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The Power of Networks and How to Make the Most of Them

By

Naina Subberwal Batra

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4 min read

When I was first approached to become AVPN’s next CEO, I could not be more hesitant. Not only had I not managed a non-profit organization before, but I was also not convinced that a network could ultimately improve lives on the ground. 6 years on, I have witnessed, first-hand, how AVPN can influence mindsets, build communities, change the status quo and have a multiplier effect on the impact that its members can achieve.

The word ‘impact’ has been overused, especially in the development sector, and I have seen the pitfalls of impact-washing especially when used in the context of capital deployment. But, what makes a network like AVPN truly “impactful” is the people who belong to it: the staff, the members and its partners. I always say that a network is what the people who belong to it,  make of it. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink.

In other words, AVPN is not simply a portal for investors to find partners, or for non-profits to find funding, or a forum to acquire industry insights. It is not a feel-good vehicle for altruism or a platform for on-the-side CSR projects. When members join an impact network like AVPN, it signals their commitment to integrate impact into their operations in a more holistic way. This decision to belong to an impact-driven community is a positive affirmation of the organisation’s impact philosophy. In turn, networks must deliver on their promise by addressing the organisation’s pain-points, supporting them in achieving their goals, and cultivating warm relationships that cut across sectors.

The power of the network fully comes into action when each member, staff and partner is an ambassador of the association, championing the value of collaboration and driving impact as a part of the larger community.

Why are networks important in Asia?

Social challenges are complex in Asia, and they are not getting any less complicated. The climate crisis has been one of the most pressing issues on my mind. While its ramifications are being seen across the globe, it is Asia that finds itself at the forefront. With fatal consequences ahead, this is a problem that can and must be solved now, when we still have time.

While it is true that businesses, governments and social enterprises are growing increasingly sophisticated in their impact strategies, they remain far from their full potential. No one alone has the best strategies or resources to make the needed changes, yet collaborating towards shared goals is often the exception rather than the rule.

I can understand, of course, that collaborations are more difficult than they first appear. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, especially not in climate action. We need the policymaker, the investor, the researcher, the implementer, the beneficiary, the impact assessor, each with a seat at the table. And this is where the network plays a vital role, to be more than a congregator; to be a neutral facilitator.

How can you make the most of a network?

Becoming part of a network is more than just receiving a member service. My advice for members to make the most of impact networks will be to:

Use it to drive a movement and champion the causes that matter most to you

One of the most common goals of our members is to raise awareness about the issues they are passionate about. 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. At AVPN, we have a whole suite of expertise to help our members to magnify their impact.

Be vocal about your needs

To help the network support you, though, you need to take the initiative to voice your needs. In return, good networks must be flexible in providing different services according to their members’ needs. This means staying updated with each other, having regular conversations, check-ins, and feedback sessions.

Share your success to inspire others

At the same time, feed the network with your successful impact stories so that the platform can boost your visibility through its communication channels. When you share these good news, a proactive network will take the opportunity to expand these stories into case-studies and learning opportunities for fellow members and industry practitioners to learn from you and your brand.

Contribute to the success of the network

Ultimately, the success of the network is your success. By joining a network, it not only means seeing yourself as part of the solution, you become a community-builder – gathering resources for the community so that everyone can thrive. At the same time, being part of a community gives you a competitive edge so that you can leverage the credibility of expert practitioners within the same network to gain easier buy-in. So, do not hesitate to enlist your team to be a champion for the network and promote it!

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Naina Subberwal Batra

Naina Subberwal Batra is the CEO of AVPN, the largest regional social investment network that aims to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital for impact. Naina’s leadership since 2013 has nurtured the AVPN community, growing the membership base by more than four times and elevating the organisation into a truly regional force for good. Under her direction, AVPN has grown from focusing only on venture philanthropy to supporting the entire ecosystem of social investors, from catalytic philanthropists to impact investors and corporate CSR professionals. Naina is Board Member of the Menzies Foundation, the Global Resilient Cities Network and Trustee at Bridge Institute. Naina was a fellow at the The Bellagio Center Residency Program in 2022 and was featured on the list of Asia's Most Influential by Tatler Asia in 2021. She was awarded by CSRWorks as one of Asia's Top Sustainability Superwomen in 2019.

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