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Blended Finance 101

By Emily Ziethen | Tue Nov 22 2016
In 2015, the United Nations released a multi-faceted plan of action for the world to meet 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and 169 targets by the year 2030. These goals range from clean water and sanitation to gender equality and quality education, with one of the more ambitious goals being the complete eradication of poverty, in all of its forms. It will require an enormous undertaking to achieve all 17 SDGs, and part of the challenge lies with the funding gap that is present in most developing countries, which is estimated to be “between $1.9 trillion and $3.1 trillion each year between now and 2030.”* The development community at large recognizes that significant additional financial resources will need to be mobilized over the coming 15 years. However, current political climates across many developed countries hint at foreign aid cuts instead of increases, raising the question “where will this needed capital come from?”
It is the belief of many that private sector investment will play an important role in assisting frontier economies address the development funding gap that they are currently facing. The reason is that many private investors (from equity funds to investment bankers) are increasingly looking to developing countries for their next investment opportunity. Emerging markets have historically offered strong investment returns, something that has not been ignored by savvy investors. “Private equity investment in emerging markets reached $57 billion in 2014, with increased interest from LPs resulting in fundraising totals far exceeding previous years.”**
Emerging markets are truly on the cusp of a “perfect storm” for economic growth - young demographics, a growing middle class and increasing incomes - which will likely continue to translate to spectacular economic growth, even in the double digits for some countries. In fact, overall growth rates in frontier markets are exceeding that of developed, “with projections of market growth of 4.0% in 2015 and 4.5% in 2016, compared to 2.0% and 2.2% for advanced economies over the same period.”**
So, let’s recap: we have a development funding gap, a need for traditional aid needs to be delivered in more effective ways, and a private sector that is increasingly becoming a major player in economic growth for frontier markets. What happens next?
Development funders and private sector actors are joining forces under what is commonly being referred to as blended finance. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Great! Another buzzword I have to memorize” and wondering how the substance and meaning behind this phrase differs from others like “venture philanthropy” or “impact investing”? Joan Larrea, CEO of Convergence, does a great job in defining this relatively new term in her publication in Impact Alpha, Sizing Up ‘Blended Finance’: A Guide to a New Financing Approach to Fuel Sustainable Development:
“Boiled down, blended finance simply encourages more private sector investment by being strategic with the money already at work from official development assistance and philanthropic sources. Blended finance transactions combine funding from development institutions, philanthropic entities, and profit-seeking investors and puts that capital to work in a way that is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
Joan goes on to elaborate that there are three defining characteristics in any blended finance activity, including 1) the deal is intended to yield a financial return, 2) the transaction contributes towards achieving SDGs in a frontier economy, and 3) the development funders are the catalytic force behind the deal.
It is this third point where a lot of the magic happens. Investment opportunities that normally be passed over by large venture capital firms (for being too small), or passed over by microfinance institutions (for being too large), are now seeing the light of day. What’s painfully obvious but often overlooked is that these small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent the backbone of any developing or developed economy, and without them, a missing middle in the economic pyramid is created, resulting in unstable or stagnant growth. Finally, with the assistance of governments, foundations, donor agencies, development and commercial banks, and private investors, these SMEs are given access to much-needed capital, which in turn allows them to scale operations, create sustainable jobs, grow into market leaders and attract additional sources of financing.
There are several key stakeholders in the blended finance field. Governments agencies, such as USAID, GAC or DFID, and philanthropic institutions, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or The Rockefeller Foundation, play an important role given their higher tolerance for investment risk and lower return expectations (relative to commercial or investment banks). These institutions deploy their capital using a range of investment instruments and securities, accounting for $135.2 billion in OECD Official Development Assistance in 2014.**
Blended finance provides private sector investors and lenders the opportunity to reduce the uncertainty and costs related to high-risk investments in an emerging market by leveraging the financial support, project administration, and local expertise that development funders can provide, allowing for a wider range of investment activities to take place.**
This relationship between the private sector and public sector can also be categorized under a public-private partnership model, which RENEW and the Impact Angel Network currently use in Ethiopia. By working with development funders who cover the high transactions costs of operating in an emerging market, RENEW is able to manage a diverse portfolio of companies, be our investors eyes and ears on the ground in-country, source an exciting pipeline of investment opportunities and connect U.S. angel investors with driven entrepreneurs, all without charging a management fee.
If you’re interested in learning more about RENEW, the Impact Angel Network or our unique business model, then be sure to stay tuned for an upcoming announcement of a new partnership between RENEW that pretty perfectly exhibits the power of blended finance.
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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