The Brief | February 5, 2021

The Week in Impact Investing: Leadership

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

Radical reconstruction. Recovering the complex history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction illuminates a period of coexistence and equitable wealth-building. “Because we have seen it,” 1863 Ventures’ Melissa Bradley tells host Monique Aiken in the first episode of ImpactAlpha’s new podcast series, The Reconstruction. Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Carmen Rojas is digging into the period of radical reconstruction for a time “when Black people in the U.S. were fully afforded the right to participate” – before a white supremacist backlash. Labor organizer-turned-playwright Gene Bruskin, who sets his musical in 1869 Baltimore, tells Aiken he thinks of the original Reconstruction “as a time when America, almost, did the right thing.”

The Reconstruction project, launched on ImpactAlpha this week, is recovering that history in service of doing the right things this time. Almost won’t cut it. The series’ tagline: Rethink. Redress. Liberate. Per rethinking, see the climate justice strategies of Black investors in the green economy (No. 1, below). We’re seeing elements of redress begin to emerge, for example in the Justice for Black Farmers Act to provide federal land grants of up to 160 acres. The hunger for liberation (and for outperformance), was apparent in the record time in which Arlan Hamilton this week crowdfunded $1 million for Backstage Capital from 1,619 investors (history, again), with another thousand on a waitlist. Teachers in the future will bring to life stories from our time to illuminate how we created sustainable, inclusive prosperity and built a vibrant multiracial democracy – or didn’t. In podcast conversations and on the beat, we’re pleased to launch The Reconstruction to help sketch a first draft of our history. – David Bank

  • Subscribe to The Reconstruction. The first three episodes of the podcast series are up on Spotify and Anchor. Monique Aiken lays out core principles of The Reconstruction in her introduction.
  • On the beat. Find podcast summaries and ImpactAlpha’s original coverage of The Reconstruction, plus dealflow, signals and Agents of Impact, on our new landing page

Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Brian Walsh engages NYU Stern School’s Tensie Whelan about corporate board leadership – or the lack of it – on material environmental, social and governance, or ESG, issues (No. 2, below). Plus, the headlines. Follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you like the show, tell your friends. Tune in.

The Week’s Big 5

1. How climate justice provides an edge in the green economy. A network of Black investors, entrepreneurs and operators is using proximity to communities and their own lived experience to build companies that solve for both the environment and justice. “These businesses are designed for everyone and deserve full funding and full support,” says Elemental Excelerator’s Nneka Uzoh, a founder of the network, Greentech Noir. Keep reading.

2. Making corporate boards climate-smarter. That corporate boards are not stepping up to leadership on material environmental, social or even governance challenges may be because so few board members have any ESG expertise, argues New York University’s Tensie Whelan. Out of nearly 1,200 Fortune 100 board members, Whelan’s research identified just three with climate change credentials. Dive in.

  • No confidence. “Incremental changes are not enough to restore investor confidence and position the company for the global energy transition,” the $283 billion CalSTRS pension fund said after ExxonMobil reported a $22 billion loss for 2020. CalSTRS is backing the effort by hedge fund Engine No. 1 to put four climate experts on Exxon’s board. 

3. Biodiversity is the new climate change. Nature is an asset — and we are failing as asset managers. The Dasgupta Review from the U.K. government frames biodiversity in dollars and cents (or pounds and pence) to back up scientists who have been sounding the alarm, mostly unheeded, about species collapse and the runaway degradation of ecosystems. Cambridge University’s Partha Dasgupta calls for an accounting system that values natural assets on par with produced capital and human capital. Promising models: Intrinsic Value Exchange converts natural assets like forests, soil, and coral reefs into financial capital. EcoEnterprise Fund finances regenerative agriculture and conservation enterprises in Latin America. Keep it wild.

  • Conservation finance. AXA invests $11 million in Forest Carbon to restore peatlands in Indonesia as habitat for Sumatran tigers and other species.

4. Microsoft’s carbon capture. The software giant paid an average of $20 per ton for the removal of more than a million metric tons of carbon last year, making it one of the market’s largest purchasers. “It’s imperative that we move away from paying for carbon avoidance and focus on paying for carbon removal,” writes Microsoft’s Brad Smith. Just two tech solutions made the cut: Carbon sequestration firm Charm Industrial, and carbon capture company Climeworks (Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund also invested). Suck it up.

5. Halving U.S. food waste. Around $14 billion is needed each year through 2030 to achieve the U.S. goal of halving the amount of food going to landfills and incinerators, or down the drain, or left in the fields to rot. In Roadmap to 2030 and Insights Engine, the nonprofit ReFED analyzes seven supply-chain actions, 40 food-waste reduction solutions and more than 700 organizations working to reduce food waste. Dig in.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, development economist. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has a warning for nations prioritizing self-interest in their pandemic responses: “No one in the world can be safe until everyone is safe.” The former (twice) finance minister of Nigeria, former managing director of the World Bank and former chair of the vaccine alliance GAVI has emerged as a champion of a strong global COVID vaccination mobilization. “We can solve this problem,” she says. Okonjo-Iweala’s calls out weak international cooperation, protectionism, intellectual-property protections and other regulatory obstacles that are blocking an effective vaccine rollout. Wealthy countries with less than one-fifth of the world’s population have bought up more than half of global vaccine supply. COVAX, a vaccine finance facility co-led by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and World Health Organization, is struggling to purchase enough vaccines to inoculate just 20% of people in lower-income countries by the end of the year. 

A vaccine effort that neglects poor countries could cost the global economy up to $3.8 trillion, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. That raises the stakes in the debate between proponents of “open-sourcing” vaccine manufacturing technology to take advantage of untapped production capacity, and defenders of intellectual property protection as a way to promote future investments in vaccines and therapeutics. “We can and must find a ‘third way’ that allows access without discouraging continued investment in research and development,” says Okonjo-Iweala. The Harvard and MIT-trained economist is a favorite to be the next chief of the World Trade Organization, if the Biden administration gives the nod. She would be the first woman and first African to lead the trade organization. Okonjo-Iweala says the agreement between Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca and Oxford shows how, “with sufficient coordination and cooperation, generic manufacturers in developing countries can license these products within the current system” (see, “Bill Gates says the world (sorta) came together to fight COVID-19). Okonjo-Iweala cites a saying in Igbo, her mother tongue: Aka nni Kwo aka ekpe, aka ekepe akwo akanni wancha adi ocha. If the right hand washes the left, and the left hand washes the right, then both become clean. “It is only by working together, by one hand washing the other,” she says, “that we can chart a way out and through the crisis.” – Dennis Price

The Week’s Dealflow

Agrifood investing. Future Meat raises $26.8 million to go to market with lab-grown chicken… Indonesia’s Green Butcher raises $2 million for plant-based meat… Frontier Nutrition snags $6 million to bring fortified snacks to Bangladesh… KTPL backs Ecotrace to bring transparency to Brazilian supply chains… Elevar Equity and Global Founders Capital back Peruvian online grocer Favo.    

Low-carbon transition. Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund backs Infinium to produce net-zero ‘electrofuels’… Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition launches sustainability ‘rolling funds’… Intersect power raises $600 million to expand utility-scale solar in the U.S.    

Digital transformation. Bamboo Capital raises €10 million for BLOC fund in Africa… Catalyst Fund backs six early-stage African fintech ventures… Suma acquires Mexican business tech venture Bind ERP.  

Health and wellbeing. Temasek’s ABC World Asia backs Vietnamese oral health provider Kim Dental… Circuit Clinical raises $500,000 for COVID-19 tests and medical research… Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. files for IPO. 

The Reconstruction. Arlan Hamilton opens Backstage Capital to retail investors… Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spins off criminal justice reform activities.

The Week’s Talent

NEW: Last Mile Health co-founder Raj Panjabi appointed President Joe Biden’s global malaria coordinator.

Satyam Khanna, ex- of NYU School of Law, is named senior policy advisor for climate and ESG at the Securities & Exchange Commission… Jon Shieber is TechCrunch’s new climate editor… Bill Caesar, ex- of WCA Waste Corporation, joins Generate Capital as operating partner for the waste-to-value division. Joining Generate’s board of directors are Revolution Foods’ Kristin Richmond and Susan Gonzalez, ex- of InterGen… Jane Henderson will retire this year as president and CEO of Virginia Community Capital.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. appoints David Marchick, ex- of Carlyle Group, as chief operating officer. Other new DFC appointees: Sarah Fandell as general counsel, Algene Sajery as vice president of external affairs, Kyle Murphy as senior advisor to the CEO, Michelle Czarniak as deputy chief of staff, and Alex Francés as special assistant to the CEO… Logan Ashcraft, ex- of Centrica, and Nicholas Adeyi, ex- of Guidehouse, join the investment team at Congruent Ventures. 

Stephanie Cohn Rupp is the new CEO at Veris Wealth Partners. Founder Patricia Farrar-Rivas, who led Veris for 13 years, remains chair of the partner group and senior wealth manager… Carlos Rangel, who leads the expanding equity work at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is promoted to Kellogg’s vice president and chief investment officer. Outgoing CIO Joel Wittenberg retired at the end of January… Keitha Pansy, ex- of BlackRock, joins Women of the World Endowment as managing director.

The Week’s Jobs

KKS Advisors seeks a manager of ESG and sustainability in Boston… Raven Indigenous Capital Partners is looking for an Indigenous impact analyst in Vancouver… The Circulate Initiative, the nonprofit affiliate of Circulate Capital, has openings for a research director and a director of operations and strategy… Apple is looking for a carbon project manager to join its environment, policy and social initiatives team in Cupertino, Calif.

Kiva is hiring a director of impact investor relations in New York… Solstice Initiative seeks a director of development in Cambridge, Mass… Collective Investment Group is recruiting an investment manager in Philadelphia… LLR Partners is hiring a diversity, equity and engagement lead in Philadelphia… The Collective Investment Group, in partnership with 17 Asset Management, is recruiting two investment professionals to lead and manage the inaugural Black Real Estate and Impact Fund. 

The Marguerite Casey Foundation seeks a people operations manager in Seattle… Spring Point Partners is recruiting an investment analyst in Philadelphia… The Community Preservation Corporation is hiring a director of policy and advocacy and a construction portfolio associate in New York… mHUB is looking for an executive director for its MedTech Accelerator in Chicago.

Thank you for your impact.

– Feb. 5, 2021