TGIF, Agents of Impact!
🗣 True grit. Passion and perseverance are key characteristics of success for entrepreneurs, impact investors and everybody else. “Now, this is a whole other level of perseverance that’s required,” Global Venture Alliance’s Daniel Kozlov said about entrepreneurs in Ukraine on this week’s Agents of Impact Call (see below). “It’s incredible the perseverance and the grit and determination of the people there,” agreed SigmaBleyzer’s Jessica Bleyzer, citing a Ukrainian colleague who is working nonstop while ducking in and out of bomb shelters. A different kind of persistence is required to stand by smallholder farmers in Kenya and elsewhere, as Apollo Agriculture’s Benjamin Njenga explained to ImpactAlpha’s Jessica Pothering in a compelling Q&A. And it takes another kind of grit for business leaders to level with their boards and shareholders about what’s really required for effective climate action. “You don’t have to be a Volodymyr Zelensky, but the stakes are at least as high for the world as they are for Ukraine,” exhorted Clara Miller, ex- of Heron Foundation. “Be just a little bit brave.”
Amy Cortese declined to take a slap at the Oscars, instead rounding up Hollywood’s A-list of impact investors, including, yes, Will Smith. Jessica dissected consolidation among European impact fund managers driven by an appetite for more impact investing options, including private debt in emerging markets. Roodgally Senatus scooped LeapFrog Investments’ “launchpad” for companies serving low-income consumers in emerging markets. And ClimateAI’s Himanshu Gupta and Equilibrium’s Dave Chen argued for a “climate-Sharpe ratio” to anticipate “tipping points of volatility.” The perseverance that Agents of Impact demonstrate every day will only become more valuable in the disruptions ahead. – David Bank
🎧 Impact Briefing. ImpactAlpha’s David Bank joins host Monique Aiken to recap this week’s call on how impact investors are approaching political risk and conflict in Eastern Europe and beyond (see below), with call highlights from Jessica Bleyzer of SigmaBleyzer, Media Development Investment Fund’s Harlan Mandel, Daniel Kozlov of Global Venture Alliance and Open Road Alliance’s Caroline Bressan. Plus, the headlines.
- Listen to this week’s episode, and follow all of ImpactAlpha’s podcasts on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.
The Week’s Call
The Call recap: How impact investors embrace political risk to keep progress flowing (video). High-impact investments in fragile countries invariably entail political risk. And impact investments in a free press, humanitarian tech, financial inclusion and more may help mitigate such risks. Agents of Impact on Call No. 40 explored how to manage, rather than flee, political risk. “We’re financing companies that generally face significant political risk, beyond the normal kind of country-level risk,” said Harlan Mandel of Media Development Investment Fund. “They’re often in a challenging relationship with their governments.” Revenues for the media outlets MDIF has funded in Ukraine have collapsed as advertising vanished. But web traffic has surged as citizens seek out reliable news. “Assessing the leadership of these companies, their understanding of their environment, and their judgment in navigating those challenges is a key part of our process.”
- Boots on the ground. “Political risk is our friend,” said Jessica Bleyzer of SigmaBleyzer, which has invested $1 billion in Ukraine over 25 years. Bleyzer’s parents emigrated from Ukraine in the 1970s and 80s. Such risk “is undeniable when you’re trying to invest in countries like Ukraine.” Bleyzer says to weather conflict, SigmaBleyzer prepares its entities to be free of debt and to have plenty of cash on hand. With staff in-country, “we have an intimate understanding of how the country works, of the culture, of the problems, the pluses and minuses.”
- Bridging the gaps. Whether for a microfinance organization in Ukraine or solar panel installer in rural Democratic Republic of the Congo, “we are focused on unsticking funding and financing that’s caught in the red tape of cross-border investing,” said Caroline Bressan of Open Road Alliance. A $1 million short-term bridge loan to U.S. social venture Hala Systems gave the company a cash runway to bring to Ukraine its early warning system that alerts civilians to incoming airstrikes. “How do you get that money into the hands of entrepreneurs that are actually going to be doing the hard work on the ground?” Bressan asked.
- Diaspora. The talent flowing out of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus represents a new kind of global citizenship, said Daniel Kozlov of Global Venture Alliance, who left Moscow with his family after the invasion and joined the call from Hyderabad, India. “Maybe they can show the world that they also disagree with the current regime,” he said. “Maybe one day they will come back and rebuild the country once the political regime changes.”
- Ten ways to help. ImpactAlpha has compiled a short list of organizations providing food, shelter, medical care and relocation assistance for the people of Ukraine. Among them: DAAR Foundation’s Stand with Ukraine fund, which partners with nonprofits on the ground and has created a volunteer corps to distribute donations. And 100% Life, which provides medical assistance in the war zone and to Ukrainians living with chronic diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Step up.
- Keep reading, “Call No. 40: How impact investors embrace political risk to keep progress flowing,” on ImpactAlpha and catch the replay.
The Week’s Dealflow
Deal spotlight: Green infrastructure. Stellantis, formed by last year’s merger of Fiat Chrysler and Groupe PSA, joins other major global automakers, including GM, Ford and Toyota, in committing billions of dollars to the electric-vehicle transition. The Amsterdam-based automaker entered a joint venture with LG Energy Solution to invest $4.1 billion in EV batteries.
- Zero-carbon mobility. Berlin-based H2 Mobility, which operates a network of 92 hydrogen fueling stations in Germany, secures $122 million from investors, including Hyundai and Shell, to expand its network to 300 hydrogen fueling stations in Europe by 2030. In Indonesia, SWAP Energy raises a pre-Series A round to build a battery-swapping network for electric motorcycles in Indonesia.
Economic inclusion. South Africa-based The People’s Fund and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency will invest $36.8 million in small and mid-sized companies over five years… Vivriti Capital secures $55 million for lending to small businesses in India… Zoscales Partners is looking to raise $200 million for its second fund to invest in small and mid-sized enterprises in East Africa… Kwik raises $2 million in Series A funding to provide financial and last-mile delivery services to online merchants in Africa… Vexi snags $24 million to improve financial services for underbanked people in Mexico… GrowSari raises an additional $32.5 million to digitalize small retail stores in the Philippines.
Agrifood investing. Farmland LP raises $130 million to convert farmland to organic… L.A.-based Leaf Agriculture raises $5 million in a seed financing round led by S2G Ventures to digitize and simplify farm data for agrifood companies… Brazil’s Diferente clinches 24 million reais ($5 million) to salvage and deliver “ugly produce” to households on a subscription basis.
Clean energy. EdgeGrid scores $6 million for on-demand clean energy for households, small businesses and EV charging stations in India… Mitsui & Co. will invest €575 million in Mainstream Renewable Power… New Energy Nexus makes four investments in Indonesia’s clean energy transition… SparkMeter scores $10 million for grid management in emerging markets.
Fund news. Comunidad Partners raises $300 million for social housing… Insitor’s second Impact Asia Fund secures $42 million for early-stage investments… Evok Innovations raises $300 million to make early-stage investments in carbon capture, new fuels, grid innovation and other decarbonization technologies.
Investing in health. Ghana’s Yemaachi Biotech secures $3 million to boost the genetic diversity of cancer research… Cameroon’s Waspito scores $2.7 million in seed funding to connect patients with doctors for video consultations using their smartphones.
Innovative finance. World Bank raises $150 million ‘rhino bond’ for conservation in South Africa.
The Week’s Talent
Dominic Barton, McKinsey & Co.’s former global managing partner, joins LeapFrog Investments as non-executive chairman… Lisha Bell is promoted to Economic Opportunity Fund manager at PayPal… Nathalie Molina Niño of Known Holdings joins the board of Accion Opportunity Fund… Ivelyse Andino of Radical Health, Aaron Johnson of Oasis Fresh Market and Kwamane Liddell of Nutrible are among the Healthy Communities Fellows at Aspen Global Innovators Group.
The Week’s Jobs
The Workers Lab is hiring a program manager for its innovation fund in Oakland… Fidelity Foundations is hiring a program officer for economic opportunity in Boston… Elemental Excelerator seeks a head of development and other roles in Hawai’i or the San Francisco Bay Area… Anthos Fund & Asset Management is hiring a managing director of multi-asset impact investing in Amsterdam.
That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend.
– Apr 1, 2022