The Brief | November 5, 2021

The Week in impact investing: Planet

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

🎧  Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Monique Aiken catches up on COP26 with ImpactAlpha’s Amy Cortese, who introduces Elizabeth Wathuti of Kenya, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and other young climate leaders – this week’s Agents of Impact (see below). Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

🌍 Call No. 34: The disruption in small business financing. Local retailers, distributors, producers and service providers are the lifeblood of emerging market economies. Yet, the challenges of cost-effectively getting capital to such small and growing businesses have stymied development efforts for decades. The COVID disruption, which initially shut down lending altogether, has hastened a wave of tech-driven innovation (see Dealflow, below). Meet crypto platform Celo; Nairobi-based alt-credit fintech Pezesha; purchase order crowdfunding platform The People’s Fund; inclusive fintech lender Lendable; and other pioneers of a revolution in small business financing on The Call, Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 8am PT / 11am ET / 7pm Nairobi. RSVP today.

The Week’s Agents of Impact

Young climate leaders. “As we sit comfortably here in this conference center in Glasgow, over two million of my fellow Kenyans are facing climate-related starvation,” 26-year-old Elizabeth Wathuti told global leaders assembled for the COP26 climate summit. Wathuti’s Green Generation Initiative works with young Kenyans to plant food-giving trees. At the summit’s opening ceremony, she summoned the devastating drought, heatwaves, wildfires and floods sweeping Africa. “Please open your hearts,” she implored. “If you allow yourself to feel it, the heartbreak and the injustice is hard to bear.” The appeal moved a gathering where bureaucratic talk of 2050 targets and trillion-dollar funding gaps can feel… abstract. 

Wathuti is among the young, mostly female leaders from the Global South providing a counter-narrative to the mostly older, male officials inside the Blue Zone. This year’s COP is by some accounts the least accessible climate summit ever, as COVID restrictions and exorbitant costs kept many activists away. Protests are planned for Glasgow this weekend. “You can not adapt to lost cultures, you cannot adapt to lost traditions… You cannot adapt to extinction,” said Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, 24 years old, who urged rich nations to pay for climate-related losses suffered by communities that have contributed little to the climate crisis. Nakate’s Rise Up Climate Movement has campaigned to protect Congo’s rainforest and installed rooftop solar on schools in Uganda. Asian Pacific youth “are not drowning, we are fighting,” Samoa’s Brianna Fruean, 23, told leaders. Vinisha Umashankar, a poised 15-year old from India, said simply, “I want to act.” Umashankar won an EarthShot Prize, awarded by the U.K.’s Prince William, for her solar-powered ironing cart, which can replace thousands of charcoal-powered street irons. “I’m not just a girl from India,” she said. “I’m a girl from Earth.” 

If COP26 is humanity’s last, best chance to act, these young women and their allies inside and outside the hall may be our best hope to lead. World leaders can join global youth to build a sustainable planet, Umashankar said, but warned, “We will lead even if you don’t. We will act even if you delay. And we will build the future, even if you are still stuck in the past.” – Amy Cortese

The Week’s Big 6

1. Dollars and sense at COP26. The global climate summit in Glasgow appears to be exceeding the world’s low expectations. More than 90 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% and 100 nations and dozens of corporations and financial firms agreed to halt and reverse deforestation, both by 2030. And banks, asset managers and institutional investors representing $130 trillion in assets signed onto the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, pledging to set science-based targets to reach net zero across their portfolios by 2050. “Make no mistake: the money is now there if the world truly wants to arrest the #climatecrisis,” tweeted U.N. special envoy Mark Carney

  • Non-proliferation treaty. Countries are on track this decade to more than double fossil fuel production. In a guest post, Carbon Tracker’s Mark Campanale rallies support for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to end fossil fuel production. Get his take.
  • Catch up. ImpactAlpha’s ongoing COP26 coverage includes Finance to the fore,” and Climate crisis is over (if you want it).” The summit runs through Nov. 12. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, but public events are streamed live. The Green Horizon Summit is focusing on the mobilization of private capital. 

2. Centering racial justice in climate philanthropy (podcast). People and communities most affected by climate change must be central to climate solutions and decision-making. The Donors of Color Network is pressing foundations to commit to directing at least 30% of their climate funding to BIPOC-led organizing. Network leaders Ashindi Maxton, Sharon Chen and Danielle Deane-Ryan joined The Reconstruction podcast. “The goal is really nothing less than shifting the center of gravity in politics and philanthropy, towards racial justice,” Maxton told host Monique Aiken. Making the case.

3. Tech is powering COVID recovery in Kenya. “The potential of digital innovations to accelerate job creation and raise agricultural incomes,” is a key focus of “Horizon Kenya,” from Kenya Markets Trust, Msingi and Gatsby Africa. For example: farmer services venture Apollo Agriculture, cross-border payments platform BitPesa, and gig-work job site Lynk. Dive in.

4. Gaming the creative economy. E-Line Media partnered with Alaska Native tribal organization Cook Inlet Tribal Council to create the popular cooperative game Never Alone (Kisimia Ingitchuna). There is a great opportunity, E-Line’s Alan Gershenfeld and Michael Angst write in a guest post, “to create culturally-infused worlds that inspire curious gamers not only to explore other cultures, but also to explore, share and reflect on their own cultures.” Hit play.

  • Creative compilation. The essay is part of “Creativity, culture and capital,” a new collection from Nesta, Fundación Compromiso and Upstart Co-Lab. In his own essay, Pashko’s Patrick Robinson describes how he brought production of his line of functional, sustainable clothing back to the U.S. “to help inspire a new, regenerative path forward for the broken and faltering American economy.” Read on.  

5. Tackling the worker shortage with high-quality jobs (podcast). There are eight million unemployed people in the U.S. – and 10 million jobs nobody seems to want. The Families and Workers Fund, a $51 million philanthropic collaborative, is backing organizations like Texas’ Workers Defense Project to promote jobs that provide economic security and mobility through decent wages, benefits, training and working conditions, and working with states to modernize antiquated public-benefits systems. “This is a crisis,” Families and Workers Fund’s Rachel Korberg said on the latest Agents of Impact podcast. “But this is also a once in a generation opportunity for change.” Read on and listen in.

6. Optimizing impact data. What happened? Why did it happen? And what will you do next? This week’s short video from the new Coursera course, Impact Measurement and Management for the SDGs,” developed by CASE at Duke and the U.N. Development Programme, guides investors through a three-step process to manage impact data. The goal: “To serve up actionable decisions,” writes Duke’s Cathy Clark. Back to school.

The Week’s Dealflow

Spotlight: Enterprise tech. COVID ignited adoption of enterprise tech geared to help offline micro and small businesses integrate digital payments, order and track inventory, and access basic financial services. Most of the capital pouring into enterprise tech ventures this year has been early-stage. Twiga Foods’ $50 million Series C raise is a milestone for the sector’s commercial viability and an example of how “viable businesses with attractive financial models are now harnessing the support of large corporates,” according to “Horizon Kenya” (see No. 3, above). Also this week: Catalyst Fund is supporting four Ghanaian digital commerce startups. 

Low-carbon transition. Breakthrough Energy Ventures backs ClearFlame’s zero-carbon fuel for diesel engines… India’s e-mobility company River raises $2 million for its electric scooters and accompanying subscription service… Also in India, Sun Mobility raises $50 million to expand its electric-vehicle battery swapping network in big cities… Builders Private Capital stands up $300 million clean energy fund… EV charging startup Xeal scores $14 million to deploy 10,000 charging stations in the U.S. 

Inclusive fintech. Stackwell, a mobile app that offers investing tools and education for the Black community, secures seed financing… Nigeria’s Payhippo snags a $3 million seed investment to improve access to credit for small businesses in West Africa… Neobank Zolve raises $40 million to provide financial services for immigrants living in the U.S.

Circular economy. Kebony secures €30 million to deploy sustainable wood for the construction industry… Evrnu raises $15 million to recycle textile waste for use in new products… Ghana’s Industrial Support Fund, Impact Capital Partners and others invest $1 million in Ghanian packaging company, Paper Magic Ltd… Amazon’s $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund invests in sustainable packaging startup CMC Machinery.

Accelerating impact. Oakland-based Pacific Community Ventures provides $112,500 in grants to 37 small businesses that retained employees during COVID… Lightsmith Group and Village Capital seek to accelerate small business climate adaptation solutions… Lincoln Avenue Capital acquires a majority stake in Housing Partnership Equity Trust. 

Agrifood investing. Australia’s Loam Bio raises $40 million for its microbial seed coating to supercharge plants’ ability to store carbon in soil… Singapore’s TurtleTree raises $30 million for cell-based breast milk… S2G Ventures led a $17 million round for plant-based ingredients company Shiru.

Health and wellness. Brazil’s Memed scores $17.8 million to scale medical e-prescriptions… Virohan raises $1.3 million to build India’s allied-health workforce… ShiftMed secures $45 million to connect gig healthcare workers. 

Climate finance. ReGen Ventures raises $20 million for regenerative climate solutions… Sofar Ocean nets $39 million for ocean data collection. 

Impact bonds. Citi issues $1 billion social finance bond for emerging markets. 

The Week’s Talent

Michael Bloomberg joins former Bank of England governor Mark Carney as co-chair of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero; former S.E.C. chair Mary Shapiro is vice chair… Scott Nance, ex- of CapShift, joins Fidelity Charitable as vice president of impact investing… GHO Capital Partners names Manuela Rankine director of sustainable investing… Eva Sarma, ex- of Level 20, is named investment director of Bridges Fund Management’s Bridges Evergreen fund… David Atkin, ex- of Australia’s AMP Capital, will become CEO of Principles for Responsible Investment in December… Ryan Merkin, ex- of Steven Winter Associates, joins BlocPower as vice president of business development.

The Week’s Jobs

Media Development Investment Fund seeks an investment officer for Southeast Asia… Morgan Stanley is hiring a global sustainable finance associate in New York… Kapor Center is recruiting a senior data and insights analyst in Oakland… MCE Social Capital is looking for an operations manager and a part-time communications and business development intern in San Francisco… Triple Jump is hiring an ESG and impact analyst in Amsterdam.

The Nature Conservancy is hiring a U.S. and Canada carbon markets director… The Clean Cooking Alliance is looking for a venture manager or senior venture manager… In Nairobi, Kiva is recruiting an Africa investment manager; Apollo Agriculture is looking for a chief of staff to the CEO and a head of investor relations and sustainability; FSD Africa is hiring a senior program manager of risk and resilience; and BlueOrchard seeks a senior investment officer. 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office is hiring a chief counsel… World Wildlife Fund seeks an impact investing specialist in Washington, D.C… JPMorgan Chase is looking for an associate for sustainability and ESG strategies in San Francisco… Family office Anthos seeks a sustainability expert in Amsterdam… Vinted seeks a director of sustainability strategy, also in Amsterdam. 

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Nov. 5, 2021