The Brief | March 27, 2020

The Week in impact investing: Urgency

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact!

Hope goes viral. This week we learned a lesson in exponential growth. Not just of COVID-19’s spread. But in how to fight it, with science, agency and hope. On Sunday morning, I woke to an email from my brother, Dave, an intensive-care doctor at a major hospital in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. He wanted to set up a video call for friends and family. The title: “Empowering and protecting your family.” Doctors in New York wanted to shake the rest of the country into taking the virus seriously. “I don’t want you guys to be scared,” he told more than 100 friends and family that night. “I want to empower you.”

In a “lengthy, sometimes rambling, very personal message,” as actor Evan Handler described it, Dave shared how COVID-19 is transmitted, how to avoid contracting it, and what to do if you catch it (see the video here). In the fog of fear, his choice to empower had an emotional impact. Dave’s video has now been viewed more than a half-million times. “It’s the first thing I’ve watched in a while that actually calmed me down,” tweeted Brian Schatz, the U.S. senator from Hawaii. With calm comes clarity. With clarity comes agency. With agency comes hope and a way out.

Agents of Impacts are mobilizing emergency loans (see, Agent of Impact, below) while seizing the opportunity for longer-term system change (No. 1). They’re investing in resiliency (No. 3) and doubling down on sustainability (No. 4). They are mobilizing community capital to bridge gaps for families and businesses (No. 5) and walking the talk with their own finances (No. 6). Move over COVID-19, hope is going viral.

– Dennis Price, editorial director

Impact Briefing. On ImpactAlpha’s newest podcast, host Brian Walsh talks with David Bank about “making this s***storm matter” and Amy Cortese about this week’s Agent of Impact. Check out this week’s show, and subscribe on AppleSpotify or wherever you listen.

Agents of Impact Call No. 14: Resilience capital for small and growing businesses. Innovative and intrepid entrepreneurs in emerging markets are on the front lines of COVID-19 recovery. Local capital providers are working to expand financing for small and growing businesses, or SGBs, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Join ImpactAlpha, the Collaborative for Frontier Finance and local fund managers who are mobilizing an SGB stabilization and liquidity fund. RSVP for The CallThursday, April 2 at 9am PT / noon ET / 5pm London /  9:30pm Delhi.

The Week’s Big 6

1. Making it matter. Amid the disruption and turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, “we’re facing an opportunity for a complete economic reset,” says Kellogg Foundation’s Cynthia Muller, who joined a call of ImpactAlpha’s braintrust to chart the pivot from extraction and inequality to regeneration and inclusion. The pandemic disruption must become the sustainability disruption, argues David Bank in his latest column. The Impact Alpha.

2. Resilience and disruption. Muller is among dozens of Agents of Impact that have shared reflections and ideas on how to survive the moment while seizing the opportunity for system change. This week’s “voices” include Laura Ortiz, Clara Miller, Graham Macmillan, Laurie Spengler, Ross Baird, Tracy Palandjian and Bjoern StruewerThe takeaways.

3. Resiliency dividend. How the coronavirus pandemic has played out in Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul suggests investments in social cohesion and equity pay “resilience dividends” when disasters strike. From Singapore, Global Resilient Cities Network’s Lauren Sorkin tells ImpactAlpha that these cities offer lessons in how to “look at our local economies and what we can strengthen.” Stronger together.

4. Renewed case for sustainable investing. In an interview with ImpactAlpha, Generation Investment Management’s Colin le Duc discusses how long-term sustainable investing is suddenly fundamental to the global economy. “The ball was already rolling.”  The coronavirus pandemic, he says, “is just an accelerant.” Hear him out.

5. Strengthening collective bonds. Across the U.S., a grassroots response is moving quickly to bridge gaps before Congress’ coronavirus relief bill reaches families and businesses. Cities and states are distributing grants, loans and other relief. Neighborhood aid networks are matching people in need with neighbors who can help. Makers, entrepreneurs and tinkerers are sharing open-source relief tech solutions. Crowdfunding platforms are extending emergency business loans. The running list.

6. Getting personal. Calvert Impact Capital’s Beth Bafford is breaking a taboo: She’s discussing her own personal finances to help others think about how to move money into impact and sustainable investments. The dispatch is the first in a new ImpactAlpha series featuring impact investors who are “walking the talk” by bringing impact and sustainable investing to their personal portfolios. Follow the leader.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund. When voluntary and then mandatory social distancing shut down businesses and nonprofits in New York, the effects were immediate. Revenues disappeared, employees were laid off, reserves dwindled. Government relief is still weeks away, but starting today, the Nonprofit Finance Fund is taking applications for no-interest loans to nonprofits in healthcare, food delivery, homeless services, workforce development and education, as well as arts and culture. The $25 million emergency fund aims to keep organizations afloat until revenues recover. That the fund went “from conception to announcement to disbursement within less than two weeks is a sign of what is possible when everyone acts with a sense of urgency and mutual trust,” says Bugg-Levine, who has led NFF since 2011. “The crisis galvanized people to action,” Bugg-Levine told ImpactAlpha. “What is stopping us from acting with the same urgency and upending usual processes for addressing all the other lingering crises such as climate change, the carceral state, the racial wealth gap, African American maternal mortality and voter suppression?”

South African-born Bugg-Levine has long been a steady hand in impact investing. As a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation, he helped coin the term and support much of the field’s early infrastructure. He took over NFF from Clara Miller, who fielded a $10 million flexible-financing fund for nonprofits after the 9/11 attacks that became the model for the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund. The loan fund is capitalized by a program-related investment from the Ford Foundation, whose president, Darren Walker, pulled together the broader $75 million fund, which includes grants, in near-record time. Bugg-Levine says he’s encouraged by foundations that have responded to the fast-moving crisis by loosening grant restrictions and reporting obligations and pre-paying future commitments. The question now, he says, is “What would it take to cultivate a similar sense of urgency around the other issues we work on? What have we learned that can form the basis of a new system?”

The Week’s Dealflow

Pandemic relief. Philanthropies back $75 million emergency fund for New York nonprofits… Omidyar Network India launches $1 million fund to support gig workers through pandemic.

Impact tech. Aktiia raises €5.6 million for wearable blood pressure monitor… CollectiveCrunch secures €500,000 to pilot forest management software… Novi raises $1.5 million for supply chain transparency platform.

Clean energy. Lightsource BP secures $250 million to finance Texas solar project… mPower Technology closes $4.4 million funding round for solar ‘scales.’

Food and agtech. Alt-protein company Nature’s Fynd clinches $80 million… Indonesia’s Chilibeli raises $10 million for farm-to-consumer marketplace.

Capital on the frontier. Veritas Finance clinches $46 million to support India’s micro and small businesses.

Circular economy. Blue Planet raises $25 million for waste management in Singapore.

Responsible fintech. Ireland’s My Money Jar secures early funding for savings app.

Smart cities. Canadian ride-hailing company Facedrive acquires peer HiRide Share.

The Week’s Talent

Hiro Mizuno exits his role as executive managing director and chief investment officer of the $1.6 trillion Japan Government Pension Investment Fund (see, Hiro’s Journey)… Responsible investment proponent Eloy Lindeijer steps down as chief of investment management at PGGM… April Underwood, ex- of Slack, joins Obvious Ventures as a venture partner… Cornerstone Capital brings on Glen Macdonald and Shahnawaz Malik as managing directors and senior investment advisors.

Climate scientist Ken Caldeira joins Gates Ventures “to develop the knowledge and human capacity needed to address the global climate/energy problem”… BlueOrchard’s head of investment solutions Philipp Müller takes over as CEO from Patrick Scheurle on April 1. Maria Teresa Zappia becomes deputy CEO and Daniel Perroud joins the executive management team… Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder of SumOfUs, becomes president of New Media Ventures.

The Week’s Jobs

Big Path Capital is hiring an analyst or associate…Kinvolved is hiring a vice president of sales in New York… responsAbility Renewable Energy Holding seeks a managing director in Nairobi… Building Markets is hiring a senior director of finance in New York.

Thank you for reading.

–Mar. 27, 2020