We should use what we have to give back to society in some meaningful way. It is a never-never-ending journey. We all have a role to play.
– Doug Miller
I was working in private equity (PE) when I led a charity fundraising trip of 27 friends from 9 countries to Vietnam for mine clearing, in 2002. A group of us began to discuss the projects we were funding at the time. Not only were we dissatisfied with the answers to our questions, we also had a strong sense that our projects had a lack of effectiveness. Add to that the lack of transparency as well as poor methods of measuring our impact, and it became clear that something needed to be done.
From private equity to venture philanthropy
On discovering that venture philanthropy and private equity principles of investing are very similar, we felt as though we had stumbled upon the most incredible new idea in the world of philanthropy, as we knew it.
So we began to create a social impact network in Europe when very few people had really ever heard of the terms “venture philanthropy” or “social investment”. Our primary goal was to ensure that certain business concepts were accepted by the social sector as a whole. That included a rigorous due diligence process and being strategic and outcome oriented. We recognized the importance of long-term funding and ultimately being aware that every social purpose organization (SPO) is actually a business that needs to run effectively and provide measurable value to society.
To be frank, there was no strategic plan when we started in Europe in 2005. We simply saw a number of issues, decided to get into the market, see who we could connect with and see what could happen. In the first year we attracted ONLY 8 members, but we persisted and by year 4 we were over 100 members. 2 years later we went to Asia to replicate the success that the network had achieved in Europe using the EVPA example our growth was MUCH quicker reaching over 100 members in 11 months.
From Europe to Asia and beyond
Every country in Asia is very different in terms of culture, economic development and government policy. There was also little history of philanthropic infra-structures as there was existing in Europe and we observed a blurring of the lines in the social sector that positioned Asia to better address the needs of SPOs through a broader spectrum of financial tools. So we needed to create a much wider network to capture all of this diversity and a broader spectrum of financial tools through the continuum of capital, which has shaped much of the current structure and strategy of AVPN as we look to build on this concept and encourage more collaboration and innovation in social investments.
In 6 years AVPN had reached 500 members and had become the only platform of its kind in Asia, successfully serving the full spectrum of social investors.
So what is next for us to ensure that AVPN continues to add value to its members and ensure that more capital is directed towards social impact?
We need to integrate the work done by philanthropists and investors
The biggest mistake we could make is being too narrow-minded. We have to integrate the philanthropic and the impact investment sector because both are dependent on each other for success in creating social impact at scale. The philanthropic sector can take more risks, promote innovation, and support start-ups. The impact investment sector has difficulty with early stage risks due to the need to produce financial returns as well as measurable social impact. However, it can deepen the impact that the social enterprises and NGOs have by transitioning their initiatives into sustainable business models in appropriate cases.
We should aim to deepen the engagement with corporations and governments
Corporations are hugely important because, apart from financial capital, they are suppliers of two other types of capital: human and intellectual capital. Governments are the ones who control the policies in all sectors where we are looking to see impact, such as health, education and environment and they can be fundamental in future scaling of successful ideas and programs.
Collaboration is key in achieving large scale and sustainable impact
People or organizations doing their own individual projects have a ‘feel-good’ factor, but they would be more effective if they have a more holistic and collaborative approach to build more sustainable organizations with concrete impact. They can go to a deprived area in a country and work to improve education, but we are more effective if they partner with other organizations, who are also working on improving healthcare, financial management. A wide, as well as deep collaboration is a must.
While ensuring we work closely with social purpose organizations.
One of my biggest concerns is that people who have the money and the power believe that they are the ones with the answers and solutions. In almost no case do funders actually deliver the social impact; effective and sustainable social impact is always delivered through an operating NGO or social enterprise, and we need to treat them with our utmost respect, carrying out multi-year funding against ambitious, but realistic KPIs.
Not forgetting the next gen
There has been huge improvement in living standards in the last 50 years, but my generation is leaving the Next Gen with a mass of problems that we are not addressing as well as we should. We need to act now. Asia is particularly important, with an estimated 35% of the wealth transitioning to the next generation in the next 5 to 7 years. We must motivate and equip this group to carry forward this work in an even better way.
Measuring success and looking forward
Reflecting on the legacy of the two networks, it is clear that attribution is difficult to measure. While the data is hard to capture, it is the strong membership growth, success stories and attracting strong partners that inspires me to keep going.
EVPA and AVPN definitely have had an ecosystem-building impact, as seen by the increasing number of organizations who have become members and are adopting more strategic social investment practices.
We also follow success stories by our members in which thanks to being part of our community and working with us, they have managed to form successful partnerships to achieve their goals. The Bright Start collaboration to fight malnutrition in India initiated by member Kellogg’s is a great example, as is the Social Enterprise Development Toolkit we are creating with Credit Suisse to help social enterprises thrive.
If we multiply these examples by the combined 800 plus members between AVPN and EVPA, we can start to get an idea of the outcomes. But we are certainly looking at better ways to measure our impact in the future. While the associations have a solid foundation, the real impact will come from developing more programs for members and deeper penetration in all markets.
I feel confident that the impact will only deepen in Asia as I see an ever-inspired team that generates innovative and creative ideas to build an ecosystem that is resilient and ready to start filling fundamental gaps within societies. The team is growing to meet the greater demands of our members who are asking the right questions and seeking the most effective solutions.
As many people know, I retired from my post as AVPN Chairman in June 2018 and am now focusing on the next two networks: Africa and Latin America as Founder Chair of the International Venture Philanthropy Center. We have good teams working in both regions and are seeing strong interest. Not unexpectedly, there are also large hurdles to overcome!
Best to our teams, members, funders, and all those who are working to make the world a better place. I hope you are inspired and want to join us on our ever evolving journey to create a better world.