The key take-away from AVPN’s inaugural conference was the need for collaborative action in the venture philanthropy and social investment space in Asia. Industry professionals gathered in Singapore for what was the first event of its kind in Asia and walked away with new ideas, networks and inspiration for their work.
Given the nascent stage of venture philanthropy in Asia, it is not surprising that the need to work together as a community to bring about effective and sustainable change kept surfacing during different sessions throughout the conference. Currently, there is a paucity of VP resources in the region, which make it imperative for organisations and individuals to cooperate and collaborate so that shared solutions can be arrived at. The need for different sectors in the eco-system to work together also ties in well with the conference theme of “Creating Social Impact: Blending Philanthropic and Investment Capital”.
Another issue that was highlighted during the event was how venture philanthropy and social investment organisations in the region are confronted with insufficient data across sectors and industries, thus making investment calls more difficult. This again highlights the need for knowledge-sharing between practitioners in this space. This sentiment was echoed by Paul Carttar, keynote speaker and founding director of the US Social Innovation Fund, when he noted that “the problems are significant, complex and entrenched, and we are few, and with scarce resources”. In response, we can refer to chairman of AVPN, Doug Miller’s statement: “together we can make a significant impact.”
In addition to practitioners from all across Asia, the event saw numerous prominent venture philanthropy practitioners from the established markets of North America and Europe who shared their varied experiences with Asian peers. These include England chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Mr. Nat Sloane, and senior management from New Profit Inc. and Social Venture Partners.
It was clear from the conference that there is an understanding in the industry of the need for context, quality, sustainability and scalability in social development. Understanding the dynamics of a locality (the context) is essential to understand what will work and what will not. Moreover, just providing services is not sufficient – these services need to be of good quality to make a real difference. And finally, efforts have to be made to ensure that projects are sustainable and scalable for long-term and wider impact.
One of the common refrains when one discusses any form of investing or business in Asia is the lack of transparency, and the venture philanthropy industry is not much different. However, the philanthropy sector in this part of the world is benefitting from improvements in transparency, which was actively highlighted during the session on “Greater China”. This then resulted in the discussion to focus on creating a pan-Asian initiative to foster transparency and trust.
During the “Engaging Governments” plenary, there was enthusiastic participation from the floor as audience members questioned the speakers on the role of the government in social development. Ultimately, the consensus is that governments in Asia can play a critical role in financing the scaling up of interventions – scaling being a key determinant of increased impact. There was also a call for governments across the region to recognise the strengths of the private sector and promote initiatives that address social causes and help spread awareness.
There is much optimism around the venture philanthropy and social investment sectors in Asia and this was evident at the conference. There was buoyancy and a very clear feeling that bigger things lay round the corner for the industry. With increasing private wealth, social challenges, government interest and the presence of great talent, Asia looks primed for exciting times ahead for venture philanthropy and social innovation.For session reports, videos and photos, please refer to the conference website at: www.avpn2013.com