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The world needs to focus on Asia if it has to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals. As a region that is huge, unique, complex, home to six times the population of any other region and 1/3rd of the social investors, Asia is making significant strides in the face of development, but there’s an immense lot yet to be done. The AVPN South Asia Summit, 2022 brought to focus the role that South Asia needs to play in shaping The Asian Decade. Since the pandemic, South Asia’s poor have increased by 170 million people, the women who dropped out of the workforce haven’t returned and one of our major challenges, climate change, took a backseat as we were nursing the wounds of COVID. We believe that the next decade will be the Asian Decade- bringing in solutions and voices from Asia, shaping the global narrative for development.
The Summit was a spark towards engaging and bringing together stakeholders on a common platform, offering a space for connections, ideas and opportunities to act collectively towards a shared purpose. Innovative ways of financing, the evolving role of the private sector and philanthropy, the power of technology in realizing the SDGs and the urgency of partnerships- the Summit brought together experts offering breakthrough insights and ideas that will help shape the course and the roadmap for South Asia to realize the future of The Asian Decade. In this piece, we investigate the themes and learning that emerged from the AVPN South Asia Summit, 2022.
Sectors paramount to South Asia’s development
Traditionally, education, health and rural development attracted the largest funding, and in the last 2 years, this has included the COVID-19 response, whilst climate change only attracts 0.5% of philanthropic funding owing to both demand and supply bottlenecks. However, climate change has intergenerational effects which need to be addressed now. The panelists emphasized that the government has a major role to play in climate change as they represent the collective aspirations of all stakeholders and citizens. They hold the crucial role of building bridges among think tanks, philanthropists and in policy implementation. Given the nature of climate change and the sustained efforts required to mitigate its effects, a long term view must be taken on social impact investing, as also the intersectionality amongst various thematics like gender and climate; education and climate; healthcare and climate. By leveraging both global and local philanthropy, innovative ways are required to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the people we work with while tackling the issue of climate change.
Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
With urban population on the rise, and reforms and policies of the Indian government- such as Jal jeevan Mission, Swacch Bharat Mission 2.0 being given impetus, there has been a growing focus of the private sector and the government on efforts and innovation in water and sanitation. Discussions at the South Asia Summit of 2022 involved government officials, innovators in the WASH space and experts in the private sector offering insights and learning that could help pave a way forward for WASH in South Asia.
With a specific focus on India, Roopa Mishra, Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban and Mission Director from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, threw light on reforms and policies aimed at enabling social enterprises in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Keeping the government’s vision for the next five years in mind- that of ensuring every city in India is a three-star garbage free city, the speaker mentioned that the past five years have seen a growth of many entrepreneurs in the sector, women self-help groups and platforms that connect workers from the informal sector, especially in water and sanitation. An insightful note made was that given the South Asian context, solutions in WASH affected women the most, implying that the burden of a failure of a solution is borne by the woman. Hence it is imperative that we learn and unlearn from the experiences of women on ground and derive their support at the local level. The Summit also held a stage for a few of the many successful South Asian business models in the WASH sector. We witnessed social enterprises that made reusable cloth sanitary pads and feminine hygiene, waste management projects, groundwater restoration and bio-loos. We learnt that the sanitation business is complex; hence the private sector needs equity infusion of at least 10-15 years. The equity is for one to stay in business until people are ready to pay for the business. There is no one size fits all approach for WASH. The sector requires contextualized and decentralized approaches in every location.
The healthcare budget of 2021 in India has exponentially increased spending on healthcare by 137%. However, even with increased budgets, the states still struggle to implement the various programs that constitute Comprehensive Primary Healthcare (CPHC). The state governments need support of technical expertise, healthcare infrastructure upgradation, as well as well-trained personnel to manage the demand of primary healthcare services by their respective population.
Public-private partnerships are key to addressing this gap for the state level primary healthcare ecosystem as the expertise forms the key pillar that the private sector thrives on. Dr. RS Sharma, CEO National Health Authority, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, outlined the need to scale impact in CPHC through Public Private Partnership. The government of India is ensuring digitization of the health sector, for affordable, accessible healthcare, with a focus on quality. The vision for India would be to ensure nobody is left behind and the private sector has a major role to play in ensuring the same.
Deliberating further on the matter, panelists representing the private sector elaborated that primary health care interventions need to be commercially viable to incentivize a private sector player to participate. There is an opportunity to develop models that cater to the same especially for people at the bottom of the pyramid by leveraging technology to ensure that nobody is left behind. We also need to upskill people for deployment and use of technology for the health sector.
Role of Technology
There is an urgency to work towards a world where the disproportionate benefits of technology are accessible to all. The pandemic witnessed the mushrooming of ed tech platforms and heralded a new era of how we imagine education. It is imperative for us to understand that in South Asia, 8.5% of children in India have access to the internet.
The increasing role of technology in education is here to stay and revolutionize the way we learn and teach. The pandemic has led to massive learning loss, contributing to the existing gaps in learning levels across the globe which could have intergenerational effects. Ed tech platforms are equipped to differentiate learning levels for students- this provides individual and contextual support for learning. With the deep rural and urban digital divide, there has also been a glaring gender divide. More girls have dropped out of the formal schooling system than boys, there’s preference for boys to access a device at home, leading to massive learning loss, almost irreversible for the many girls in school. The panelists discussed that there exists a need to educate parents, teachers on effective use of technology to ensure a better learning experience for students, only then can we reap the benefits of technology.
COVID propelled us as people to adapt, innovate and sustain. Panelists at the Summit encouraged corporates and civil societies to curate meaningful volunteering opportunities and engagements among people. Volunteering is a low hanging and a powerful tool to initiate conversation among people to raise awareness. Organizations need to look at volunteering to adopt a lens of not giving back to society, but paying it forward with a desired outcome. With the pandemic, geographic boundaries have blurred, giving rise to a section of individuals that want to share their learning and knowledge- taking the nascent shape of skill-based volunteering.
Winds of Change in South Asia
The Role of the Private Sector
The private sector’s role as an important stakeholder to influence sustainable development in South Asia will take center stage in The Asian Decade. Our region can only see holistic development if we tackle issues that underlie poverty. Collaborative philanthropy could be a game changer for multi-sectoral response to issues such as gender, caste and the like which need sustained efforts and resources to affect real and enduring change. South Asia as a region needs to prioritize what we need to achieve, align ourselves to SDG goals, and internalize consequences to not achieving the SDGs; only then will CSRs be encouraged to think creatively and act collectively to leverage the strengths of corporations to chase the SDGs.
Social Stock Exchange
One of the focus areas of the South Asia Summit was to explore innovative ways of financing and infusing capital into non-profits and social enterprises. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), approved the creation of a Social Stock Exchange (SSE) in 2021, opening up new possibilities and opportunities for orchestrating and distributing capital in the country. Social venture funds, (an instrument in the SSE) could act akin to mutual funds in the for-profit sector and would raise overall trust and credibility in the sector by enhancing impact reporting. This structure could be used to give equity, debt or grant, opening a plethora of opportunities for the funding landscape. For SSE to be successful and to thrive it must be supported by an enabling ecosystem – for which we would require people at all levels across organizations and institutions speaking the same language and really understanding the possibilities that SSE will bring in.
Place Based Philanthropy
To ensure nobody is left behind, we need to deploy capital at the right time at the right place, often contextualizing and localizing support in areas of need. The bulk of South Asia’s population resides in settlements beyond the cities. There is enormous potential in engaging local philanthropists from outside urban areas to embrace a more strategic approach to philanthropy and to encourage them to give significantly more to social causes that are relevant in their context. This ensures sustainable change and an avenue for philanthropists to participate in the change making process. There is a growing trend of High-Net-Worth Individuals and philanthropists engaging with place-based philanthropy. Some CSRs have also adopted this approach of deploying capital in the proximity of their business presence, as they engage with systemic issues that are prevalent in their communities. This group of philanthropists, HNIs/UHNIs and CSR firms is ready to make a long-term commitment with their resources once they have an understanding of the issues in the communities. Place based philanthropy ensures a north star that the community works towards, bringing together collaborative efforts towards the end goal of transformation and not just incremental change. A critical role that place based philanthropists can play is connecting community leaders to key decision makers. Given their network, they can influence other funders to work with allies on community priorities. This form of philanthropy will be crucial to facilitate a more inclusive development agenda in South Asia’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
The South Asia Summit 2022 provided a glimpse of the power of collaboration and curated a space for dialogue among markets, government and people. AVPN’s mission and vision is to act as a catalyst and an ecosystem builder, moving more capital towards impact. This is one step closer to unlocking opportunities and encouraging more cross sectoral collaboration towards a meaningful and crucial upcoming decade – The Asian Decade.
Next halt at the AVPN Annual Conference (June 21-24, 2022) at Bali, Indonesia, also the official side event to the G20 Summit 2022 – where we will witness Asia’s largest social investing convening bringing global voices to building a common stronger narrative for the Asian region. See you there!