The Brief | January 15, 2021

The Week in Impact Investing: Repudiation

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! We’ll be off Monday for the U.S. holiday and will be back in your in-box Tuesday, Jan. 19. 

From repudiation to reconstruction. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s impeachment: it’s a start. The challenge of transforming not only the body politic, but economic systems and social relations, is the work of a generation. “What we’re doing is inevitable,” Generate Capital’s Jigar Shah says of the shift to better, cheaper, cleaner technologies across energy, agriculture, transportation and more (see No. 2, below). Inevitable, but not immediate. Investors, corporations and countries (especially in Europe), may be moving on to a low-carbon future, but the incoming U.S. administration will be slowed by the Trump administration’s last-minute rules blocking regulation of greenhouse gases. The rollout of COVID vaccines is likewise too slow for the thousands of people dying and hundreds of businesses closing each day. 

Eradicating the long tail of white supremacy is much, much slower. Organizers in Georgia and elsewhere overcame voter suppression and intimidation to notch historic victories (see, Agents of Impact). Some corporations stepped up, including by halting their political giving, to defend the rule of law and condemn incipient tyranny. The emerging details of the Capitol siege suggest the depth of the challenge. The task now is to turn shared revulsion into common purpose. An effort 150 years ago to establish an inclusive, multi-racial society fell prey to racist backlash after a disputed election. “The tragedy of Reconstruction is that the commitment to enforce it waned much too soon,” says historian Eric Foner. Our own reconstruction requires accountability, yes, but also the commitment and persistence to see it through.

– David Bank

Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Monique Aiken engages Frontline Solutions’ Jessica Barron and Marion Johnson on the political power of women of color. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share, and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

The Week’s Big 6

1. Getting the rules right for a community-led COVID recovery. The COVID disruption could be a watershed moment for the expansion of community lending. The emergency appropriation of $12 billion in last month’s relief package for community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, and minority depository institutions, or MDIs, is intended to bolster the balance sheets of lenders to low-income communities and underserved populations. But details of the legislation may hinder the effectiveness of the capital infusion. In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, Laurie Spengler of Courageous Capital and George Surgeon of GSJ Advisors suggest how the Treasury Department can get the rules right. “We encourage impact investors to join Treasury in this effort by increasing their investment in MDIs and CDFI depository institutions – especially common equity investments,” they write. “The time is now.” Keep reading

2. Generate’s Jigar Shah on deploying sustainable infrastructure (podcast). Look out this year for dramatic growth in electric vehicles (especially fleets), regenerative farming, building efficiency and food waste reduction, Shah says on ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact podcast. “Not only is the technology getting cheaper and better and easier to finance and deploy,” Shah says. “But you also have a lot of tailwind from political leadership saying, ‘It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.’” Listen in

3. Investing in the return to the Paris Agreement. For the U.S., rejoining the global climate agreement is easy. “The difficult part will be making new commitments to reduce emissions and articulating the steps it plans to undertake to meet those commitments,” writes RBC Wealth Management’s Kent McClanahan. President-elect Biden’s plans include support for new battery technology, carbon sequestration, green hydrogen, zero net-energy buildings, and decarbonized production of steel, concrete and chemicals. “Any of these new technologies would present incredible investment opportunities, as well as the positive, measurable effects that impact investors seek,” McClanahan says. Ramp up.

4. A gender lens on business recovery in Latin America. Pre-COVID, women represented 45% of business owners in Latin America, with Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and other countries actively supporting women entrepreneurship. Women-led businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic. “To fully support recovery, funders and investors must place the unique needs of women entrepreneurs at the center of their strategies,” write Kusi Hornberger and Fabiola Salman of Dalberg Group. Dig in.

5. Biden picks an ESG investor for secretary of labor. The Trump administration’s Department of Labor has issued a series of rules hostile to environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investing. As mayor of Boston, Labor Secretary-nominee Martin Walsh recently allocated an additional $50 million to short-term corporate bonds and notes screened for positive ESG factors, bringing the city’s ESG investing activity to $200 million since 2019. More.

6. Consumer electronics go green. Last January, some 170,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibitors flocked to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. The lighter carbon footprint from the millions of air miles saved by this year’s virtual CES was complemented by a raft of climate-friendly tech debuts amid the usual gaming headsets and wireless gizmos. Plug in.

The Week’s Agents of Impact

Georgia’s organizers. “Welcome to the New Georgia,” proclaimed Senator-elect Raphael Warnock. “It is more diverse, and it’s more inclusive. And it readily embraces the future.” Warnock, the first Black person to be sent to the Senate by the state – and fellow Senator-elect Jon Ossoff, a Jewish man, signal the profound demographic and cultural shifts that also helped tip Georgia for President-elect Joe Biden. But demographics alone can’t explain their historic achievement. For that, you have to thank the civic leaders and community organizers that worked for years – decades – to educate, mobilize and register new voters in overlooked, under-represented communities. They knew Georgia was up for grabs long before Democratic party leaders caught on. If demographics shifts are the fire, says Nsé Ufot of New Georgia Project, “organizing is the accelerant.”

Black women and women of color led the mobilization that flipped Georgia and the U.S. Senate (Frontline Solutions’ Jessica Barron and Marion Johnson discuss the political power of Black women on this week’s Impact Briefing podcast). They did so by engaging constituents often overlooked by the political establishment: youth, immigrants, caregivers, Blacks and people of color. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams created Fair Fight to combat voter suppression, helping to register 800,000 new Georgia voters. Other leaders include Tamieka Atkins of ProGeorgia, LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter Fund, and Deborah Scott of Georgia STAND-UP, and groups such as Care in Action and Mijente. Activists such as Felicia Davis and Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda’s Helen Butler have been at it for decades. Women-led impact investors such as Propel Capital and Align Impact have supported electoral justice groups. Investments in civic leaders, especially women of color, support the infrastructure of democracy – and the inclusive, green, New Majority future. – Amy Cortese

The Week’s Dealflow

Low-carbon future. Daystar Power raises $38 million to expand commercial solar power in West Africa… The Rise Fund acquires renewable energy company Element Markets… Electric fleet company Proterra to go public through merger with ArcLight SPAC… SilviaTerra raises $4.4 million to build a carbon marketplace from forestlands… Gro Intelligence secures $85 million to build climate risk-adjusted indexes.   

Agrifood investing. Partake Foods raises $4.8 million from Black-focused funders… Too Good To Go raises $31.1 million to redistribute surplus food… Indian agtech venture CropIn raises $20 million… Air Protein raises $32 million to turn air into meat. 

Corporate commitments. Apple invests $100 million in racial equity initiatives… Morgan Stanley invests $100 million in Lafayette Square to support housing, jobs, and financial inclusion… Amazon launches $2 billion affordable housing commitment. 

Impact tech. BukuKas raises $10 million to digitize small businesses in Indonesia… Syndio clinches $17.1 million to help employers resolve pay gaps… Coral Vita secures $2 million to help corals adapt to climate change.

Skills and education. Social Finance invests $5.8 million in Alchemy Code Lab… Bain Capital Double Impact fund backs TeachTown… Voxy EnGen snags $6.8 million to help immigrants and refugees overcome language barriers.  

Frontier finance. Medical Credit Fund blends $19.2 million to finance Africa’s frontline health clinics… BlueOrchard makes $25 million investment in Trilinc Global. 

Gender lens. DFC pledges $150 million to guarantee the Women’s Livelihood Bond series… Singapore’s IIX invests in Centrum Microcredit to support women micro-entrepreneurs. 

Returns on inclusion. Canadian pension fund backs Taylor Guitars’ conversion to employee ownership… Black-led real estate firm East Chop Capital closes $4 million fund. 

The Week’s Talent

Maëlle Gavet, previously with Compass, joins Techstars as chief executive officer… Patricia McCarthy, ex- of Common Future, joins Candide Group as managing director. Candide named Hope Newsome, previously with Virtus LLP, as chief compliance officer and promoted Laurika Harris-Kaye to portfolio manager… New Forests names Adrian Williams, ex- of AMP Capital, as chief financial officer… Leticia Peguero steps down as vice president of programs at Nathan Cummings Foundation. 

Ana Paula González is promoted to head of managed funds at 500 Startups… MacArthur Foundation’s Ken Jones is elected board chair of Mission Investors Exchange. Kellogg Foundation’s Cynthia Muller will be treasurer… Carbon Tracker names Catharina Hillenbrand von der Neyen, ex- of Allianz, as head of company research. Andrew Grant is promoted to head of climate, energy and industry research… Cornell University undergrads Ermias Tadesse and Cheick Camara launch BlackGen Capital, the university’s first minority-owned investment fund. 

Harvard University’s George Serafeim won the Graham and Dodd Scroll Award at the CFA Institute’s Financial Analysts Journal for his research on the pricing of corporate sustainability… Abhi Pandya, Adetayo Zenger, Amanda Gex, Devon Smith, Layla Alexander and Tonna Obaze join Harlem Capital as interns… Former Impossible Foods CFO David Lee becomes AppHarvest’s president… U.K. Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma is named president of the U.N.’s COP26 climate conference to be held in Glasgow in November.

The Week’s Jobs

BLCK VC is recruiting an executive director… The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility seeks a deputy director… One Acre Fund is hiring an associate writer in New York… Prime Coalition is looking for summer fellows… Global Forest Generation seeks a communications director… is looking for a national technical manager in Pune, India… The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seeks an impact investment officer in Princeton, N.J.

Philadelphia-based TPP Capital launches a place-based social impact investing fellowship for MBA and university students and mid-career professionals… The Collaborative for Frontier Finance seeks a director for its early-stage capital providers network… The Reinvestment Fund is looking for a lending associate in the Atlanta region.

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 15, 2021