About this report

The aim of this report is to understand and document the existing and emerging landscape for social investing in 14 social economies.

We present insights from qualitative research examining the essential characteristics of the social economy – ‘attractiveness’ of the region for investment, development challenges being tackled, the influence of legislative environments and governments in triggering the social sector, key actors in the social investment landscape and their journeys, recent trends and developments, the ecosystem for social impact, and opportunities, challenges and recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

“If [Asia] continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise 6-fold in purchasing power parity terms.”

—ADB, 2011, Asia 2050 – Realizing the Asian Century

14 Social Economies

For more information on each social economy, please click on the map or on the country boxes.

  • Nascent
  • Mature
social economy

Insights from the 14 Social Economies

Ecosystem is maturing, but growth is uneven

The growth stage of a social economy is characterised by the presence, contribution and maturity of all actors in the ecosystem — the government, SPOs, social investors and intermediaries. In 2017, we rated this on a scale from early-stage to mature. While some economies such as Japan and the Philippines have recorded significant developments from 2017 to 2019, others like Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam have been comparatively stable with few new changes.

Intermediaries are critical catalysts for sustained ecosystem growth

Intermediaries, including incubators, accelerators, capacity builders and higher education institutions, are critical catalysts and play a key role in building the pipeline of investible SPOs, championing partnerships for social impact, building a knowledge and evidence base and cementing the movement towards systemic change across the region. Local intermediaries support both SPOs and funders, facilitate collaborations and build the ecosystem through:

  • Leveraging sector expertise to help funders and SPOs make better decisions
  • Acting as local partners for international and cross-border funders
  • Advocating for policy change
  • Formalising the Social Enterprise (SE) sector through certification.

International institutions can provide additional support to intermediaries, especially in less-developed social economies, to further enhance overall SE development as evidenced by the following examples from Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines. The Regional Investment Support for Entrepreneurs (RISE) facility was launched in Cambodia by Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation (Swisscontact) in 2018 in partnership with Uberis Capital and funded by USAID. In August 2018, the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) launched a 3-year Innovation for Social Impact Partnership (ISIP) with the Australian government and UNDP to provide technical support and mentorship to social start-ups. In Myanmar, the Yangon Innovation Centre was established by Thura Swiss, a market research company, and Seedstars, an international start-up builder focusing on emerging markets, in March 2019 and consists of a co-working space and acceleration programme. Across the region, AVPN’s Deal Share Platform bridges the gap between demand and supply, helping prospective funders identify suitable pipelines across markets and causes as well as supporting SPOs to scale and be investment ready.

Knowledge and research institutions bolster the SE sector through various means. For example, China Global Philanthropy Institute and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business both have training programmes for philanthropists, corporate and non-profit leaders; local universities in Hong Kong have been offering social innovation and social entrepreneurship courses to MBA and undergraduate students; and the Indian Institute of Management organises events and competitions to increase awareness of noteworthy and high potential SEs.

Increasing government recognition and support for the social economy

There are growing efforts by policymakers to put in place policies and initiatives to mobilise private capital for social impact and foster development of a vibrant social economy. Although South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam are the only 3 economies that legally recognise SEs, governments in the Philippines and Myanmar have undertaken legislative approaches to building their social economies. On the other hand, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, have focused their efforts on unlocking private capital for social innovations. Despite these differences in approach, the policy environment across Asia is generally friendly to the growth of the social economy.

The Philippines government introduced the Inclusive Business Accreditation in 2018, which defines an Inclusive Business (IB) as one which provides goods, services and livelihoods on a commercially viable basis to people at the base of the pyramid and incorporates them along the value chain. This has had the effect of encouraging businesses to develop their IB models, and provided a platform through which IBs can exchange knowledge and grow the IB industry. In a similar vein, the Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association formed a Social Enterprise and Inclusive Business Committee to coordinate efforts to promote business solutions to development challenges.

In Hong Kong, the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (SIE) Fund launched a multi-sectoral programme to develop a geron-technology ecosystem to address challenges rising from the city’s rapidly ageing population. This programme was established in partnership with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and Our Hong Kong Foundation in June 2018. In a similar move, the Taiwanese government opened the Social Innovation Lab in 2017 and announced a NT$8.8 billion (USD 290 million) 5 year Social Innovation Action Plan. A similar effort in Thailand is the Social Enterprises Promotion Act, which was passed in 2019. This act embedded SEs in a legal framework and also established a SE promotion fund committed to increasing access to loan and tax exemptions for SEs. These initiatives have had the effect of showing a strong financial, administrative and legislative commitment to support SEs.

In South Korea, the government partnered with KB Bank Social Investment Fund, the Happiness Foundation and KEB Hana Bank and fund managers IBK Investment Securities, Crevisse and Lime Investment Management to establish a “Growth Ladder Fund”. This is the country’s first government-led impact investment fund to support SEs and it hopes to allocate a total of KRW 135 billion (USD 120 million) to SEs by 2022.

Managed funds invest in a range of social ventures

Given that the majority of the 14 social economies are in their growth phase and viable pipelines are still small, impact investing plays a critical role in growing and scaling SEs and impact businesses. In this regard, India has one of the most vibrant impact investing markets in Asia with over 50 active investors who fund SEs from seed to growth and expansion stages. Within the region, Singapore is a popular hub for international impact funds investing across markets.

A key development in Asian economies has been the emergence of local impact funds.

  • One example is Ehong Capital which set up China’s first Social Impact Growth Fund ‘Yuhe’ in 2018, focusing on supporting organisations with social and environmental impact. 2 of its first investments in SEs were RMB 16 million (USD 2.4 million) for Qinjin Muyu and RMB 15 million (USD 2.3 million) for Celefish.
  • In Vietnam, Lotus Impact funds seed-stage SEs and provides them with a range of incubation support. It also set up Lotus Hub in partnership with USAID and Villgro to invest in enterprises in agriculture – and food – related value chains with a gender equality lens.
  • The club funding model utilised by B Current Impact Investment, a pioneering impact fund in Taiwan, encourages sharing resources and risk among co-investors. As of 2018, B Current had supported 10 SEs with NT$125 million (USD 4 million) of financing and was preparing to launch a 3rd fund.

In addition, some Asian funds have started to invest in SEs and impact businesses in less developed Asian social economies.

  • Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation allocated USD 100 million from its endowment in 2017 to set up the Asia Women Impact Fund (AWIF) focusing on women’s empowerment in Southeast Asia. AWIF invests in funds that aim to improve gender equality, as well as provides investment, assistance and mentorship to early-stage women entrepreneurs.
  • In 2018, Crevisse Partners and Merry Year Social Company (MYSC), two South Korean impact funds, launched Remake City, a global impact accelerating programme, in Jakarta, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Crevisse and MYSC make follow-on equity investments into successful ventures with strong market traction after the programme.
  • In Singapore, Temasek Trust launched an impact investing fund, ABC World Asia, in June 2019. The fund will invest in companies that funnel their efforts towards South Asia, Southeast Asia and China with a positive social and environmental impact in the region.

Sustainable finance is moving closer to the mainstream

While ESG investment in Asia still trails behind other regions such as the US and Europe, many developed as well as emerging markets have seen it moving closer to the mainstream. In many markets, the 2 main enablers of this transition have been government and financial institutions.

In 2017, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the world’s largest pension fund, announced that it would allocate 3% of its equity portfolio, or USD 8.9 billion, to 3 ESG indices with the intention to further expand this to 10%. Similar commitments for ESG-aligned passive investment strategies have been made by other government institutions. For instance, Taiwan’s Bureau of Labour Funds (BLF) placed USD 1.4 billion in a 5-year passive mandate in an ESG index in February 2018. Also in 2018, the Government Pension Fund in Thailand, the country’s largest institutional investor, launched a THB 1 billion (USD 30 million) ESG-focused portfolio, which invests in 33 companies listed on the Thailand Sustainability Investment Index.

Financial institutions are also crucial channels for more widespread adoption.

  • In 2016, The Cambodian Sustainable Finance Initiative was launched through a partnership between the Association of Banks in Cambodia, the National Bank of Cambodia and the Ministry of Environment to integrate national environmental and social standards into banks’ lending decisions.
  • In 2017, Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank of Malaysia) and 9 Islamic banking institutions introduced Value-based Intermediation (VBI) as a new strategy to align trends in ESG and sustainable investing with Islamic legal principles.
  • In Indonesia, 8 national banks with assets accounting for 46% of the country’s total banking assets launched the Indonesia Sustainable Finance Initiative with World Wide Fund-Indonesia in May 2018.

Green finance is growing, propelled by technology and religion

In the last few years, green finance and green bonds have swelled in response to the growing evidence and recognition of environmental and climate change. China’s green bond market has grown to be the world’s second-largest with cumulative issuances exceeding USD 80 billion in mid-2018. The ChinaBond CIB Green Bond Index and Shanghai Stock Exchange Green Corporate Bond Index were both established in 2017 underscoring the growing options presented by the prevalence of green bonds. Islamic finance has become more aligned with green finance through the increasing issuance of green sukuks, which are bonds that conform to Islamic finance norms. Malaysia issued the world’s first green sukuk in 2017, and as of 2019, 6 of its 7 green bonds were sukuks. Similarly, Indonesia issued the first sovereign green sukuk in February 2018, followed by a second in January 2019 totalling USD 2 billion.

The green finance trend is also backed by innovative financing tools like South Korea’s renewable energy impact funds. Both the Shinhan Financial Group and the KB Financial Group have created renewable energy funds of KRW 100 billion (USD 88 million) and KRW 150 billion (USD 132 million). In the same spirit, the State Bank of Vietnam introduced the Green Bank Development Scheme in 2018 which requires banks to gradually increase their ratios of total lending to green projects and implement environment and social risk management in lending activities by 2025.

Conservation finance has been led through Singapore, with a recent example being the establishment of the New Forest’s Tropical Asia Forest Fund (TAFF), a forestry fund with a value of USD 170 million. The TAFF was initially launched in 2012 with investments in Laos and Indonesia and expanded to include a eucalyptus plantation in Sabah, Malaysia in 2018. In October 2018, Singapore-based Lestari Capital launched its Sustainable Commodities Conservation Mechanism, a pilot platform to facilitate corporate financing for conservation initiatives in Indonesia and verify sustainability standards.

Philanthropy is growing, increasingly structured and institutionalised

An analysis of Asian philanthropy provides evidence of multiple motivations to give: religious and ethical traditions, preserving family traditions, supporting hometowns in times of crisis or providing for lesser endowed communities. Developed economies with generations of wealth accumulation such as Hong Kong, India, Japan and Singapore have well-established cultures of institutional philanthropy. In less developed economies however, philanthropy is predominantly characterised by traditional charitable giving.

Philanthropic funding from private individuals in India recorded a 6-fold increase from approximately USD 934 million in 2011 to USD 5.6 billion in 2016. In 2017, a total of HKD 875 million (USD 110 million) was given by just 47 Hong Kong donors. In the past 15 years, contributions by Chinese family foundations have grown significantly, with 268 family foundations established as of 2018 and total charitable expenditure of RMB 3.7 billion (USD 555 million) in 2017 exponentially larger than RMB 8.7 million (USD 1.3 million) in 2005. In Indonesia, a country noted for its charitable heritage, the Tanoto Foundation and JAPFA Foundation were named leaders of philanthropy clusters under Filantropi Indonesia in 2018 to encourage knowledge sharing among philanthropic organisations. Meanwhile, sustained and well-managed institutional philanthropy have recently started to take hold in Cambodia and Myanmar.

Many foundations such as Tata Trusts (India), the SK Happiness Foundation (South Korea) and Narada Foundation (China) are making forays into impact investing and offering a range of financing instruments and support for social ventures of different stages. This is becoming especially important as next generation philanthropists become involved with family foundations and engaged with strategic philanthropy. For example, India expects to see an estimated wealth transfer of USD 128 billion from one generation to the next in the coming decade. Financial institutions, such as UBS, Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas, are increasingly providing philanthropy consulting services to respond to this interest.

Corporates’ commitment to sustainability and strategic CSR is growing

Corporates’ growing commitment to sustainability is noticeable across the region. In Singapore, the first sustainability-linked loan in Asia’s real estate sector of SGD 300 million (USD 220 million) was issued to Capitaland by DBS Bank in October 2018. The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) published a report scoring firms on corporate governance, sustainability reporting and sustainability management in April 2019 to encourage a more strategic approach to CSR.

Multinational and large local corporations continue to lead in strategic CSR and sustainability reporting despite limited awareness of CSR among SMEs. Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), Malaysia’s oil and gas company, created its foundation Yayasan Petronas in March 2019 to develop a targeted CSR programme focusing on education, community well-being and development, and the environment. Thailand’s largest retail conglomerate, the Central Group, has implemented projects to support MSMEs, low-income groups and farmers, encouraging community entrepreneurship.

In the Philippines and Cambodia, corporates are playing a key role in integrating information technology and sustainability in the SE sector. Initiatives like the Globe Future Makers Programme launched by Globe Telecom in 2017 promote technology that can address various social and environmental issues in the Philippines. Similarly, Cambodian company Smart Axiata established a USD 5 million Smart Axiata Digital Innovation Fund in 2017 to invest in digital start-ups in education, healthcare and other sectors. Japanese corporates Fujitsu, Rakuten and Mitsubishi have expressed interest in investing in technology-based social innovations. Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar are also becoming enabling environments for marrying technology and social good based on their vibrant technology start-up ecosystems.

Innovative multi-sectoral partnerships provide blueprints for collaborative social impact

Several successful experiments with innovative multi-sectoral partnerships have been conducted in many Asian social economies, garnering significant interest from not only social investors but also mainstream financial institutions. In particular, Asia’s first social impact bonds (SIBs) and development impact bonds (DIBs) can serve as models for further collaborations between the government, foundations, intermediaries, service providers and financial institutions to drive positive change. Some recent examples include the following:

  • Two health-related SIBs were launched in Japan in 2017, one in Hachioji and the other in Kobe city. Both engage private companies as service providers and the Japan Social Impact Investment Foundation (SIIF) as one of the investors.
  • India’s, and the world’s, first DIB called Educate Girls closed in 2018 having exceeded its 3-year enrolment target by 16% and corresponding learning target by 60%. Building on its success, UBS Optimus Foundation invested USD 3 million in the Quality Education India DIB in September 2018, which aims to improve literacy and numeracy for over 300,000 primary school children in Gujarat and Delhi and has a total outcome fund of USD 11 million. This initiative involves supporters and implementing organisations such as Kaivalya Education Foundation, Dalberg, Hogan Lovells and British Asian Trust.
  • The Social Outcome Fund established by the Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) in 2018 aims to catalyse social investments through its RM3 million (USD 725,000) Social Outcome Fund (SOF) based on a SIB model. The fund has seen two tranches in 2017 and 2019, which seek to mobilise the private sector to finance social service delivery across 40 high priority social issues.
  • The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) is looking to implement a Social Impact Partnership Model (SPIM) initiative. Similar to a SIB, the SIPM pilot programme is being prepared with the potential target of impacting persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS and the children of migrant workers.

The region has also seen a growing number of platforms for collaboration around social impact.

  • Colabs, launched in 2018 by the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) and the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), seeks to catalyse collaborations among stakeholders from the public, private and social sectors. It currently has 3 networks for the target groups of children and youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
  • In 2018, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN), Filantropi Indonesia, Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development and Indonesia Global Compact Network jointly established Filantropi dan Bisnis Indonesia SDGs (FBI4SDGs – Philanthropy and Business for SDGs). FBI4SDGs is an emerging platform where corporates can collectively support government social programmes and includes approximately 500 corporates and philanthropy organisations.
  • In 2019, Hong Kong Council of Social Service’s Social Enterprise Business Centre (HKCSS-SEBC) kicked off a project to improve care food provision for the growing elderly population. By engaging AVPN’s APFx platform, a digital platform for AVPN members to identify collaboration opportunities across sectors, HKCESS-SEBC was able to identify relevant stakeholders and convened experts, funders and intermediaries to identify existing gaps and challenges, enable knowledge exchange and develop possible solutions.

These partnerships provide blueprints for collaborative social impact that can be emulated across the region. Partnerships are critical to fill gaps in the social economy and provide new means of accessing capital and expertise, providing evidence of successful social investments and catalysing impact at scale.

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Fact File

Fact file provides an outlook for the 14 economies in Asia on their populations, GDP (PPP), Poverty, World Giving Index Rank and more.

Fact File

Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world and home to many rapidly growing economies, which have resulted in great societal challenges associated with this growth as well as remarkable opportunities for philanthropy and social investment.

Asia’s diversity in terms of socio-economic environments and stages of development means there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the establishment of an impactful social economy.Recognising this, AVPN seeks to provide a holistic and contextual understanding of the 14 economies in Asia.

View Fact File

Economic Context for Investors

The stage of growth of the social economy in a region is characterised by the presence, contribution and maturity of all actors in the ecosystem.

Social Economy Context for Investors

Asia is at a critical juncture grappling with societal challenges associated with rapid economic growth. The social economy, rooted in the principles of collaboration and collective impact, holds a tremendous potential to drive social and environmental transformation in Asia towards sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

The different stages and characteristics of social economy development in Asia can be a source of synergy that catalyses cross-border and cross-sector giving and social investment, as well as enables peer learning.

For new investors and investors already present in the region, exciting developments are on the horizon.

View Economic Context

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Dashboard

The SDG dashboard is a measure of the progress made by each social economy towards the goals and targets laid out in the United Nations SDGs.


Poverty reduction across most social economies has been impressive. However, India, Myanmar, and Cambodia still have over a quarter of the people living below the poverty line.

While emerging economies such as India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam have to address pressing social challenges in healthcare, sanitation, education and water, developed economies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are tackling ageing, growing inequalities, declining workforce, labour productivity and gender equality.

Environmental issues are uniformly red on the dashboard across social economies, from issues of energy access and infrastructure in emerging economies, to climate risk mitigation and natural resources management in the island countries of Asia.

View SDGs Dashboard
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Social Investment Landscape in Asia

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