The Brief | November 13, 2020

The Week in impact investing: Transition

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

Just transition. The worry may be receding, but the work is expanding. The energy unleashed by the prospect of a U.S. presidential transition has Agents of Impact rushing to accelerate climate action (see No. 2), COVID vaccines (No. 4), finance justice (No. 3) and gender equity (No. 6), just for a start (for even more, see Talent, below). Still, the role and utility of impact investing in what comes next remains to be demonstrated. Courageous Capital Advisors’ Laurie Spengler writes that as she knocked on voters’ doors in Florida, she was reminded of “the power and energy of the election that comes from trying to understand people’s real needs.” (No. 1) It is this power and energy that should “sharpen the focus of our impact investing community as well as the next U.S. administration.” 

The depth of the current distress, and the disparities in how it is experienced, present opportunities for impact investors to demonstrate relevance, but also risks. “We must celebrate impact solutions that address the basic needs of most people – employment and job quality, personal safety, affordable healthcare, quality education and a chance for building wealth and prosperity for one’s family,” Spengler reminds us. “And we must do so in a way that conveys respect for one another’s lives.” The transition we need is not only to a new administration, but to an inclusive, just, equitable, sustainable and resilient society for all.

– David Bank 

Impact Briefing. On this week’s podcast, host Brian Walsh and roundtable regulars Imogen Rose-Smith and David Bank explore what the presidential transition in the U.S. means for impact investing. Plus, the headlines. Tune in, share, and follow us on, Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Next week’s Call: Gender-smart investing for a sustainable recovery. Join SME.NG’s Thelma Ekiyor, Trade Depot’s Onyekachi Izukanne, Development Partners International’s Takudzwa Mutasa, Alitheia’s Temilade Denton, Sarmayacar’s Rabeel Warraich and other Agents of Impact to explore how gender-smart investors are mitigating risk, realizing returns, and identifying opportunities to rebuild sustainably. CDC Group’s Nick O’Donohoe and International Finance Corp.’s Stephanie Von Friedeburg will launch a new fund manager’s guide to gender-smart investing and join the conversation with ImpactAlpha and the Collaborative for Frontier Finance on Agents of Impact Call No. 25, Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 9:30am ET / 2:30pm London / 5:30pm Nairobi / 8:00pm New Delhi. RSVP today.

The Week’s Big 7

1. Impact on. ImpactAlpha solicited “hot takes” from Agents of Impact on the new operating environment under a Biden administration. We heard from Ross Baird of Blueprint Local, Sandra Moore of Advantage Capital, Elemental Excelerator’s Dawn Lippert, Toniic’s Adam Bendell, LISC’s George Ashton, The Plug’s Sherrell Dorsey, Nowak Metro Finance Lab’s Bruce Katz, Courageous Capital’s Laurie Spengler, JumpScale’s Josh Knauer, Adasina’s Rachel Robasciotti and many others. “It’s a safe bet that a Biden administration will accelerate ESG and impact investing through broad support of regulatory and administrative decisions that eliminate roadblocks and incentivize investments,” writes CNote’s Yuliya Tarasava. Read on (and send additional thoughts to [email protected] or via this handy form).

2. Climate reset. The re-emergence of U.S. climate engagement under a new administration seems to be generating serious FOMO among investors. “The transition to net zero will be the most significant transformation in economic history,” said Generation Management’s David Blood. By this time next year, added Mark Carney, “Net-zero transition plans will become the norm for large companies.” Step up.

  • ESG tailwinds. Advocates for responsible investing expect a policy shift on environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investing. More.

3. NEW: Twitter invests $100 million in OFN’s racial justice fund. Twitter is the latest tech giant to put its corporate cash behind community development financial institutions. Twitter committed $100 million in long-term, below-market loans as the first corporate investor in the Finance Justice Fund managed by Opportunity Finance Network. The fund aims to allocate $1 billion to finance Black, Latino, Indigenous and rural borrowers across the U.S. Check it out.

4. The Gates Foundation’s catalytic role in Pfizer’s vaccine. Last fall, the Gates Foundation made a $55 million equity investment in German biotech company BioNTech, whose “messenger RNA” technology platform played a key role in Pfizer’s promising COVID vaccine. Gates’ program-related investment was part of a strategy to “nudge” private biotechnology startups to turn their techniques toward vaccines and immunotherapies for other infectious diseases. The full story.

  • Proof points. “Answer: COVID vaccine,” tweeted Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Antony Bugg-Levine. “Question: Show me where we can draw a clear line from an impact investment to a major, positive social impact?” Is it too soon, he wondered, “to call this the most important proof point in the history of #impinv?”

5. Justice tech. A new crop of “justice tech” entrepreneurs are rolling out tools and services to help the formerly incarcerated succeed on the outside. “It is essential that the solutions to today’s social issues be born from those who have lived experience,” argue Village Capital’s Marcia Rosado and American Family Insurance’s Nyra Jordan. Dig in

6. Centering gender in the COVID recovery. If “material” factors are those that would affect the judgment of an informed investor, gender is decidedly material. In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, Criterion Institute’s Joy Anderson and GenderSmart’s Suzanne Biegel tick 10 gender-related risks and opportunities for governments and investors in the COVID recovery. Collect the whole set

7. The era of transparency. The International Finance Corp.’s Neil Gregory read through the first 62 impact management disclosures from signatories of the IFC’s Operating Principles for Impact Management, so you don’t have to. Topline: the vast majority of impact fund managers are aligning their impact targets to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but many need stronger incentives in place to reward impact alongside financial returns. See for yourself

The Week’s Agents of Impact

Agents of Impact. Bold leaders. Taking action. Driving impact. That’s the tagline on the snappy Agents of Impact section on the new homepage (scroll down!) Week in and week out ImpactAlpha’s editorial team scans funds and enterprises, trading desks and think tanks, social movements and C-suites, pop culture and seasoned practitioners to spot agents who are driving positive social and environmental impact and who other agents should know. 

We celebrate activists like Aisha Yesufu and Archana Soreng for calling attention to systemic racism and climate risks. Investors like Kesha Cash and Sarah Kearney, who are early to spot ‘impact alpha’ market opportunities. Entrepreneurs like Andrew Youn, Helen Adeosun and Dawn Sherman for building those opportunities. Big thinkers like Anne Price and Delilah Rothenberg, who aren’t just breaking news, but new ideas. We love Agents of Impact who mobilize capital and commitments, including Aaron Mitchell and Shannon Alwyn, Tynesia Boyea-Robinson and Aurora James. Sometimes, it’s whole groups of people who are driving impact, like the Agents of Impact toppling systemic racism in finance and in the streets, frontline healthcare and essential workers, voters, and you – yes, all of you

The Week’s Dealflow

Impact tech. Chicago’s mHUB raises $5 million to build an inclusive ‘hardtech’ ecosystem… Ather Energy raises $35 million to deliver electric scooters in India… Bits x Bites secures $30 million to improve agrifood sustainability in China… Tül raises $4 million to help local hardware stores manage their inventory. 

Gender lens. Swedfund commits $1 million to health products marketplace Kasha… MPower secures seed funding for menopausal women’s health products… Kenya’s Farmers Pride gives women farmers access to inputs and finance. 

COVID recovery. Opportunity Fund teams up with Lendio and Funding Circle to expand small business lending… BlueOrchard raises $140 million for COVID relief for emerging market small businesses. 

Locavesting. North Sky Capital backs a California waste-to-fuel plant – in an Opportunity Zone… LISC invests in the redevelopment of a Wonder Bread factory in Toledo. 

New media. Kenya’s Wee Media expands data-driven business journalism in Africa. 

The Week’s Talent

Who’s (going to be) who in the Biden administration? The President-elect’s transition team named 500 people to its agency review teams, an advance guard to help build and recommend staff for key federal agencies. More than half are women, and at least 40% people of color or LGBTQ+. Among the Agents of Impact jumping into the transition: Bill Bynum of HOPE Enterprises, Elizabeth Littlefield of Albright Stonebridge Group (and former head of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., now part of the U.S. International Development Finance Corp.), Xavier Briggs (ex- of the Ford Foundation), Florence Chen of Generate Capital, Martha Gimbel of Schmidt Futures, Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets, Dina Esposito of Mercy Corps, Elisa Montoya of Meow Wolf, and Bryan Garcia of the Connecticut Green Bank. Ron Klain, the veteran operative set to become Biden’s chief of staff, has most recently been a top executive at Revolution, the venture fund founded by Steve Case

Catherine Gicheru of the Africa Women Journalism Project joins Media Development Investment Fund’s board of directors… Sam Gyimah, formerly U.K. member of parliament, joins Goldman Sachs as a non-executive director to advise on innovation, ESG and impact investing… The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition names Ian Gary, ex- of Oxfam America, as executive director… Babacar Ka, Takudzwa Mutasa and Marc Stoneham join Development Partners International as partners… Immigrant founder-focused venture firm Unshackled Ventures welcomes 21 student fellows.

The Week’s Jobs

Reach Capital seeks a head of finance and operations in San Francisco and is looking for an investment associate in San Francisco or Washington, D.C… MSCI is hiring a corporate social responsibility business manager in New York… U.K.-based Mott MacDonald seeks a global head of sustainability and climate change… The Tipping Point Fund on Impact Investing is hiring a program associate or senior program associate in Washington, D.C. or New York… The END Fund seeks a head of fundraising in New York.

Thank you for reading.

– Nov. 13, 2020