The Brief | June 18, 2021

The Week in impact investing: Juneteenth

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

Independence day. This three-day weekend may have caught you by surprise, but the first federal Juneteenth holiday was a long time coming (see No. 1, below). Because June 19 falls on a Saturday, U.S. federal workers and others have the day off today after Congress passed and President Joe Biden speedily signed a bill to mark the day in June 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free. What came after the original Juneteenth was known as Reconstruction, a “second founding” that included the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the most ambitious effort yet to build multi-racial democracy and broad-based prosperity. That national experiment in reconstruction ended about a dozen years later; local successes were crushed by white supremacist backlashes in place like Wilmington, N.C. (1898) and Tulsa, Okla. (1921), and decades of Jim Crow repression. 

What comes next now is just as consequential. Now, as then, protection of voting rights, accountability for state violence, expanded access to capital, and the shrinking of the racial wealth gap are all at stake. Now, as then, the backlash is in full swing. Juneteenth “is a day to reflect, aspire, and invest in the America we want to have for Black people, yes, but also everyone,” says Opportunity Finance Network’s Lisa Mensah (see Agent of Impact). To be sure, the holiday, known variously as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Juneteenth Independence Day, is only symbolic. As we again work to build multi-racial democracy and broad-based prosperity, let it symbolize a common resolve, this time, to see the reconstruction through. – David Bank

🎧 Impact Briefing. Lisa Mensah joins host Monique Aiken to reflect on Juneteenth, community lending and today’s opportunity for a just reconstruction. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share, and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

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The Week’s Agent of Impact

Lisa Mensah, Opportunity Finance Network. The rising star of community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, was on display in Mensah’s appearance alongside U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The occasion: the announcement of $1.3 billion in flexible capital for 863 CDFIs, the first tranche of $12 billion allocated to community lenders in December’s COVID relief package (see, “Relief package boosts lenders in underserved communities“). That total is more than the amount of capital has flowed through the federal CDFI Fund since it was created in the 1990s. The infusion represents a step-change for financial first-responders like Renaissance in New York, Accion in California, Hope Credit Union in Mississippi, and the Northwest Native Development Fund in Washington. In the COVID pandemic, CDFIs channeled $34 billion in federal forgivable loans to thousands of small businesses owned by women, people of color and rural entrepreneurs poorly served by a financial system dominated by megabanks.

Mensah, the daughter of a Black Ghanaian father and a white Oregonian mother, served as President Barack Obama’s undersecretary of agriculture for rural development. Since taking the helm of Opportunity Finance Network, the CDFI industry’s trade group, in 2017, she has rallied support to expand CDFIs’ ability to provide badly needed capital in both urban and rural communities. During COVID and the protests over the murder of George Floyd, OFN emerged as a key intermediary for corporations and other partners looking to help small businesses recover and make good on their racial justice pledges. Google invested over $180 million into community lenders through OFN last year. This week, Wells Fargo made a $25 million grant to OFN’s Finance Justice Fund, launched last year with $100 million from Twitter. Vice President Harris called Mensah “an extraordinary leader.” Mensah signaled her continued resolve in a guest post on ImpactAlpha marking Juneteenth. “As we mark the joy of Emancipation this week,” she writes, “the painful realities for Black Americans are a reminder that the nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all remains unfulfilled for every American.” – Amy Cortese

The Week’s Big 5

1. Celebrating Juneteenth with community lending. “Freedom and justice take money, and it ought to be invested directly in our communities,” writes Lisa Mensah of Opportunity Finance Network in a guest post on ImpactAlpha (see, Agent of Impact, above). “Corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, and others looking for ways to address systemic racism, the racial wealth gap and persistent poverty must look to community development financial institutions.” Lisa’s full post.

  • Catalytic capital. The nearly $1.3 billion in flexible grants distributed this week to 863 CDFIs stand to catalyze eight times that amount in private-sector investment, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
  • Third Reconstruction. Rev. William Barber II kicks off a year-long Poor People’s Campaign Monday to build toward next summer’s “massive, generationally-transformative” Moral March on Washington.
  • Systems investing. To address systemic racism, impact investors need to “get systemic,” write Common Future’s Rodney Foxworth and William Burckart of The Investment Integration Project in a guest post.
  • Black culture on blockchain (podcast). Startup public benefit corp. Made with Black Culture is challenging the production industry’s extraction of the creativity of Black people with a blockchain-based certification to authenticate Black culture products. MWBC “exists to protect, preserve and perpetuate Black culture’s existence,” says founder Tommy Johnson on the latest episode of The Reconstruction. Tune in.

2. Making climate investing more than a campaign plank. Next week’s New York City primary election for comptroller represents a chance for voters to weigh in on investment policies at the city’s $253 billion pension system. Before the vote, the current comptroller (and mayoral candidate) Scott Stringer announced a $2 billion bump in climate-solution investments this year. That hardly “meets the climate crisis with everything we’ve got.” Public pensions are stuck in neutral when it comes to climate investing, ImpactAlpha contributing editor Imogen Rose-Smith argues in her latest Institutional Impact column. Dig in.

3. Catalyzing climate capital. Institutional investors need safe, simple and scalable products, Climate Policy Initiative’s Vikram Widge said at the GIIN’s “Next Normal Now” virtual convening on climate action. Credit Suisse’s new $318 million Climate Innovation Fund addresses such issues, said the bank’s James Gifford, by investing in the decarbonization of agriculture, manufacturing and mobility through 10 global venture funds. Dive in.

4. Stewardship in action. Legal & General Investment Management divested shares in four companies, including U.S.-based AIG and PPL Corp. for failing to address climate risk. It also voted against 130 companies that fell short of its minimum standards. Raise the bar.

  • Pushback. Investor groups including the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow filed suit to reverse Trump-era restrictions on shareholders’ ability to hold companies accountable.
  • ESG policy drama. For pension fund managers, ESG was in under Clinton, out under Bush, in again under Obama, and out again under Trump. New legislation aims to clarify that pension plan fiduciaries may indeed consider environmental, social and governance factors in investment decisions. Also needed: standardized sustainable investing definitions and minimum reporting and disclosure standards, argues Sustainable Research & Analysis’ Henry Shilling. Check it out.
  • Fossil disclosure. Ceres’ “Lifting the Veil” report outlines investor expectations for financial disclosure in the U.S. oil and gas sector, including future asset retirement obligations, such as plugging wells and decommissioning infrastructure, and long-term pricing assumptions. 

5. Mobilizing impact-first capital. The New York Pooled PRI Fund is mobilizing flexible capital for nonprofits that provide social services in low-income neighborhoods by lowering transaction costs for foundations. The strategy, which has helped 11 New York foundations pool program-related investments, or PRIs, may be a model for how to get impact-first capital off the sidelines, argues Seachange Capital’s John MacIntosh. Keep reading.

The Week’s Dealflow

Low carbon transition. EcoATM Gazelle secures $75 million for e-waste recycling… The Rise Fund’s Matrix Renewables acquires solar portfolios in Spain and Portugal… iClima Earth sets up a renewable energy ETF to trade on the London Stock Exchange… Morgan Stanley backs a cohort of sustainable solutions… G2 Venture Partners raises $500 million for its second sustainability fund… Circulor raises $14 million for carbon tracking and sourcing transparency across supply chains… DroneBase scores $12.5 million for drones that provide data for solar and wind-energy asset owners. 

Returns on inclusion. Nearly 300 organizations receive a combined $2.7 billion from MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan JewettSquare completes its $100 million commitment to minority and underserved communities with investments in LISC and The Bitcoin EndowmentOlamina Fund lends $13 million to financial institutions in Black, Native and rural communities… Salonica Maroon launches a £75 million ($106 million) fund to back diverse-led consumer goods and retail enterprises in the U.K. 

Health and wellbeing. Tata Group acquires majority-share of Indian online pharmacy 1MG TechnologiesOrange Middle East and Africa and AXA Assurance Maroc acquire Moroccan digital healthcare company DabaDoc… Malaysia’s Naluri Hidup raises $5 million to expand digital diabetes care services in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines… The Pill Club, which aims to make primary care more affordable and accessible for women, secures $41.9 million.

Impact tech. WhereIsMyTransport secures $14.5 million to help commuters plan transport across formal and informal public transit systems… SupPlant raises $10 million for affordable irrigation for smallholder farmers… KKR’s Burning Glass merges with Emsi to form a labor market data platform.

Inclusive communities. Freddie Mac Multifamily is issuing $230 million in social bonds to fund community-based homes for people with disabilities… Merritt Community Capital raises $102 million to build 450 affordable housing units in California… Micron backs women-owned Seelaus Asset Management to advance housing equity.

Small businesses. Ghana-based Oasis Capital invests $1 million in Ghanian digital payments company appsNmobile Solutions via its $50 million Oasis Africa VC Fund… Sky.Garden raises $4 million to help Kenya’s small businesses go digital… Women-led Hello Allice scores $21 million to support small business owners.

Frontier finance. India’s Fluid Ventures raises $3.4 million for its first fund to make “micro” investments in early-stage ventures… Kenyan businesses score COVID recovery funding from Vital CapitalDFC approves $873 million in COVID-recovery and development investments. 

The Week’s Talent

Marc Sternberg leaves the Walton Family Foundation to lead A-Street Ventures, a new Bentonville, Ark.-based venture capital fund seeded by members of the Walton family to invest in K-12 education… Jessica Lauretti becomes managing director of The Anthem Awards, the Webbys’ new award for the world’s “best purpose and mission-driven work.” The first winner: Pharrel Williams… Ellavoz Impact Capital names David Kaye of BioFortis to its board… The Decarbon8-US Fund is soliciting applications from climate tech companies focused on decarbonizing transportation.

Michael Smith, who leads My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, is nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden to be CEO of AmeriCorps… Entrepreneur Kim Lane is named chief operating officer of Right to Start… Julia Mensink, ex- of Ceniarth, joins Acumen as head of impact…Saadia Madsbjerg, ex-of the Rockefeller Foundation, is named vice president of global community affairs for The Coca-Cola Company and president of The Coca-Cola Foundation… Salil Shetty, of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and ex- of Amnesty International, will become vice president of global programs at The Open Society Foundations, Sept. 1.

The Week’s Jobs

Ben Franklin Technology Partners is hiring a venture capital analyst and other roles in Philadelphia… J.P. Morgan Private Bank is looking for a private bank sustainable investing analyst in New York… WeFunder has openings for a head of talent, an operations manager and for human resources… Veris Wealth Partners is recruiting an associate wealth manager with impact investing experience in San Francisco… Ecotrust is hiring a financial analyst in Portland… VC Include seeks a director of programs in San Francisco. 

Boundless Impact Research & Analytics is looking for a climate impact portal manager in New York… JFF is looking for a director for its Employment Technology Fund… Domini Impact Investing is hiring a senior research associate in New York… The Austin Community Foundation is recruiting a director of community impact in Austin… TruFund Financial Services seeks a director of New Market Tax Credits in New York… BSR is hiring an associate director of sustainability in New York… Lafayette Square is recruiting a vice president of legal in New York.

Align Impact has openings for a client advisory associate and an investment strategist in Santa Monica, Calif., and an associate impact advisor in Santa Monica, New York or Chicago… Generate Capital is looking for an investment team vice president/principal… Mutual Housing California is hiring a community builder and resident service coordinator in Woodland, Calif… Facebook is recruiting a carbon-focused sustainability program manager in New York… FaithInvest is recruiting a senior advisor of Catholic investing.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– June 18, 2021