5 min read
I still remember the day when I took my first step into the AVPN office. We were a team of 4, located at a traditional shophouse in downtown Singapore, and, despite being a going organization, we already had 130 members.
5 years on and we have moved offices three times as we keep growing. We are now taking residence across an entire floor at The Union Building in Tanjong Pagar, one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world according to TimeOut magazine. Our HQ team has expanded to over 50 people, we have registered offices in India and Hong Kong, and market representatives in a total of 11 countries. Our membership network has quadrupled to reach over 500 members, and we hold the largest social investing conference in Asia. What a journey!
AVPN’s growth and the scale of our work reflect both the huge potential for unprecedented economic growth in Asia – which currently also has the largest number of billionaires – as well as a huge need for ensuring inclusive and sustainable development. Indeed, Asia has never been more aware of the urgency its socio-economic problems entail, and AVPN is building a movement to address them at scale. Despite the significant wealth generation in Asia, its social investment ecosystem has not yet matured sufficiently to maximise the volume and flow of capital towards impact.
Thus, building an ecosystem that collaborates, shares knowledge and empowers leaders to drive a flourishing and inclusive Asia, will be crucial for all players – from investors to Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs). Looking at the pathway ahead, these are the 5 areas that I think will be critical to Asia’s developing social investment ecosystem:
1. Facilitate knowledge sharing and application
In the last 2 – 3 years, I have seen our members moving beyond conventional giving practices to adopting a broader and more fluid toolkit of financial instruments – from grants to debt and equity – to scale social purpose organizations (SPOs). Social investors are becoming more sophisticated and innovative in their impact strategies but the greatest challenge I keep hearing from these professionals is the tyranny of isolation. Yes, many foundation heads and sustainability directors are often still working in silos, with little connection to those outside their circle. As a result, they have limited opportunities for peer and/or cross-sector learning and healthy benchmarking. . These barriers have presented an important opportunity for thought leaders and practitioners to share their pain points, lessons learnt and best practices on a concerted level, thereby maximising their impact on their organisation.
2. Build the resource pipeline for investment readiness
The ‘missing middle’ reveals the fragmented nature of the social enterprise landscape, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, in which SPOs are either too small to absorb investment capital while lacking the business and technical skills needed for scale or too large that they are overlooked. Capacity builders are trying to address this issue in their own ways, but how do we ensure we do not duplicate efforts or miss any loopholes?
There are a number of ways we can go about this. The most important factor, however, is to have a common language framework. Building a pipeline of investment-ready deals requires an ecosystem to work together. This means involving a diverse group of social investors, especially intermediaries, corporates, and policy makers to drive more human and intellectual capital for SPOs. If everyone is speaking a different vocabulary to achieve investment-readiness, how can we be effective?
We also see huge opportunities to build depth in different funder segments. These include tapping on corporate employee engagement programs to deploy more human and intellectual resources, supporting growing impact funds and engaging policy makers in building infrastructure that is conducive for social enterprises.
3. Foster active policy participation with ecosystem stakeholders
Government is a critical stakeholder to address systemic challenges. Oftentimes, however, policymakers have little time and resources to achieve properly address it. Bureaucratic processes and regulatory constraints can also isolate them from the right resources. To tangibly support policymakers, we will need to bring these resources to them. I’m extremely excited to see new partnerships develop when we bridge these gaps. There is tremendous promise, but what awaits to be seen is whether we can deepen the awareness and willingness in governments to engage with private sector capital to scale social impact.
4. Expand the tent for private institutions
In order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to unlock trillions of dollars. Without traditional commercial investors in the room, who are looking at their entire portfolio to invest with impact, we will never be able to reach very far.
I am making a call to expand the tent to include more mainstream capital. As I am aware of the difficulties in convincing private investors of the relevance in what we do, strong evidence and new financially-viable products will be key in acquiring buy-in. I am excited to make this happen.
5. Maximize the potential of cross-sector collaborations
In Asia, there isn’t a long tradition for institutional philanthropy, venture philanthropy or CSR, so we don’t have entrenched groups. This is a fantastic opportunity to allow for interesting ways in which social investors can collaborate across these groups.
Without being typecast as a philanthropist or impact investor, our members are identifying best practices and tools they can use across the entire financial spectrum. This is where the Continuum of Capital comes into play. Foundations are moving beyond grantmaking; impact funds are widening their focus areas, development agencies and DFI’s are providing blended capital to de-risk investments, and corporates are working closer with intermediaries and sharing human and intellectual resources. The progress made in the social investing space has been phenomenal, and what will keep it going is if we continue making the right partners and decisions.
Finally, what keeps me coming back to AVPN everyday with greater passion is the dedication of our team. I constantly see sparks in their eyes when we explore ideas to improve our work, celebrate our members’ impact stories, and most importantly, when we remind ourselves that, by changing the social investment landscape in Asia, we are building a better world for our children and the generations.
Join us at the AVPN Conference 2019 to champion causes that matter most to you.