The Brief | April 26, 2024

The Week in Impact Investing: ImpactAlpha’s First Decade

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! Read on for co-founder Zuleyma Bebell’s reflections on ImpactAlpha’s 10-year anniversary.

In today’s brief:

  • Birthing ImpactAlpha
  • ‘This Week in Impact’ podcast
  • Seeding green projects in low-income communities
  • Blending finance to expand US internet access

🗣 Raise a glass. In late April of 2014, I was about to give birth to two babies. My first child, Sebastian, was due any minute. And David Bank and I were about to push live. Having your first-born is hard. So is launching a company. The two experiences have something else in common: If my husband and I had waited for the perfect time, we wouldn’t have the family we have now; if ImpactAlpha had waited for funding, we wouldn’t have the company we have today. In this week’s podcast, David shares some moments from our first decade. After thousands of stories (and Briefs and podcasts and Calls and events) my son and ImpactAlpha are both turning 10. Another lesson from both parenting and building a business: just keep going.

All of our kids have grown up with ImpactAlpha, and given us an appreciation of what has come to be called “child lens investing.” In The Brief this week, Essma Bengabsia of the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights impact investments to fix a broken child care system by helping providers build facilities and parents find day care. Kids also need renewable energy, affordable housing and racial equity, as Kellogg Foundation’s Cynthia Muller points out in her reflections on lessons learned from the foundation’s $310 million in mission-driven investments. Builders Vision’s Bruce McNamer sees family offices as crucial in funding the climate transition. We’re looking forward to seeing all of these contributors and partners at next month’s Mission Investors Exchange conference, where ImpactAlpha is the media partner. 

Amy Cortese has been all over the climate beat and particularly the rollout of green community infrastructure (see Agent of Impact, below). This week, she had reports on Solar for All, as well as the steep learning curve for community lenders that are leveraging the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Contributor James McIntyre has a compelling proposal to green down payment assistance to create better homes and better mortgages. Louie Woodall dissected the debate over carbon credits that has roiled the Science Based Targets Initiative. Dennis Price has keyed in on the “alpha in impact” opportunity in helping reintegrate citizens returning from prison, now visible in FreeCap’s new “decarceration index.” And we’re watching the impact of artificial intelligence, including in David’s report on the investment in Anthropic by Omidyar Network and the Ford and Nathan Cummings foundations, which guest authors Lyel Resner and Wilneida Negrón see as a signal of impact investor interest in responsible innovation in tech

And the beat goes on. From baby steps, we’ve learned to walk, with the help of the thousands of Agents of Impact who have filled ImpactAlpha with their innovation, energy and commitment. We’ve grown up, as have many of you, alongside this idea that it’s possible to optimize finance for better outcomes for our kids and for all of us. We’re grateful to be able to play a role in that growth and are humbled by the trust you’ve placed in us. And now that we’ve put another Brief to bed, it’s time to tuck in the kids as well, at least for a few more years. – Zuleyma Bebell

The Week’s Podcasts

🎧 This Week in Impact. Host Brian Walsh takes up ImpactAlpha’s top stories with editor David Bank. Up this week: the opportunities for family offices to invest in the climate transition; three leading foundations’ investment in responsible AI; and the debate over the changing approach to carbon credits as a path to net zero. Bonus: Audio highlights from 10 years of ImpactAlpha. 

  • Listen to the new episode of This Week in Impact. Get the podcast in your feed by subscribing on Apple or Spotify. While you’re there, leave us a rating and review. 
  • Agents of Impact. Zarû Systems CEO Loren Taylor has the ambitious goal of building a billion dollars in Black wealth in eight years through 1,000 businesses worth at least $1 million each. “We’re focused on bridging the racial wealth gap – unapologetically,” Taylor says. Zarû’s first business application: modular, turnkey indoor farms run by local owner-operators. Listen now

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Trenton Allen, Sustainable Capital Advisors: Bringing green infrastructure to Black and Brown communities. (Q&A). Networks of nonprofit lenders are looking to seed green projects in low- and middle-income communities by leveraging the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that is part of the US Inflation Reduction Act. For-profit companies are playing a role as well. Washington, DC-based Sustainable Capital Advisors, founded by finance industry veteran Trenton Allen, helped the Justice Climate Fund and other organizations craft their strategies for the federal funds. The firm’s Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Academy aims to give community lenders, local governments and project developers affordable access to the specialized knowledge and skill sets they need for the massive deployment effort. They “already know how to do the hardest part, which is lending and capital deployment and underwriting,” he says. “The green piece is just another type of project or project activity.” To those who doubt whether such lenders are up to the task he says, “Recognize the experience and the depth of financial understanding that exists within these organizations.” 

The Week’s Deal Spotlight

Blending finance to bring broadband to remote communities. The lack of high-speed Internet service in rural and mountainous regions of the US exacts a socio-economic toll, limiting access to jobs, education, healthcare and other opportunities and services. The Biden Administration’s $700 million ReConnect initiative, funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law, aims to extend affordable broadband to all Americans by 2030. Public investment is “necessary but insufficient,” said Brian Vo of Connect Humanity, a nonprofit impact investor helping local internet service providers, or ISPs, bridge project financing gaps. The organization is raising a $25 million fund to bring services to remote communities in Appalachia. The fund was seeded with first-loss capital from Microsoft.

  • Reconnecting communities. Connect Humanity blends private debt and revenue-based financing with multiple government programs, including the $43 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, or BEAD, the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and ReConnect. In Puerto Rico, Connect Humanity offered $1.5 million in revenue-based finance to VPNet to extend a network funded by the ReConnect program. “None of these programs are perfect and inevitably leave patches of unserved communities,” Vo shared with ImpactAlpha. “That’s where we structure flexible financing to plug the gaps.”
  • Proof of concept. Revenue-based finance and grants helped family-run ISP Wave 7 Communications extend affordable fixed-wireless service in Enfield, NC. A loan, blended with state and federal grants and a community benefits agreement, enabled an ISP in Alabama to build a fiber network in Macon County. Connect Humanity has deployed $3 million to such projects via a proof-of-concept fund, catalyzing an additional $47 million in public and private financing. Connect Humanity focuses on municipal ISPs, co-ops, community-owned networks and privately-owned local providers with “a demonstrated commitment to serving local needs.”
  • Go with the dealflow, and check out the full roundup of ImpactAlpha’s deal reporting this week.

The Week’s Talent and Jobs

💼 See and share new impact jobs posted this week on ImpactAlpha’s Career Hub and view hundreds of more jobs in impact investing and sustainable finance. Have a job listing to post? Submit it here.

Economist Lawrence Summers joined the advisory board of residential solar provider Palmetto… Galway Sustainable Capital added Derek Porter, formerly with Earthrise Energy, and Steve Hane, formerly with Steelhead Composites, as vice presidents of asset management. The investment firm also added Jennifer Simpson, previously with Anzu Partners, as chief operating officer, and Kara Parmelee, formerly with Paul Hastings, as general counsel. 

Nick Moon, previously with LeapFrog Investments, joined Circulate Capital as its new chair… Rochdale Capital appointed Jessie Lee, managing director of Renaissance Economic Development Corp., to its loan committee… Candace Dodson-Reed, previously with the University of Maryland Baltimore County, joined the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative as chief of staff… Andrea Longton’s book, “The Social Justice Investor,” is out

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– April 26, 2024