US impact investor and venture philanthropist NESsT invests in enterprises that support job creation in underserved communities while also focusing on positive environmental impacts.
Winning the award for 'Environmental fund of the year, Latin America' for its Lirio Fund, the fund provides debt capital to small-and medium enterprises (SME) in the Andes-Amazon region of Peru and Colombia.
NESsT believes that providing SMEs with flexible capital options and return expectations that are aligned with the costs and risks they face can help them to achieve positive social and environmental change.
The fund has provided loans that range in size from $50,000 to $500,000 to SMEs that drive job creation and environmental conservation in rural communities in the Amazon and Andes. The portfolio also seeks to help farmers to adopt practices that conserve the forest and promote gender equity.
The Lirio fund has committed $3.7 million in loans since it was launched in 2018. NESsT says it currently supports 10 SMEs that provide livelihoods for over 3,300 smallholder farmers and workers, 47% of whom are women.
One enterprise in the Lirio Fund portfolio is Greenbox, a social enterprise that helps farmers in the Andes-Amazon of Peru move away from cultivating coca plants for use in drug trafficking, to harvesting organic fruit.
Farmers in this region are smallholders who practice subsistence agriculture and sell their produce in the local market where prices are volatile each season. This volatility leads many farmers to seek out products like coca that provide higher margins, but which also carry a higher risk of links to violence and crime.
Greenbox works with these small farmers to source organic fruit that is then dehydrated and sold to clients internationally. Greenbox sets a minimum price for the year, improving cash flow for farmers, and enabling them to grow their business despite the peaks and falls in prices due to seasonality.
Greenbox joined the NESsT Lirio portfolio in 2019. By the end of 2022, the enterprise had achieved a compound annual sales growth rate of 68%; this allowed NESsT to offer Greenbox an additional loan in 2022.
Members of the Lirio Fund – and all NESsT funds – are given business mentorship and technical training to promote growth in line with environmentally sustainable, inclusive practices.
One judge praised the fund for its "impressive impact not just on environmental conservation but also on the human side".
NESsT also won the award for 'Social fund of the year, Europe' for its Refugee Employment Initiative (REI).
The NESsT Refugee Employment Initiative (REI) was launched in 2022 to provide access to employment resources to refugees and migrants after the war in Ukraine broke out.
A coalition between NESsT, the Cisco Foundation, and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, the NESsT Refugee Employment Initiative aims to provide capital and business services to support local SMEs in Poland and Romania.
The initiative is currently financing 10 SMEs that seek to provide refugees with long-term employment support, including career training, mentoring, job opportunities, and additional services, such as mental health services, language classes, support with accessing work permits, and childcare.
Its guidelines dictate that companies must have the potential to generate – as a minimum – over 100 jobs in the next five years by directly employing refugees, placing refugees in the labour force, sourcing from refugee suppliers, and demonstrating a commitment to positive environmental practices and policies.
Since last year's launch, portfolio companies in the REI accelerator program such as Mamo Pracuj Foundation, a Polish social enterprise that helps women access employment opportunities, have supported nearly 2,000 women refugees, according to NESsT.
One judge said the fund was "an important social initiative to invest in local SMEs" and added it was "good to see investments in organisations making commitments to employ refugees".
The NESsT team commented: "[We are] honoured to be recognised across two categories for this important industry award, for our work in Latin America with the NESsT Lirio Fund, and our work in Central and Eastern Europe supporting marginalised communities through the Refugee Employment Initiative. This is recognition of the meaningful work of our global team to build sustainable and equitable futures."