Why It Matters


January 8, 2019

5 min read

I still remember the day, 5 years ago, when I took my first step into the AVPN office. We were a team of 4, located at a shophouse in Circular Road and had 130 members.

5 years on, we have moved offices three times over as we have outgrown spaces, and are now taking residence across an entire floor at The Union Building in Tanjong Pagar. Our HQ team has expanded almost 7 times, and we have registered offices in India and Hong Kong, and market representatives in a total of 11 countries. Our membership network has quadrupled, 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 the 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 and where AVPN is focusing our efforts:

1. Facilitate knowledge sharing and application

Social investors are becoming more sophisticated and innovative in their impact strategies but are often still working in silos. We see 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 SPOs. This has presented an important opportunity for cross-sector collaboration where thought leaders and practitioners can share lessons learnt and best practices with their peers.

As such, the AVPN Academy will be a critical point to enable passionate social investors to not only learn from the best, but also equip those wanting to come into the sector with highly relevant skills required to scale solutions.

The Academy is AVPN’s way of driving human capital towards Impact and we hope to see large numbers of our members and the sector benefit from this.

2. Build the resource pipeline for investment readiness

The ‘missing middle’ reveals the fragmented nature of social enterprises, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, which are too small to absorb investment capital and also lack the business and technical skills needed for scale. 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?

AVPN’s Deal Share provides connections and channels resources to develop Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs) towards investment readiness. To date, the platform has more than 300 high-impact SPOs across various stages of support. Through the platform and live sessions, we explore creative ways to share insights, present investable deals and facilitate relevant connections.

In a matter of 2 years, the Deal Share has grown tremendously. But, there are still numerous opportunities that we can expand into. This includes engaging a diverse group of social investors, especially intermediaries, corporates, and policy makers to drive more human and intellectual capital for SPOs. To address the issue of appropriate capital across the risk/return spectrum, and the lack of quality investment opportunities, it is important to develop a common language framework that investors and investees can use to map the investment readiness of the social business. AVPN is excited to be working on this crucial initiative with our members

We also see huge opportunities to build depth in our Deal Share engagement with the different funder segments. For instance, from tapping on corporate employee engagements to drive more human and intellectual capital for the SPOs, to supporting growing impact funds, to engaging policy makers through the Asia Policy Forum that advances infrastructure conducive for social enterprises.

3. Foster active policy participation with ecosystem stakeholders

Government is a critical stakeholder to address systemic challenges. Here at AVPN, the Asia Policy Forum is bringing key policymakers into a brave new space. Our partnership with the Creative Economy Agency in Indonesia (BEKRAF) is mobilising social investment into the Creative Economy sector and is

an example of how governments also play a leading role to strengthen the ecosystem for social investment. AVPN also started to work with a select group of policymakers as part of the AVPN Policy Leadership Lab. I’m extremely excited to see how these new partnerships develop. 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. AVPN can play a big role in expanding the tent to include more mainstream capital, and I believe our Annual Conference is the best platform to do so. Themed ‘Breaking Boundaries’, the Conference 2019 looks to engage the full spectrum of capital from philanthropic grants and impact investments to ESG investments and private equity. I look forward to seeing all our members and industry players coming together this 25th-28th June 2019, in Singapore.

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.

At these intersections, AVPN is providing personalized services to our members to identify a fluid combination of practices that can best nurture their investees on the ground and facilitate these cross-sector collaborations.

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.

About Author
Naina Subberwal Batra
Naina Subberwal Batra Chairperson and CEO AVPN

Naina joined AVPN as our CEO from September 2013, and has been appointed as Chairperson in May 2018. Naina’s leadership over the past 5 years has grown the AVPN membership by more than 3x and elevated the organization into a truly regional force for good. Under her direction, the organization has grown from focusing only on Venture Philanthropy to supporting the entire ecosystem of Social Investors from philanthropists to impact investors and corporate CSR professionals. She was instrumental in developing AVPN’s innovative services that connect, empower and educate the now 500+ members of AVPN.

Prior to joining AVPN, Naina was a member of the senior leadership team of a purpose driven unit of The Monitor Group, a leading global strategy consulting firm, aimed at catalyzing markets for social change. Naina was also partner and Co-Founder of Group Fifty Private Ltd, curating contemporary Indian art with a view to provide a medium for upcoming and established Indian artists to showcase their work directly to a large and diverse audience.

Naina has a master’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University where she graduated at the top of her class. She also holds a bachelor degree in Economics and International Relations from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA and a General Course Diploma in economics from The London School of Economics.