This article was originally featured on Philanthropy in Focus.
5 min read
Whether I am speaking with a small social purpose organisation just embarking on its impact journey or leaders of long-established foundations, we always circle back to the same conundrum: how do we allocate limited resources, like philanthropic capital, most effectively so that we do not compromise on one choice over another? Especially, as making a choice often means to allocate to some in lieu of others.
In Asia’s social sector, these choices often need to be made in environments where institutional voids are prevalent and philanthropists and philanthropic organisations work without clear government directions or national development frameworks. Additionally, as I reflected in “Philanthropy Networks: Creative Value, Voice and Collective Impact”, the majority of current philanthropic initiatives in Asia are started by first generation wealth holders and they themselves rarely have an established approach to family giving at scale or formalised relationships with other organisations and stakeholders.
Yet, Asia’s philanthropic sector has accelerated at scale over the last decade. As Asia’s largest funders’ network, AVPN has witnessed unique ways in which philanthropic organisations have found synergies with members beyond their ordinary field of expertise. In fact, the philanthropic response to the COVID-19 emergency has demonstrated yet again its capacity to catalyse systemic impact across the region.
At the heart of this success, I believe, is the sector’s ability to form strong communities who jointly address pressing social issues by pooling their collective capital. After fostering multistakeholder initiatives for the last decade, I want to share with you 5 insights we have drawn on how we can leverage the power of networks to foster collective impact.
1. Know your strategy – but be flexible on how to deliver impact
Philanthropy is more than charitable giving; it is a highly strategic endeavour. Effective philanthropy requires a build-up of in-depth expertise, long-term resource commitment, and most importantly, accountability to beneficiaries and communities. All of this may sound obvious, but these structures are only starting to be formalised in many parts of Asia.
In addition, philanthropy needs to venture into uncharted grounds and connect with diverse resource providers whose expertise can help to build up knowledge and apply learnings to new situations. And in times like the COVID-19 crisis, being part of a strong and resilient network can be key to act quickly. AVPN’s member in Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, is working with mobile carriers to offer data plans at cost for underprivileged students who are struggling to afford broadband internet during school closure. When reacting swiftly to a social, economic and political crisis, philanthropy has the power to drive public-private partnerships at impactful scale.
2. Be an active advocate for the causes that matter most to you
Raising awareness around the issues they are passionate about is one of the most common goals that our philanthropic members pursue.
The difficulty, however, is the lack of resources to drive their own campaigns: Internally, many of our members helm an incredibly small team; externally, the challenge is finding the right partners, investment opportunities and industry knowledge to make better decisions. The network can come in to address these resource challenges.
Nonetheless, in order for the network to respond to members’ needs, they need to become their own champions and “active advocates”. We encourage our members to share with us challenges that they face and how the network can best support them. This means staying updated with each other, having regular conversations, check-ins, and feedback sessions. These can happen online or in-person, and ought to prompt very concrete responses to members’ needs.
For example, AVPN’s thematic platforms around climate action and gender equality were borne out of our members’ desire to see more synergies in these sectors so that deeper collaborations can be fostered for systemic impact.
3. Share your success to inspire others in the network
One of the demands that impact networks like AVPN often face is a (necessary) call to demonstrate the quantifiable impact of our members’ work. For philanthropy, however, impact is not simply accounted for by the number of beneficiaries a grant maker has reached. In fact, what seems to be most useful to our members is to hear stories of success from within the network. When members share good news, we take the opportunity to expand these stories into case-studies and learning opportunities for fellow members and industry practitioners to learn from.
In 2020, we initiated the AVPN Constellations Awards to highlight collaborative projects that our members are working on together. We hope to encourage the larger network to not only realise the value of cross-sector collaborations, but also explore ways to adapt or further these existing initiatives.
4. Unlikely collaborators may make for great collective impact
Every node of our network reflects a unique composition of a members’ investment approach, social cause, region of impact, stakeholder group and many other facets. In fact, what draws our members together are not their commonalities, but their differences.
We must understand that rallying around one issue takes diverse collaborators who are experts in what they do; it is an added benefit not a disadvantage if they come in different shapes and sizes. Our member Kellogg, for instance, purposefully wanted to facilitate a network of collaborators, as opposed to having a traditional grantmaker-grantee relationship in their work with Sesame Workshop towards morning hunger.
5. Contribute to a network and you contribute to your own success
Ultimately, the success of a network is its members’ success. By joining a network, members not only see themselves as part of the solution, but also express their desire for community building – gathering resources for the network so that everyone can thrive.
Collaboration for collective impact takes time, dedication and purpose, but it also enables members to create a value that is larger than the sum of their separate activities. We are simply unable to address today’s interrelated challenges with fragmented solutions.
The power of a network does not merely lie in who its members are, but in its members’ ability to form an active community around issues they care about. Facilitating this is my and our job at AVPN; committing to become part of the solution is yours.