The Brief | July 10, 2018

Vatican points investors toward the poor, upskilling U.S. workers, humanitarian drones, business support for deeper impact

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Vatican shines a spotlight on impact investing in refugees and the poor. The Third Vatican Conference on Impact Investing this week is focused squarely on ways impact investing can serve the poor, and even the poorest of the poor. That could make some attendees uncomfortable, reports Carol Clouse from Rome. Even within impact investing circles, such customers are still often regarded as charity cases that can’t support viable businesses. Cardinal Peter Turkson, a co-host of the conference, said the gathering had been organized to increase capital for impact investing, “especially for the most poor and vulnerable among us.”

It’s indeed difficult to make market-rate returns selling products to people living on a dollar or two dollars a day, while entrepreneurs marketing goods and services to the emerging middle class can produce healthy returns for investors. But market-rate returns may not be the church’s highest priority. Says Sean Callahan, head of Catholic Relief Services, “Among the poorest of the poor, we constantly find inventive and resilient entrepreneurs and business-minded people who are eager to escape poverty, if only they had the capital to start businesses.”

Keep reading, “Vatican shines a spotlight on impact investing in refugees and the poor,” by Carol Clouse on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Follow the Money

Cell-Ed raises $1.5 million to upskill U.S. workers. The Palo Alto-based workforce development startup is trying to help American workers stay ahead of the changing jobs landscape. Lumina Impact Ventures, the Impact Fund and others invested $1.5 million in Cell-Ed’s mobile learning platform for adults who read at or below the sixth-grade level. Learn more.

Belle Michigan backs two Midwestern, female-founded firms. Belle Michigan Impact Fund launched in March to get more investment capital to female business owners. The fund, which has raised $5 million (toward a $20 million goal), invested in game-based edtech company Alchemy and automotive technology company Seeva Technologies. Founder Carolyn Cassin said Belle Michigan is trying to shift venture capital’s “longstanding and rampant” cultural bias against women. Read on.

UNICEF looks to seed humanitarian drone startups. The humanitarian organization’s Innovation Fund has raised $14.4 million and backed 57 early-stage, for-profit startups in 35 countries. Its latest fund is aimed at startups building software solutions, machine learning, and data analytics to make drones more effective in humanitarian causes. Here’s more.

ImpactAlpha Series: Beyond Aid

How business support helps emerging-market enterprises reach lower-income customers. Even small amounts of grant-based business support can help growing enterprises in emerging market2 reach the lower-income customers that need them most. Such enterprises can face business pressures to go up-market to higher-income customers. Mennonite Economic Development Associates, the international development organization known as MEDA, has found that carefully targeted technical assistance can help build profitable businesses serving poorer customers, and reduce risks for investors.

Beyond Aid, a new series from MEDA and ImpactAlpha, is exploring the expanding set of financial tools for sustainable development. In Part 1, MEDA’s Majid Mirza shares the story of Colombian industrial supplier Rayco, which used a small grant alongside an investment to expand into income-generating tools. The company’s new mobile agents helped Allison, a 26-year-old mother of two in the mountainous area of Socorro, Colombia, get a generator and keep her home-based restaurant open during the coffee harvest season. It’s an example of how coupling grant funds with investments can drive essential products and services to remote markets.

Read Part 1 of the Beyond Aid series, “How business support helps emerging-market enterprises reach lower-income customers,” by MEDA’s Majid Mirza on ImpactAlpha.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Sir Ronald Cohen kicked off the Vatican’s impact investing conference, calling impact investing “a revolutionary movement.” Watch the full speech… Fresh Coast Capital is now Greenprint Partners. “We have outgrown our original, geographically tied name,” says CEO Nicole Chavas… The Aspen Network of Development EntrepreneursWest Africa regional conference is set for July 24-25 in Lagos.

July 10, 2018.