A guide to the opportunities for social
investment in Asia
The aim of this report is to understand and document the existing and emerging landscape for social investing in 14 social economies. Now in its second edition, the Social Investment Landscape in Asia serves as a resource for funders and resource providers to assess the opportunities and challenges for social investment.
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.
“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
For more information on each social economy, please click on the map or on the country boxes.
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, 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:
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.
These initiatives have had the effect of showing a strong financial, administrative and legislative commitment to support SEs.
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.
In addition, some Asian funds have started to invest in SEs and impact businesses in less developed Asian social economies.
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.
Financial institutions are also crucial channels for more widespread adoption.
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. Green bond indices are being established in many markets across the region, underscoring the growing options presented by the prevalence of green bonds. The region has also seen the increasing issuance of green sukuks which are bonds that conform to Islamic finance norms. Innovative financing tools like South Korea’s Renewable Energy Impact funds and Vietnam’s Green Bank Development Scheme have been developed in response to growing demands in this space. Singapore has contributed to the growing green finance market, serving as a launchpad for conservation finance tools like the New Forest’s Tropical Asia Forest Fund and Lestari Capital’s Sustainable Commodities Conservation Mechanism.
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. For example, India and China have seen a steep incline in philanthropic contributions in recent years through individuals and family foundations.
As a consequence of the growing institutionalisation of philanthropy there has been increasing knowledge among key players. 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. In less developed economies however, philanthropy continues to be predominantly characterised by traditional charitable giving.
Corporates’ growing commitment to sustainability is noticeable across the region with increasing capital and ancillary resources being directed towards encouraging and measuring impact in this space. 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.
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. The region has also seen a growing number of platforms for collaboration around social impact.
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.
Evaluating investment opportunities between two social economies? Get in-depth analysis on social economy - ‘attractiveness’ for investment, development challenges, legislative influence, recent trends and a snapshot of the opportunities.
Fact file provides an outlook for the 14 economies in Asia on their populations, GDP (PPP), Poverty, World Giving Index Rank and more.
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
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