Doug Miller is, among other things, the chairman of the board of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) and has been active in philanthropy for the last 30 years. He is also a founding trustee of Impetus Trust in the UK, and the founding chairman and honorary president of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA). AVPNews talked to him about the importance of venture philanthropy in Asia, his plans for Asia, the difference between venture philanthropy and impact investing, his experiences in venture philanthropy and his advice for budding philanthropists.
Why is venture philanthropy important in Asia?
Venture philanthropy is a methodology which applies to both non profits and social enterprises. The focus is strategic philanthropy employing a business methodology of execution, and the idea is to increase transparency, effectiveness, efficiency and of course social impact for high potential organizations.Asia has substantial amounts of wealth, but also numerous social issues surrounding children, education, environment, income disparity. Venture philanthropy promotes effective solutions for these problems including innovation and scaling.
What are your plans for Asia in this space?
AVPN is a sister organization building on the success we had in Europe (with the European Venture Philanthropy Association). Initially we established a hub in Singapore, but we want to expand our presence with local operations in the larger countries. Our initial focus is on raising awareness, followed by education, and moving rapidly into active engagement. Ideally, we get participation from the business community, foundations, family offices, professional service firms, universities. By breaking silos and collaborating, we can achieve more effective impact.
There has been much talk around impact investing in recent times. What is the key difference between venture philanthropy and impact investing?
Venture philanthropy is a model of high engagement capacity building which applies to both nonprofits and social enterprises. The primary focus is on social return, although in some cases there might be financial return as well. Impact investing, on the other hand, focuses on blended returns in social, environmental and financial. In my view this works best in certain specific segments of the market such as social housing, micro finance and clean energy. There must be a proven economic model which can produce both social impact as well as financial return.Impact investing is exciting to view conceptually but it’s still early days in terms of perfecting the model. Hopefully it will prove successful as the potential is high, but I believe the present market hype is far ahead of the actual reality on the ground.
Why is leveraging important in venture philanthropy?
In our terminology, leveraging means leveraging knowledge, network, and contacts, and in some cases leveraging your capital by finding co-investors in social purpose organizations. By leveraging on the above, you maximise the resources available and the eventual social impact is multiplied!
How did your interest in venture philanthropy develop?
My interest in venture philanthropy was triggered in 2002-03, when I first became aware of the model but I have been active in philanthropy since the 1970s. Venture philanthropy appealed to me as it was very much in line with what I had been doing professionally. As well as the EVPA and AVPN, I have directly supported a number of venture philanthropy organisations. I have also co-funded some of their portfolio organisations that addressed the social problems that I am most interested in. We are expecting new venture philanthropy organisations to be formed in Asia now that AVPN is up and running.
In your years of experience in venture philanthropy, what are the two most important lessons you have learned?
It’s actually hard to pick two because I’ve learnt so many. I would say the four most important lessons I have learnt are the following:
- It’s essential as a venture philanthropist to engage with a top quality management team and that both have an alignment of interest. Addressing solutions to social problems is hard and requires strong team work between the investor (grant givers) and the management team including the board.
- You need to agree quite specifically what outcomes you are trying to achieve upfront and design performance measurement programmes (keep it simple) based upon those outcomes. Also learn that reporting is not for the investor per se, it’s for the joint use of the management team and investor in achieving their mutual interest.
- Investors/ grant givers need to appreciate that although they have the financial power, they can achieve nothing without the alignment, enthusiasm and hard work of the portfolio organization.
- A crucial lesson is human capital development and skill sets brought in by highly skilled volunteers in my view provide more impact in capacity building than the financial contribution.
What words of advice do you have for budding venture philanthropists?
Learn from others – there is a growing body of knowledge and also experienced venture philanthropists in the US, Europe and now, it is beginning in Asia. Everyone is quite prepared to share that knowledge. Spend six months to a year learning and sharing (perhaps you can even find a mentor). The AVPN can help facilitate this!