The Brief | March 6, 2020

The Week in impact investing: Virtual reality

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact!

The Week’s Big 6

1. An early effect of coronavirus: canceled conferences. The spread of COVID-19 has done what the climate crisis and street protests could not: grounded the spring circuit of impact investing conferences and events. The raft of conference cancellations will create something of a natural experiment: Just how necessary were all those gatherings for getting impact investments done? Virtual reality: Live events are going online. Track the changes.

  • Global Impact Investing Network Investor Council (New York) – canceled.
  • Skoll World Forum (Oxford) – canceled.
  • AVCA (African Private Equity and Venture Capital) (Dakar) – canceled.
  • Financial Times’ Investing for Good Asia (Singapore) – postponed to October.
  • Gender-Smart Investing Summit (London) – postponed to December.
  • Upaya Social Ventures gala (Seattle) – going virtual.
  • Euclid Network Impact Summit (The Hague, Netherlands) – postponed.
  • IMF-World Bank Group Spring Meetings (Washington, D.C.) – going virtual.
  • Solve at MIT (Cambridge, Mass.) – going virtual.

Bonus: Only the decisive survive. Will your business? Capria’s Will Poole urges emerging-market entrepreneurs to build a COVID readiness plan, now! Get proactive.

2. Catalyzing capital for carbontech. A growing portfolio of tech startups are ramping up volumes and driving down costs of carbon capture and removal. In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, climate-finance nonprofit Prime Coalition makes the case for catalytic capital flexible enough to accommodate the long development timelines, capital intensity and political uncertainties of bringing CO₂ removal to scale. Gigaton scale.

3. Quality, not quantity, should drive emerging market fintech. The push to scale as fast as possible is causing yellow lights to flash in the emerging markets fintech boom. In Kenya and other markets, some customers are falling into “debt traps,” as easy, mobile credit becomes available from competing digital lenders. Quona Capital is doubling down on the thesis that responsible, customer-centric services that deliver real development gains for communities will outperform in the long run. This week, it closed its Accion Quona Inclusion Fund at $203 million. Customer centric.

4. Art is investable in the global creative economy. The U.K.’s Nesta raised £20 million to bridge an annual lending gap estimated at £62 million for U.K. theaters, museums, comedy clubs, music venues and other arts organizations that banks consider too risky. In the U.S., the Art for Redemption marketplace secured early funding from Colorado impact investors to help inmates support themselves and their families by selling their art. Venture capital firm Saviu led a $1 million round in Cote d’Ivoire fashion and art marketplace Afrikrea. Earlier this year, the African Export-Import Bank pledged $500 million for Africa’s creative economy.

5. Clean-energy opportunities in the Caribbean. A shortage of capital has slowed the rollout of cleaner and lower-cost energy infrastructure across the Caribbean. Local investors have piled into MPC Capital’s new Caribbean Clean Energy Fund. With a pipeline of more than a dozen solar, wind and efficiency projects, and a plan to build local capacity and create jobs, the Hamburg, Germany-based real assets manager is turning to U.S.-based impact investors, institutions and foundations to close the fundraising. Climate action.

6. New tools for small business lending at U.S. International Development Finance Corp. The “new OPIC” is adding financing tools and increasing the ticket sizes of its small business-focused Portfolio for Impact. The expanded initiative, renamed Portfolio for Impact and Innovation, or Pi2, gives DFC the flexibility to invest up to $900 million (up from $100 million) via debt, equity and other mechanisms, like insurance and technical assistance. Portfolio for impact.

The Week’s Agent of Impact

Willemijn Verloop, Social Impact Ventures. Social Impact Ventures’ €40 million fund was the biggest private impact fund in the Netherlands when it launched in 2015. Now, co-founder Willemijn Verloop is back in the market with an €80 million second fund to replicate and expand its impact investing model, which includes a rigorous impact oversight structure, impact-linked carry, and quarterly impact and financial reporting. “How can we ask the entrepreneurs we’re invested in to report on impact metrics if we do not use those metrics to judge our own success?” Verloop asks. Social Impact Ventures has played a catalytic role in coaxing new investors to co-invest in impact deals and to track their impact. When Social Impact Ventures sold its stake in the biofuels company GoodFuelsFinCo Fuels Group–which owns a network of gas stations–committed to continue tracking Social Impact Ventures’ impact metrics.

Verloop arrived in impact finance after an NGO career that included founding the international peace-building organization War Child, which supports children affected by war in 15 countries. Recognizing the potential of entrepreneurship to empower people facing adversity, she co-founded Social Enterprise NL, the Dutch national ecosystem builder for social entrepreneurship. By 2015, there were 2,000 more social startups in the Netherlands than five years earlier. Social Impact Ventures remains a rare source of early-stage impact capital. One early investment: Samasource, which teaches basic tech skills and employs low-skilled, low-income workers in Africa (see Agent of Impact: Leila Janah, 1982-2020). “We’ve seen the growth of young ventures in our pipeline,” Verloop says. “We can easily double what we’ve done in the last four years because we now have a developed pipeline.”

The Week’s Dealflow

Energy access. SIMA raises $90 million for off-grid solar and financial access in Africa and South Asia… The Facility for Energy Inclusion’s Off-Grid Energy Access Fund makes $10 million debt investment in d.light.

Locavesting. West Side United recruits hospitals to invest in Chicago’s communities… Amalgamated Bank helps PACE Funding finance residential sustainability upgrades.

Financial inclusion. LeapFrog and Goldman back African fintech Jumo’s $55 million raise… Adobe Capital backs Colombian fintech Puntored.

Food and agtech. Breakthrough Energy Ventures leads $20 million funding for C16 Biosciences’ synthetic palm oil… Omnivore invests in Arya to provide warehouses for smallholder farmers.

Inclusive economy. Media Development Investment Fund invests in social tech startup Josh Talks.

Innovative finance. McConnell Foundation aims to accelerate ‘solutions finance.’

The Week’s Talent

As deadlines loom under the IFC’s Operating Principles for Impact Management, Tideline and the Rockefeller Foundation will host “Integrity Through Assurance,” a live webcast featuring Calvert Impact Capital’s Caitlin Rosser, IFC’s Diane Damskey and UNPRI’s Saumya Mehrotra. They will join Rockefeller’s Mike Muldoon and Tideline’s Christina Leijonhufvud to discuss the role of verification in impact investing, Monday, Mar. 9, 3-5pm ET. Register for the live stream.

Sophie Robé is stepping down as CEO of Phenix Capital. Phenix’s Dirk Meuleman will take the helm… Cristina Shapiro is the new president of Unicef’s Bridge Fund… Adam Heltzer is leaving Partners Group to head ESG investing at Ares Management… Kristina Dixon joins Nonprofit Finance Fund as chief financial officer… Journalist Devin Thorpe is running for Congress as a Democrat in Utah’s 3rd District.

AgFe’s Richard Atterbury joins the board at Media Development Investment Fund… Michael Fiebig is named chief operating officer at responsAbility… Pro Mujer appoints Carmen Correa as chief operating officer… David LeZaks joins Croatan Institute as a senior fellow (ImpactAlpha subscribers save 10% on registration to The Croatan Forum, Apr. 27-29 in Durham, N.C., with code IMPACTFORUM).

The Week’s Jobs

Aceli Africa seeks an associate/financial analyst in Nairobi… Boundless Impact Investing is looking for a sustainable aquaculture expert in the U.S… KKR is hiring a vice president of global impact in New York… Karma is looking for an associate editor and an impact reporter in New York… NewImpact seeks an impact innovation strategist in Seattle… Skoll Foundation seeks an associate director of strategy in Palo Alto, Calif… Boston University is recruiting a director for its Institute for Sustainable Energy.

Google is hiring a strategic negotiator for energy contracts and renewable energy assets in Sunnyvale, Calif… B Lab is looking for a manager for its movement-builders program in Amsterdam… New Island Capital is searching for an associate in San Francisco to support its sustainable agriculture and forestry investments… Clarmondial is looking for an investment officer in East or Southern Africa and an associate in Zurich… Avivar Capital is recruiting an operations manager and a summer associate in Los Angeles.

Media Development Investment Fund seeks a part-time program coordinator in Prague… Flat World Partners seeks a business development analyst in New York… Endeavor is recruiting an associate of entrepreneur selection and growth in New York… Uber is hiring a San Francisco-based senior public policy associate for cities… Nike is searching for a global sustainability data analyst in Beaverton, Ore… Catholic Charities USA is looking for an impact investing summer intern in Alexandria, Va.

Thank you for reading.

–Mar. 6, 2020