University Impact has added Beneficial Returns to its platform which invites donors to participate in the debt impact fund's investments. Beneficial Returns investments highlighted are Ilumexico and the Philippine arm of Ananas Anam.
University Impact is an impact investing firm that addresses the world’s social and environmental problems by making investments that focus on innovative, sustainable, and scalable impact solutions.
Ilumexico designs, assembles, and sells solar home systems to remote Mexican communities with no access to the grid. As of October 2020, they have electrified 2,130 of the most isolated communities of Mexico and provided electricity to more than 109,000 people.
Ananas Anam is the inventor of Piñatex, a leather alternative made from pineapple leaves that are normally discarded as agricultural waste. Ananas Anam aims to provide a more humane and sustainable option to leather while providing pineapple farmers - primarily in the Philippines - an additional source of income. With applications in clothing, automotive upholstery, and footwear, its customers include Hugo Boss, H&M, and Skoda.
Imagine getting paid for your trash.
That’s what hundreds of Filipino farmers are experiencing thanks to Ananas Anam. Not only are the farmers earning higher incomes, but their waste is reforming the notoriously dirty leather industry.
In the Philippines one-third of the country’s workforce is engaged in agriculture. According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, agriculture is one of nine basic sectors with the highest poverty incidence; one-third of farmers are with income levels below the official poverty threshold. On the island of Luzon pineapple farmers are earning more income by taking pineapple leaves and processing them into fibers that form the base material for Piñatex.
Piñatex is the brainchild of Dr. Carmen Hijosa. It’s a vegan alternative to leather and it’s captured the attention of crafters on Etsy as well as big brands such as Hugo Boss and H&M. The patented fabric’s main ingredient is the strong fibers that form the core of pineapple leaves.
Fashion is a wasteful and environmentally destructive industry, consuming vast amounts of water, energy, and toxic chemicals. Experts peg the economic cost to the planet at $180 billion per year. Piñatex is a natural, sustainably sourced and cruelty-free material that is better for people and better for the planet, too. Globally, the pineapple industry generates about 40,000 metric tons of pineapple leaves which are usually burned (contributing to air pollution) or left to rot (creating methane.)
Thanks to a loan from Beneficial Returns, Ananas Anam has now installed five decorticators in the province of Laguna – the heart of Luzon’s pineapple country. Decorticating is the process of extracting the cellulose fibers from the leaves and, with a little training, farmers can process tons of these fibers generating substantial additional income.
Social enterprises like Ananas Anam are at the forefront of using market forces to reduce poverty while simultaneously preserving our environment. Our loans help these enterprises grow and increase the scale of their impact.
According to a 2013 agricultural census, Cambodian smallholder farmers owned 28 million chickens, 5 million ducks, 2.7 million cattle, 1.4 million pigs, 472,000 buffalo and a few thousand goats which produce significant amount of organic waste. Simultaneously, Cambodia has one of the lowest agricultural yields in the region, producing, for instance, half of the rice per hectare as Vietnam. ATEC Cambodia has seized on these facts to launch a growing social enterprise that brings affordable biodigesters to smallholder farmers who make up more than a third of the total population in Cambodia.
Biodigesters use naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down manure and generate biogas and digestate. The biogas can be used to fuel cooking stoves and to generate electricity or to power machinery. The digestate is rich in nutrients and is used as a fertilizer to restore soil fertility and to increase crop productivity. ATEC’s biodigester, which was the 2016 Google Impact Challenge winner in 2016, can generate enough gas for all of a family’s cooking needs while producing over 20 tons of organic fertilizer per year. With an investment of $650 the average family can experience $521 in annual savings for decades.
Since launching in 2016, ATEC has installed over 1,350 biodigesters. The company has the ambitious goal of expanding to five countries and selling one million units by 2030. To do this, ATEC is aiming to seek the success of home solar installation with the help of Beneficial Returns. In the developing world, the home solar market has exploded. Seven years ago there were fewer than one million household solar installations. Now, the latest figures peg the total at over 24 million. While falling costs for photovoltaic components has helped, the driving force behind this growth has been the Pay As You Go (or PAYGO) model which combines mobile money with smart meters. This model provides more people the opportunity to afford the technology by letting them pay in small increments over time.
After a successful pilot program with forty customers, ATEC is now rolling out their PAYGO program in full-scale. Working with Cambodian mobile and electronic payment company Wing and US-based PAYGO platform Angaza, ATEC is offering farmers a biodigester for a $60 down payment and monthly payments of around $30 over a two-year period. Beneficial Returns provided a loan to assist ATEC in its expansion of their PAYGO program, providing capital to build and install new biodigesters in Cambodia.