund news. Belgium-based Incofin raised $77 million to invest in agrifood and financial inclusion in rural India… Big impact funds and investments defy venture capital’s slowdown.

Inclusive economy. Bitwise Industries raised $80 million to upskill workers on Chicago’s South Side… The European Investment Bank is providing a €500 million line of credit to Bank Leumi to finance eco-friendly projects and small enterprises in Israel.

Low-carbon transition. BlocPower raised $154 million to decarbonize buildings in low-income neighborhoods… Gridium scored $14 million to decarbonize commercial real estate buildings… Utah-based Oka raised $7 million to grow its insurance offerings for carbon credit buyers. 

Returns on inclusion. Ford Foundation and Borealis Philanthropy launched the Disability x Tech Fund… Black-led affordable housing developer SoLa Impact received a $7.5 million from PNC Bank for its Black Impact Fund.

The Week’s Talent

Girish Nadkarni, ex- of TotalEnergies Ventures, has been appointed to Clean Energy Ventures’ strategic advisory board… Columbia Business School grad Andrea Zapata joined VC Familia and Founder Familia as head of programming… NatureVest promoted Julie Abrams to managing director of investment origination.

Robert Bernard, ex- of CommonWealth Equity Partners, is named chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of client sustainability solutions at CBRE Group… Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital is promoting Jeffrey Lipson to president and CEO. He will replace Jeffrey Eckel, who will become executive chair. Marc Pangburn will replace Lipson as chief financial officer.

The Week’s Jobs

💼 Share the week’s impact jobs. Want to post a job in The Brief? Drop us a note.

East Coast

In New York, Sesame Workshop is looking for a senior operations director for international social impact; Acre is recruiting a principal consultant for impact investing recruitment; The Rockefeller Foundation is hiring a director of innovative finance.

Environmental Defense Fund seeks a managing director of sustainable finance and for its EDF+Business; Black Farmer Fund is hiring an impact investment associate; American International Group is looking for a sustainability program manager.

American Express is recruiting an ESG and sustainability manager; Greenbacker Capital is recruiting an institutional sales professional; One Acre Fund is recruiting an investor relations manager; and Women’s World Banking has an opening for a U.S. fund associate.

In Washington, D.C., Village Capital is recruiting a board member; The World Bank seeks a chief ethics officer; and Arca Foundation has an opening for an executive director. T. Rowe Price is hiring an impact investing and ESG lead portfolio analyst in Baltimore.

VCC Social Enterprises seeks an analyst in Christiansburg, Va… Defy Ventures is looking for a startup executive director in its new Pennsylvania chapter… Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative has an opening for a strategies and impact vice president… Putnam Investments is hiring an executive assistant for a sustainability strategy in Boston.

Other U.S. locations

Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation has an opening for a director of investments… PosiGen seeks a corporate finance and capital markets vice president in New Orleans… JUST Community is hiring a director of operations.

Northwestern University is looking for a diversity and inclusion director in Evanston, Ill… Driscoll’s is recruiting a sustainability specialist in Watsonville, Calif… Align Impact is looking for an investment research summer analyst in Santa Monica.

Global locations

Bamboo Capital Partners seeks a valuation manager in Luxembourg… In London, CDP is hiring a London-based Scope 3 lead for its Science Based Targets Initiative, and Unilever is recruiting a global sustainability senior manager for climate advocacy… Fashion for Good is hiring a financial controller in Amsterdam.

World Bank Group is looking for 51 global interns… U.N. Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative is recruiting interns in climate risk and responsible banking… IDB Group seeks a private finance senior associate in Bogota, Colombia…  IFRS Foundation is looking for a global director of investor relationships.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend.

– March 3, 2022