The Brief | September 24, 2021

The Week in impact investing: The Great Unf**kening

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

Dead serious. If you don’t like our language, you’ll really hate comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the state of climate action. All seven of America’s late night TV hosts collaborated to make the climate catastrophe almost funny and cap Climate Week and the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly (see No. 1, below). World leaders and climate activists were in New York, quipped Stephen Colbert, “to attempt the one thing to fight climate change that no industrialized nation has done before: anything.” Samantha Bee tackled the “number two” climate issue of sewage and water infrastructure, and its impact on communities of color (No. 3)

Kimmel brought back climate scientists who had been on his show to warn of the consequences of global warming in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed. Five years later, “the planet is exactly as f**ked as we told you it would be,” they deadpanned. Given the circumstances, their message was surprisingly optimistic, and comes six weeks before the critical COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. We are “mostly f**ked” already, climate scientist Alex Hall reported, but concerted action on the part of governments, companies and individuals can still alter our current trajectory toward “totally and irreparably f**ked.” Call it “the Great Unf**kening,” the scientists suggested. It’s no joke. – Amy Cortese

🎧  Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Monique Aiken is joined by FullCycle’s Stephan Nicoleau to talk about Climate Week, climate action and infrastructure justice. Nicoleau was also Monique’s guest on The Reconstruction podcast this week (see No. 3, below). Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share and follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen.

👏  Next week’s Call: Optimizing for Impact. Get up to speed on impact measurement and management in a hands-on workshop with Duke University’s Cathy Clark and special teaching assistants Beth Bafford of Calvert Impact Capital and Courageous Capital’s Laurie Spengler. Join Agents of Impact Call No. 31, Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm London. RSVP today.

  • Take the ‘Optimizing for Impact’ challenge. 1. Complete the Coursera course, “Impact measurement and management for the SDGs.” 2. Add the certificate of completion to your LinkedIn profile. 3. Share your updated profile. ImpactAlpha will recognize the first 100 Agents of Impact to do so, who also will receive a small prize from CASE.

🙌  Sign your team up for ImpactAlpha. Hundreds of enterprises, funds and institutions take advantage of ImpactAlpha for Teams to raise their game with investors, clients and partners. Save with substantial team discounts and onboard colleagues with a customized welcome page. Drop us a note (or just hit ‘reply’) to get started.

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The Week’s Agent of Impact

Cathy Clark, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Before she began teaching 20 years ago, Clark helped her father run a summer program in Philadelphia that gave low-income, mostly immigrant high school students a taste of college. Her father had been a union negotiator and civil rights activist before becoming a community college English teacher. “Only a decade later did I realize he was, in fact, a social entrepreneur,” Clark says. “My social consciousness comes from him.” Her father paid it forward in Clark, who as faculty director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Fuqua, estimates she has influenced the careers of more than 100,000 learners. Clark and CASE’s Impact Investing Initiative, or i3, have been key field builders, pushing out hundreds of partnerships, fellows, case studies and reports. When COVID hit last year, Clark stepped up quickly with Covid Cap, a database to help entrepreneurs, nonprofits and businesses find grants, loans and cash help to weather the pandemic. Most recently, Clark, with the U.N. Development Programme, created a free online training to help enterprises and investors measure and manage their progress toward the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Clark will preview the course in a special workshop on ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact Call No. 31 on Tuesday, Sept. 28 (RSVP).

In a world where many investors still think they call the shots, Clark has remained a champion of the entrepreneurs who actually deliver the impact. Her online training, Smart Impact Capital,” helps founders and business owners align investment capital with the needs of their own enterprises, not the other way around. Clark says her focus is on developing the mindsets, tools, markets, policies and practices to drive social and environmental impact at scale. She’s proudest of the impact she has had on her students, who are making change across sectors and geographies. “They inspire me!” she says. “I love that I get to support young professionals as they are arming themselves with new skills and deciding where in the world to aim them. You could say my theory of change is to create, well, agents of impact.” – David Bank

The Week’s Big 6

1. Commitments, tools and deals from Climate Week NYC. The annual event coinciding with the UN General Assembly was meant to spur action from world leaders ahead of the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow in November. Highlights from ImpactAlpha’s coverage from New York:

  • Putting a price on methane. The short-lived but potent greenhouse gas is responsible for about half of the net rise in the global average temperature. U.S. lawmakers are considering assessing a methane emissions fee of $1,680 per ton, far higher than going prices for carbon. Price signals bolster trading and credit schemes, says FullCycle’s Stephan Nicoleau. “Most importantly, we can price in the real costs of doing business.” Get up to speed.
  • Catalytic private capital. Private investors and executives are prodding governments to act. Corporations and banks put up $1 billion for Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, a Bill Gates-backed fund aimed at spurring commercial adoption of key climate technologies. “The money for ambitious climate action is there,” said Mark Carney, U.N. special envoy on climate and former head of the Bank of England. “The private financial sector is being transformed.” Getting it… done?
  • China (sorta) cuts off coal. The largest financier of coal around the world pledged to stop financing foreign coal plants. While China’s Xi Jinping did not mention China’s proliferating domestic coal plans, the announcement was “a strong sign of coal’s global collapse,” said Carbon Tracker’s Durand D’Souza. We’ll take it.
  • The week’s climate dealmaking. Bezos Earth Fund commits $1 billion in grants to nature conservation… Fifth Wall raised $140 million from multiple real estate firms for its climate tech fund… Carbon Direct invested $17.7 million for a minority stake in LEILAC, the decarbonizing cement subsidiary of Australia’s Calix Ltd… Nickel-hydrogen battery startup EnerVenue raised $100 million… Japan’s MPower Partners, a woman-led venture capital firm, backed climate-risk data and analytics venture JupiterEarthshot Ventures made its first investment in Planet FWD.
  • Decarbonization tools. French utility Engie debuted Ellipse, a “carbon intelligence platform”… Circulate Initiative released a Plastic Lifecycle Assessment Calculator…. Oliver Wyman and Climate Group collaborated on “a blueprint for a commercially smart climate transition.”

2. Ch-ch-ch-changes at Big-name investors donated their stakes and the remaining investors were bought out as the for-profit social-activist network put itself under nonprofit ownership. Founder Ben Rattray told ImpactAlpha such hybrid structures can harness tech-company growth to public-interest stewardship. The nonprofit Foundation will oversee, which will continue to operate as a public benefit corporation. Go deeper.

3. The Reconstruction: Climate-just infrastructure. There’s more to the climate-smart transition than net-zero pledges, FullCycle’s Stephan Nicoleau says on the latest Reconstruction podcast. Companies and investors face a generational opportunity to create wealth and value. “It is our responsibility to build in a way that is more equitable, that serves communities, and that, in fact, repairs the harm done to communities that were disadvantaged by the placement of that infrastructure.” Listen in.

  • Chill it. Even more potent than methane in the atmosphere are hydrofluorocarbons that are used for refrigeration. A new clean air rule being finalized by the U.S. Biden administration will cut the production and use of by 85% over the next 15 years. FullCycle and other investors are targeting such short-lived climate pollutants, or SLCPs. 

4. Equity in the creator economy. The boom in “the creator economy” is helping more creative people succeed, but is not yet living up to its promise, especially for women and creatives of color. Private investors have deployed billions already this year into companies like Patreon, Canva and Mighty Networks. “There is an opportunity for more impact investors to play an important role in shaping the power and potential of these new platforms,” writes Ward Wolff of Upstart Co-Labs. Amplify your impact.

  • Creative dealflow. Audius raised $5 million for its artist-owned, blockchain-based music streaming platform from Nas, Pusha T, Katy Perry and other big names in music.

5. Investing for wildfire prevention. Yuba Water Agency is betting that efforts to thin trees and manage controlled burns will improve its water supply and reduce wildfire risks in the California’s Tahoe National Forest. The water utility is the off-taker for the first “forest resilience bond” from Blue Forest Conservation. “This is a new financial market where commercial investors have not necessarily gone before,” says Adam Connaker of Rockefeller Foundation. Read on.

6. Africa’s plastics entrepreneurs. From litter-picker cooperatives and upcycling businesses to large-scale waste management companies, Africa’s home-grown entrepreneurs have solutions to the continent’s growing demand for plastic. Investing in such founders “is a way to support Africa’s potential from an African perspective,” writes Constance Agyeman of Nesta Challenges, which launched the Afri-Plastics Challenge in partnership with the Canadian government. Share this.

The Week’s Dealflow

Spotlight: Workforce tech. The pandemic has “given a boost to the digitization of recruitment and training processes,” says Madhav Krishna of India-based Vahan, which raised capital this week. India is a hotbed of workforce tech innovation, with as many as 450 million gig- and blue-collar workers and labor shortages in key fields. Apna and BetterPlace, which connect workers to available work opportunities, also scored significant funding. In Egypt, digital bank Dopay raised $18 million to recruit businesses to its platform – and sign up their workers for personal accounts and debit cards.

  • U.S. worker empowerment. San Antonio-based New Apprenticeship raised $2.5 million to offer year-long tech apprenticeships. Uncharted’s Economic Inequality Initiative accelerator identified 10 startups addressing worker benefits, youth engagement, equitable career opportunities and fair wages. ​​

Agrifood investing. Bangalore-based BharatAgri secures $6.5 million to offer digital agronomy services to India’s farmers… Steward raises $8.8 million for online lending for sustainable farms… Nigeria’s Releaf secures $4.2 million to improve access to technology and markets for the country’s smallholder palm farmers… Eat Just’s cellular meat company, Good Meat, adds $97 million to the $170 million it raised in May… Leonardo DiCaprio invests in cultured-meat companies Mosa Meat and Aleph Farms. 

Clean energy. Arcadia raises $100 million to spur U.S. demand for community solar… Seattle-based Omnidian secures $33 million for its residential and commercial solar systems that are backed by performance guarantees… Nigerian fintech venture Infibranches Technologies secures $2 million to help solar providers collect digital payments… Off-grid solar lender SunFunder offers a $4 million loan to Malawi’s Yellow.

Financial inclusion. Incofin’s India Progress Fund invests in a $4.7 million round for Jaipur-based Namdev Finvest, a micro- and small business lender… Lendable backs Finclusion Group to drive financial inclusion for underserved Africans… Uganda’s gnuGrid pivots from solar data to financial data… Microsoft and Truist Financial anchor a federal fund for community banks with $120 million.

Circular economy. Astanor Ventures invests in Paris-based Calyxia, which is making a biodegradable alternative to microplastics… France’s Vestiaire Collective, an e-commerce platform for second-hand fashion, raises $209 million.

Health and wellbeing. Lightship Capital leads a financing round for feminine care brand Femi Secrets… Omidyar Network India and Chiratae Ventures invest in Gurgaon-based HexaHealth to accelerate digitization of surgical care.

Impact tech. Index Ventures backs Sourceful’s $12.2 million round to help businesses manage environmental impact in their supply chains… India’s Tinkerly scores early funding to enable Indian students to learn robotics and coding online, in local languages.

Returns on inclusion. Citi Impact Fund, Google for Startups Black Founders and Urban-X add new investments… Australia’s Verve Super raises early venture financing to manage its women-centered retirement fund. 

The Week’s Talent

ImpactAssets has promoted Sandra Osborne Kartt to managing director of investments, Nick Peters to director of investments, and Deb Parsons to managing director of business development… Hannah Schiff, ex- of Nuveen, joins Developing World Markets as director of impact… Josh Adeoye, ex- of University Teaching Hospital in Kano, Nigeria, joins Adjuvant Capital as an associate.

The Investment Integration Project’s new advisory council includes Noel Pacarro Brown of The Conscious Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley, Robert Eccles of the Said School of Business at the University of Oxford, Yuko Koshiba of Japan Social Innovation and Investment Foundation, and Eric Stephenson of Align Impact, among others… Eric Clement, ex- of New York City Economic Development Corp., joins RXR Realty to lead sustainability investments.

Amir Kirkwood, ex- of Opportunity Finance Network, is named president and CEO of Virginia Community Capital, succeeding Jane Henderson, who plans to retire… Enigma’s Marc Da Costa joins the board of Media Development Investment Fund… Peter Gajdos, ex- of IPM Group, joins Fifth Wall as partner and co-lead of climate tech investments. 

The Week’s Jobs

Cisco is hiring a (remote) climate impact portfolio manager… Rally Assets seeks an impact data analyst in Toronto… Local Enterprise Assistance Fund is recruiting a loan officer and a loan associate in Boston… Social Finance is looking for a director of advisory… Project Drawdown is looking for a (remote) climate finance senior research fellow… Blue Earth Capital seeks a head of funds and co-investments in London… The Bezos Earth Fund is hiring for a number of positions. 

Kiva is looking for a (remote) director of communications… The Marguerite Casey Foundation is hiring an administrative partner in Seattle… J&J Impact Ventures is recruiting an investment lead / senior manager in New Brunswick, N.J… Earthshot Ventures seeks a senior analyst in the San Francisco Bay Area or Honolulu… StepStone Group is looking for an ESG and impact associate in New York… FII Institute is hiring a director in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Sept. 24, 2021