The Brief | October 27, 2023

The Week in Impact Investing: Visible Hands

The team at


TGIF, Agents of Impact! 

🗣 Economic agency. Adam Smith’s theory that the “invisible hand” of the market delivers optimal public welfare through the strict pursuit of self-interest was never a satisfactory explanation for the “defiant optimists” who for 16 years (with a pandemic break) have gathered at SOCAP, the social capital markets conference in San Francisco. “There have been a ton of human hands in the markets, designing them to do exactly what they are doing today,” Jeff Cyr of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners said at SOCAP this week (see ImpactAlpha’s coverage on gender-lens investing and shared prosperity). A hallmark of Agents of Impact is belief in their agency and ability to optimize capital markets for better social and environmental outcomes. Raj Shah of the Rockefeller Foundation told ImpactAlpha’s Amy Cortese that he wrote “Big Bets” because, “I wanted people to believe that it’s realistic to be optimistic about reshaping our country and our planet.” The need to hit back against the political and legal attacks on climate action, diversity and so-called ESG investing was a theme of this year’s convening. “It’s OK to fight for racial equity,” said Candide Group’s Morgan Simon. Build up legal reserves for the long fight ahead and keep talking about racial justice, she said. “We have the resources within our communities to fix it.”

Impact investors are shaping markets in the US and around the world. In Tunisia, USAID Invest, CrossBoundary, and Flat6Labs deployed first-loss capital to mitigate risk for investors and help a half-dozen high-impact entrepreneurs weather a challenging market, USAID Invest’s Kristin Kelly Jangraw shared on ImpactAlpha. Shareholder activists, led by Ceres, are using new data to pressure corporations to do a much better job managing increasingly scarce water supplies, Andrea Riquier reported. Lenders, community groups and consortiums of nonprofits are vying for a piece of the $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund, aka a national “green bank,” to finance green energy and climate resilience projects with a health focus on lower-income and disadvantaged communities, Andrea reported. “It is a testament to the success we have had as a field that our work is drawing political attacks,” said Fran Seegull (see Fran on ImpactAlpha’s State of the Field call). Her call to action from SOCAP’s main stage: “We need to come together to defend our right to invest in the ways that we feel will be most impactful.” – Dennis Price

The Week’s Podcast

🎧 Impact Briefing. David Bank catches up with Courageous Capital Advisors’ Laurie Spengler on what the mainstreaming of impact investing means for smaller impact fund managers closer to the problems and community-based solutions. Host Brian Walsh has the headlines. 

The Week’s Agents of Impact

Dressed for impact. How does your outfit express your impact? ImpactAlpha contributor Maura Dilley put the question to some of the many fashionable attendees at this week’s SOCAP. “The outfit is a symbol for sustainability in Japan,” said Masaki Kawai of UNERI (left). “This is a yakata, a 500-year-old Japanese fashion – the opposite of fast fashion.” Maura shared images and comments from this year’s best-dressed throughout the week.

  • Making the scene. Others that commanded attention: Dionne Broadus of the American Heart Association (“My jewelry is from two female artisans, and I’m wearing a pantsuit brand that promotes body inclusivity”); Naomi Moskowitz of Footsteps (“As a queer human in a professional environment, visibility is important to me to help others in the community feel safe”); Sandhya Naidu Janardhan of Community Design Agency (“The outfit I’m wearing is from Kaisori, Bangalore-based artisans. The ajrakh print is typical of the communities in western India”).

The Week’s Dealflow

Deal spotlight: Equipping frontline communities for the climate transition. Low-income and communities of color bear the brunt of climate change in the US. They also hold the key to many climate solutions. Hawaii-based nonprofit Elemental Excelerator this week secured a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to demonstrate how philanthropic capital can unlock 10x the amount in follow-on funding from green banks and community lenders, and prepare startups to tap federal climate resilience funds. “I hope we find dozens of Elementals out there, or hundreds, that can be active in thousands of American communities,” Rockefeller’s Raj Shah told ImpactAlpha. Federal climate spending is a once-in-a-generation chance to reshape the economy, he said. “Whether that reshaping of the economy is more inclusive of lower-income and minority communities, or whether it continues the trend of building an economy where the people at the top do much better and the middle class gets hollowed out, is really why we’re focused on supporting partners like Elemental.”  

  • Climate finance. Elemental aims to fill financing and knowledge gaps for founders working to commercialize decarbonization technologies in frontline communities. The Rockefeller grant will fund more projects “that reduce emissions and prioritize benefits for low-wealth, rural and energy transition communities,” said Elemental’s Dawn Lippert. Companies in the nonprofit’s latest cohort are working on carbon removal, sustainable ingredients, and climate-resilient buildings and cities. The grant is a tiny part of Rockefeller’s five-year, $1 billion climate strategy for nature-based decarbonization and other climate solutions in vulnerable communities worldwide.
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Agrifood investing. JKCC General Supplies, a Ugandan trading company sourcing coffee beans from local smallholder farmers, scored €800,000 from ABC Fund… Germany’s FarmInsect snagged €8 million to make sustainable livestock feed.

Climate tech. Carbon Equity clinched €6 million to unlock private climate investing for the “mass affluent” market… Overstory scored $14 million for AI-powered wildfire mitigation and biodiversity… Shell’s Studio X launched a cohort of early stage energy and climate tech ventures.

Energy transition. Eden scored $12 million for its electrical reservoir stimulation technology to support geothermal energy projects… Harvest Thermal raised $11 million to develop thermal batteries to make heat pumps smarter, more efficient and cheaper… Hitachi Energy acquired a majority stake in EKS to expand its energy storage offerings… Spearmint Energy secured $92 million in tax equity financing for Texas battery storage…

A Camco blended-finance private debt fund secured $50 million for clean energy investments in Africa… UK-based Myenergi raised £30 million to build smart-home energy systems… Husk Power landed $103 million for renewable mini-grids in rural Africa and Asia… Swedish electric truck maker Volta Trucks filed for bankruptcy last week.

Financial inclusion. Omidyar Network spinoff Flourish Ventures secured $350 million to invest for a fair financial system… Colombian microfinance lender UNI2 snagged $3 million in debt from Triodos… Women-focused funds managed by Quona and Sweef Capital secured investments from PayPal for financial inclusion and economic development for women and girls.

Fund news. Growth Impact Fund snagged £1.8 million to invest in social impact organizations in the UK… BluePeak Private Capital closed its flagship fund at $156 million to provide flexible financing to small and mid-sized businesses in Africa.

Inclusive economy. Pair Team clinched $9 million for value-based care and social services… Showroom B2B scored $6.5 million in pre-Series A funding to connect global manufacturers to small clothing retailers and wholesalers in India’s smaller cities. 

Returns on inclusion. UnitedHealth Group backed Enable Ventures to invest in disability solutions… Wellington Management closed a $150 million early-stage venture fund to invest in Black, Latino, women and other underrepresented founders.

The Week’s Talent

Transform Finance named Curt Lyon as executive director, succeeding Andrea Armeni, who is now director of Social Impact, Innovation and Investment at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service… Impax Asset Management appointed Ross Pamphilon, ex- of Wells Fargo Asset Management, as head of fixed income… Therese Stoch, ex- of Keller Postman, joined Creation Investments Capital Management as chief operating and compliance officer… Chelsea McDaniel, ex- of Activest, joined Common Future as director of impact investments.  

The Week’s Jobs

💼Share the week’s impact jobs. View dozens of other jobs on our new job board. Want to post a listing? Submit it here.

US East Coast

In New York: Blue Earth Capital is looking for an investment professional to oversee its private equity funds and co-investments, and Grameen America seeks a senior director of development.

Capital Impact Partners seeks an investment analyst in Washington, DC… Inclusive Prosperity Capital is hiring a staff accountant in Hartford, Conn… Kensington Corridor Trust seeks an investment and fundraising lead in Philadelphia.

US West Coast

In San Francisco: Acumen is on the hunt for a health principal; REDF is recruiting a growth portfolio manager; Waverley Street Foundation seeks a grants manager; and Schmidt Family Foundation has an opening for an investment analyst.

Pacific Community Ventures seeks a director of development in Oakland, Calif… The California State Teachers’ Retirement System is recruiting a Sacramento-based associate portfolio manager for sustainable investment and stewardship strategies.

Other US-based jobs

The Environmental Defense Fund is hiring a remote clean energy senior manager… The Nature Conservancy is hiring a global oceans-focused senior associate director of development.

Global locations

NatureVest is recruiting a global impact investments director… Triodos Bank is looking for an investment portfolio officer in the Netherlands… Founders Factory Africa is on the hunt for an investment manager… Enabling Qapital has an opening for a junior business development manager in Zurich. 

That’s a wrap. Have a wonderful weekend. 

– Oct. 27, 2023