Asia continues to flourish but Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, cautions that we must focus on more inclusive growth and address challenges in a more collaborative and strategic way.
The causes of poverty in Asia are well documented: excessive population growth; scarce resources; inadequate government infrastructure; limited access to quality health care, education, clean water and sanitation; land ownership issues; and natural disasters. These are challenging barriers and are often interlinked.
Take for instance educating a 10-year-old girl. This requires solving at least six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the same time: a school for her to attend; transport to get her there; money to pay for school fees, books and supplies; food to alleviate hunger so she can concentrate; being well enough to attend school; a system which allows girls to be educated; sanitation to provide the environment where the child remains healthy, and shelter to ensure the child is living somewhere stable.
Given the complexity of these social issues, it is clear that no one organisation will be able to tackle them alone. The need of the hour is to be strategic when deploying scarce resources towards achieving maximum social impact. It is important to focus on effecting macro change through innovation which in turn requires patient capital, an appetite for risk and the vision to see significant long-term change.
While the region has undergone some dramatic changes in recent years as countries and economies have flourished, the infrastructure and support offered by service providers has not been able to keep up. This is where social investors come in, bringing with them catalytic social innovations.
Social investors in Asia come from a diverse range of organisations such as philanthropic foundations, corporations, impact investors and governments who are all interested in addressing the many social challenges in Asia. At the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), the organisation I lead, our mission is to encourage more social investment in Asia by bringing these different groups of investors onto a common platform and directing their investment to be as strategic and collaborative as possible.
In order to help social investors be more effective, we have laid out 5 keys areas:
1. Be thoughtful and strategic in how you select organisations to fund, doing due diligence and building strong relationships.
2. Go beyond simply writing a check by providing not just money but other support like advisory services, access to new networks, or training.
3. Think of your social investments (whether they be expecting a financial return or not) as a portfolio to diversify and maximise your reach.
4. Treat your social investments with the same mindset as your business investments – measure the return on investment, in this case the social impact achieved.
5. Find the right partners for collaboration to leverage synergies and ensure you are not duplicating efforts.
While all of these elements are important considerations for any social investor, I believe the most important of these is collaboration. Real systemic change that is required to lift great swathes of the population out of poverty requires all parties to come together to collaborate in order to catalyse and create change. However we do not often see foundations talking to corporations, or impact investors working with governments.
From our headquarters in Singapore, AVPN is doing our part to break down these silos by fostering connections across more than 340 of our members from 29 countries. We are working to bring these diverse groups together to find collaboration opportunities and share knowledge so that they can combine resources, learn from one another and ultimately maximise their social impact. The best example of this is our annual conference where we host the largest gathering of philanthropists and social investors in Asia – coming up in Bangkok this June.
Together we can do more.
Naina Subberwal Batra is the CEO of Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), a funders’ network committed to building a vibrant and high impact philanthropy and social investment community across Asia. AVPN’s mission is to catalyse the movement from traditional philanthropy to social investing for a more strategic, collaborative and outcome focused approach to addressing key social challenges facing Asia.