The Brief | September 3, 2021

The Week in impact investing: Stewardship

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! We’re taking a Brief break for the Labor Day holiday here in the U.S. We’ll be back on the case and in your inbox on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

👏  The Call: Capitalism Reimagined. Long term stewardship. Investment guardrails. Shareholder democracy. Internalizing externalities. The Shareholder Commons’ Sara Murphy, Engine No. 1’s Michael O’Leary, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs and other Agents of Impact will join ImpactAlpha and Omidyar Network to talk tactics for mitigating systemic risks, Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP now

🎧  Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Brian Walsh is joined by ImpactAlpha’s Dennis Price and Amy Cortese to talk “beta stewardship” and hurricane resilience. And we meet Sunwealth’s Jessica Brooks, this week’s Agent of Impact. 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

Jessica Brooks, Sunwealth. On her neighborhood strolls, Jessica Brooks sees schools, churches, apartment buildings – and unused rooftops. Such “infill” spaces represent a trillion-dollar solar energy opportunity to generate a quarter of the U.S.’s energy needs. “Yet they’re totally overlooked by the big investors,” says Brooks, who is the chief development officer at Sunwealth. The Cambridge, Mass.-based lender finances community-scale solar projects that cut occupants’ energy bills and share the benefits of clean energy and next-economy jobs with low-income and underserved communities. The 1.8-megawatt solar array Sunwealth is installing on the Queensbridge Houses in New York will generate lease revenue for the New York City Housing Authority, discounted energy for low-income households, and green jobs for local residents. Call it “solar justice.’”

Brooks started her career at BlueHub Capital, a Boston-based community development financial institution. Sunwealth, founded in 2014 by Jon Abe, applies that same focus on underserved communities to climate finance. Brooks joined up in 2018. “It’s not just one of the biggest business opportunities of our generation, it’s one of the biggest economic-justice opportunities,” she says. Sunwealth has invested $65 million in 450 projects in 14 states, as customers and communities look to combat climate change and increase local resilience. “Nonprofits, the local food bank… these are all groups that pay their electric bill and are great credit risks,” she says. Brooks contributed a well-read essay this week about her personal investment philosophy. “Our communities are ripe with opportunity – both financial and impact,” she says, “if you adjust your lens.” – Amy Cortese

The Week’s Big 6

1. New Orleans’ resilience force (podcast)… Nearly a million people in Louisiana are still without power five days after Hurricane Ida lashed the state. Local mutual aid organizations and essential workers already are knee-deep in the recovery. Resilience Force, founded by Saket Soni, wants to ensure that recovery efforts redress inequalities, rather than exacerbate them. “We have to make it a national project to build resilient people, surround them with the abundant resources they need, have their backs, build and fund their safety net, provide them jobs,” Soni says on the latest episode of The Reconstruction. Read on and tune in

2. …and resilient infrastructure opportunities. Decentralized, renewable microgrids are built to operate independently of the grid. Microgrids are “effectively an insurance plan” against outages from hurricanes, freezes and wildfires, says Spring Lane Capital’s Rob Day, who urges investors to “challenge the developers more about resiliency-based business models.” Plug in

3. Alpha is alright. Beta is better. Increasing antimicrobial resistance poses risks to portfolios on par with climate change. Tackling systemic risks with “beta stewardship” can hold companies to account for such negative externalities and protect the long-term health of the system as a whole. “It’s a misunderstanding of fiduciary duty when investors focus entirely on the outperformance of a single stock against a benchmark, instead of the health of the benchmark itself,” says The Shareholder Commons’ Sara Murphy. Level up

4. Energy access relief. With razor-thin margins in tough markets, off-grid solar and other energy access companies took a big revenue hit last year as COVID disrupted projects and supply chains. The Energy Access Relief Fund, launched by Acumen with CDC Group, raised $68 million to make loans to companies that otherwise would have to downsize or shut down. A first-loss grant cushion from private foundations and government donors, along with a portfolio guarantee from the Swedish government, secured a $30 million investment from the Green Climate Fund. Shine on.

5. Sustainable public equity offering. Allbirds is famous for its stylish shoes, made from materials like wool and castor bean oil. The shoe company is looking to get recognized for its ESG performance in its initial public offering. The public-benefit corporation and certified B Corp aims to zero-out its carbon footprint by 2030. Hold ‘em accountable.

6. Centering civil rights. Community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, aren’t immune to discriminatory lending practices, argue Appalachian Community Capital’s Donna Gambrell and Pacific Community Ventures’ Bulbul Gupta in a guest post. ”It is up to us to meet the moment, to internalize the goal of closing the racial wealth gap, and make sure our missions and how we deploy capital reflect that.” Hear them out.

The Week’s Dealflow

Spotlight: Health and wellbeing. The pandemic created an opportunity to nudge the healthcare sector “towards a more digital, consumer-focused, and accessible reality,” says Heather Fernandez, founder of Solv Health, which raised $45 million to connect Americans to urgent care providers. The company says its app helps 11 million patients per month find same-day care providers, schedule consultations and complete paperwork online. Acrew Capital and Corner Ventures backed Solv’s Series C round.

  • The week’s health tech. SJF Ventures leads Ellipsis Health’s $26 million round to help individuals and care providers manage mental health conditions… Elda Health in Bangalore raises $1.5 million for its digital women’s health platform… City Light Capital, Kapor Capital and Acumen back addiction treatment app Affect Therapeutics’ $6 million round.
  • Access to care. Penn Medicine and Wharton Social Impact Initiative launch a $5 million Fund for Health to address social determinants of health for underserved Philadelphians… Minneapolis-based Joshin clinches $3 million to help people with special needs find caregivers… MeetCaregivers raises $1 million to match seniors with home health aides, nurse’s assistants and other caregivers.

Digitizing small businesses. Logistics company RubanBridge secures early funding to bring products and jobs to rural India… Bangalore’s Kirana247 raised $1 million to expand inventory delivery services for thousands of urban kiranas… Khatabook and Bazaar raise financing to digitize small businesses in India and Pakistan… Egypt’s small business digitization and logistics company MaxAB acquires Moroccan peer WaystoCap.

Low-carbon transition. Energy Vault secures $100 million for gravity energy storage… BlackRock takes a stake in JOLT to accelerate electric vehicle adoption in Australia… Carbon Equity secures €1.2 million to lower minimums for private climate investing… Helix Power launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedInvest for its flywheel-based kinetic energy storage system. 

Inclusive communities. Silicon Valley Bank backs National Equity Fund to create affordable rental housing in California… The International Finance Corp. commits $50 million to Letshego to finance affordable housing in Namibia… CEI-Boulos Capital Management’s Opportunity Zone impact fund makes a $3 million equity investment in an affordable student housing project for low-income students. 

Agrifood investing. Bamboo Capital’s ABC Fund invests $4.7 million to support lending for Bolivia’s smallholder farmers… Plantible scores $21.5 million for duckweed-based protein… NBA star Chris Paul and Jay-Z back Black-owned Misha’s Kind Foods’ $3 million raise to make plant-based cheese.

Resilient infrastructure. Breakthrough Energy Ventures backs Reactive Technologies to help network operators and energy storage developers assess grid stability… LevelTen Energy secures $35 million to build renewable transaction infrastructure for clean energy advisors, buyers and sellers.

Returns on inclusion. Achieve Partners acquires Metmox to create apprenticeships for cybersecurity. Western Alliance Bancorp. invests $9 million in Clearinghouse CDFI’s targeted $250 million FVLCRUM Fund.

Smart mobility. Plentywaka and Kai Senegal raise funds to shake up West African transport… Dubai-based shared-ride hailing service Swvl acquired Barcelona-based Shotl.

Impact milestone. Australia’s Giant Leap raises $15 million for second impact fund.

The Week’s Talent

Christina Travers, ex- of Working Solutions, is named CFO of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. Travers, who formerly served as LISC’s treasurer, replaces Michael Hearne, who is retiring… Scott Love, ex- of Louisville Forward, will lead the Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s Louisville office… Kavita Nandini Ramdas, ex- of the Open Society Foundations, will be the new president and CEO of The Nathan Cummings Foundation. 

Ashleyn Przedwiecki, Monica Jones, Chou Moua and Katelyn Retterath Martin are among nine social entrepreneurs selected for the FINNOVATION Lab fellowship… Ann Mei Chang, ex- of USAID and Mercy Corps, will become CEO of Candid, which was formed by the 2019 merger of Guidestar and Foundation Center… Anne Finucane, who led Bank of America’s ESG and sustainable finance efforts, will retire as vice chairman.

The Week’s Jobs

​​Kiva is looking for a director of strategic investments… Refugee Investment Network seeks an Africa director… impak Finance is hiring an impact analyst in Montreal… Avesta Fund is looking for an investment manager for a new climate and diversity fund… J.P. Morgan-owned OpenInvest is recruiting an ESG product associate in San Francisco… Value Reporting Foundation is looking for analysts. 

Prime Coalition is looking for a partnerships associate in San Francisco… Rockefeller Foundation seeks a manager of impact investment in New York… Emerson Collective is hiring a portfolio manager for its “culture council” in Palo Alto… Silicon Valley Community Foundation is looking for a senior associate of investments in Mountain View, Calif… NatureVest is recruiting a portfolio coordinator of disability solutions in Washington, D.C. 

Sarona Asset Management is hiring a senior impact associate… The Nature Conservancy is recruiting a deputy managing director of forest and carbon investing… The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. is hiring senior impact management and monitoring specialists in climate and infrastructure and financial institutionsVillgro Innovations Foundation is looking for a manager of climate action in Bangalore… Aidentifi seeks a head of sustainability and impact in Singapore.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Sept. 3, 2021