Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Financier invests for environmental and social good

San Francisco, California

Ted Levinson (USA ’14) visits an organic egg farm in Thailand, a prospective borrower.

Ted Levinson (USA ’14) specializes in pairing values-driven financiers with socially responsible businesses in emerging markets.

On Fellowship in India and Indonesia he learned that access to capital was the biggest constraint on growth for sustainable-agriculture, alternative-energy and other renewable-resource companies that generally are too large for microfinance loans but too small for development-bank financing.

From his professional background at the intersection of philanthropy and investing, Ted also knew that family foundations and donor advised funds in the U.S. sit on almost $1 trillion dollars – an ideal pool of money to tap to support international social enterprises.

To bridge the gap he created Beneficial Returns, an impact investing fund that loans money for equipment purchases to enterprises advancing the quality of life by combating poverty in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Beneficial pools capital from U.S.-based family foundations and donor-advised funds to make loans in the amount of $50,000 to $500,000.

A team from Guayaki harvest its prime ingredient, yerba mate.

Since its founding in 2017, Beneficial has loaned $1.4 million to five companies, including Guayaki, a popular U.S.-based beverage company that sources its main ingredient – yerba mate – from the Atlantic Rainforest in South America. Yerba mate is one of the world’s six most commonly used stimulants (coffee, tea, kola, cocoa, and guarana, being the others), and claims many health benefits.

Through its market-driven restoration model, Guayaki provides a powerful economic incentive for its suppliers to preserve and restore the rainforest. The model has led to the creation of hundreds of jobs in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. A loan from  Beneficial Returns helped outfit a new factory in Brazil.

Being exposed to new experiences on fellowship, said Ted, gave him the courage and international connections to quit a rewarding job at RSF Social Finance and launch Beneficial, where he works internationally and leads a small team.

By providing prospective borrowers, investors and collaborators, the Eisenhower Fellowship’s global network has been instrumental in advancing his work.

Sistema Bio produces biogas and fertilizer out of manure and farm waste.

Featured: Ted Levinson (left) and Edward Mungai (right) discuss their investments in a social enterprise in Kenya where Mungai is based.

Ted worked with Fellow Edward Mungai (Kenya ’16) to invest in a Mexican company that recently expanded into the Kenyan market with low-cost biodigesters that convert manure and farm waste into biogas and fertilizer. In Chile he partnered with Fellow Roberto Guerrero (Chile ’07) to extend Beneficial’s first loan in that country.

To learn more about Beneficial Returns, click here.

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