The Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) promotes venture philanthropy (VP) into social investment communities and engages a network composed by an array of members including private equity managers, private banks, wealth managers, family businesses, foundations, universities, government related entities and more. KITE Invest spoke with the CEO of AVPN, Naina Subberwal Batra, in order to get a better glimpse of venture philanthropy in the context of Asia.

KITE Invest: What was the catalyst behind the creation of AVPN? Was the initial intention to have members of varying sectors or did that develop over time?

Naina Subberwal Batra: The catalyst behind the creation of the AVPN was the need to create a vibrant venture philanthropy network and social investment platform that helped engage with a growing community of funders especially as Asia started becoming richer and philanthropy became more open and in focus.

The plan was always to involve members of varying sectors as the thinking has been that while members of individual sectors may be well networked, there is little or no interaction amongst members of different silos. This breaking of silos is essential as we try and increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital into the social space and look at learning from the varied experiences across sectors so as to avoid duplication of efforts and encourage sharing of best practices.

KITE: With so many different types of members are there ranging measures that are taken toward the promotion of VP to each respective investor member?

NSB: Definitely. Each member is at a different point in their philanthropic journey and we at AVPN are very proud to have built a broad church where different members can find value and points of interest. We therefore have events and knowledge sharing that is targeted towards grant makers who are not at this point engaged in social investment. We also do workshops and seminars with members who engage in activities that could be classified as having “blended value” which incorporate both grant making and investing in their portfolio and of course we have members who are impact investors. Our thrust with this group is always on measuring and focusing on the social impact.

KITE: AVPN was founded by one of the founding members of the European Venture Philanthropy Association. In your estimation what are the greatest similarities and differences between Asian VP and European VP?

NSB:The concept of venture philanthropy is far newer in Asia than it is in Europe. Whilst philanthropy has been around for centuries in Asia, Asians are far more reluctant to club the concept of venture principles into their philanthropy. This however is changing and changing fast. As the next generation of Asian philanthropists emerge having made their money in more technology driven industries and using venture capital principles – this is dovetailing into their philanthropy. Case in point being Jack Ma’s Billion dollar philanthropic fund.

We also find a lot of second gen Asian philanthropists using their philanthropic activities to showcase their innovative problem solving methods to their senior family members as an evidence of their business acumen

Finally Asia is a fast learner and has not been shy of learning from successful models in the West and bringing them back to Asia with requisite tweaks.

KITE: AVPN is based in Singapore and has more than 170 members from 28 countries in the Asia Pacific region. How does the Network ensure that the dynamic differences and needs of the countries’ respective VP communities and investment opportunities? On the other hand, what similarities and commonalities bind the region together?

NSB: At the AVPN conference in 2015, we are planning a member’s day wherein groups of members from the different countries update the rest of the network on the status of VP in their own countries. In addition in November 2014, AVPN led a study tour to Europe of government officials from several different Asian Countries who wanted to learn from and see up close the different public private partnership models in Europe.  We are hopeful that this knowledge sharing will lead to the creation of a greater enabling environment in their own countries.

Most of the countries in Asia are bound by similar challenges when it comes to social investment.  Deal flow or the lack thereof are some hurdles, transparency and trust are other common issues that hinder investment.  On the other hand various countries are doing interesting things with regards to mentorship, incubation and acceleration of social enterprises which will then lead to a corresponding increase in the pipeline

KITE: Of the member countries are there any in particular where VP thrives more or less, and if so why?

NSB: India and China are two countries where there has been a significant surge in activity. In addition, Thailand, Phillippines, Hong Kong and Indonesia are also building a vibrant eco system around social investment

KITE: AVPN’s Knowledge Centre is set to develop practitioner-oriented resources to help scale the practice of VP across Asia. AVPN also acts as the hub in Asian for all news and events focused on VP. What stage is the Knowledge Centre at and how has it increased the understanding and communication of VP in the region?

NSB: Growing to a community of more than 170 members over the past 3 years, AVPN has identified a set of clear needs within the philanthropy ecosystem, outlined as follows:

  1. How can “new philanthropists” get started – where can they find basic information around giving? What are the various ways to structure their philanthropy? Where can they find collaborators or knowledgeable consultants?
  2. How can philanthropy be done better – where can practitioners find reports, articles, best practices, investee options, collaborators, pro-bono or paid skilled resources, team members to make this activity more impactful and cost effective?
  3. How can social purpose organisations (NGO’s, social enterprises etc) respond effectively to engaged philanthropists – what awareness creation and knowledge transfer needs to happen for social purpose organisations to engage fully with an emerging community of strategic philanthropists?

To support these objectives, AVPN launched the Knowledge Centre (KC) in 15 July 2014.

The AVPN KC will primarily spearhead two initiatives, both of which are groundbreaking efforts in the philanthropic sector in Asia or even globally. These are the AVPN Online Platform and the Capability Development Model.

The AVPN Online Platform will serve the information needs of the AVPN community (members and non-members); by aggregating a broad cross-section of pre-existing sector content (webinars, trainings, publications, news, blogs, etc.), specific resource needs (jobs in the sector, co-funding opportunities, etc) and matching this content to the specific needs of each user.  The AVPN Online Platform will function as a portal, with content sections broken down into publications, articles, news; event sections organised into round tables, seminars, conferences, training workers and webinars; and resource needs sections organised into jobs, pro-bono needs and collaboration opportunities.

The AVPN Capability Development Model will serve as an organizational development road map for organizations seeking process improvements in any of the 5 practice areas outlined by AVPN to achieve proficiency in venture philanthropy, namely: pre-deal process (due diligence on social purpose organisations, sector analyses), capacity building for social purpose organisations, impact assessment, portfolio management and tri-sector collaboration. Within each of these 5 practice areas, we will identify existing processes implemented by AVPN member organisations and catalogue them according to a scale of maturity levels, ranging from ad-hoc (no process) to managed (operating procedures clearly documented) to optimizing (process is instrumented to collect data for ongoing fine-tuning). Organisations can subsequently “diagnose” themselves against the Capability Development Model and AVPN can provide input on how to progress through the maturity levels in practice areas of interest.

KITE: In addition to communicating and educating what other main goals are current priorities for the Network?

NSB: Our main goal is to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector. It is with this mission in mind that all our activities are targeted towards getting our members to become more active in the space either through engaged grant making, strategic CSR or impactful social investments.  We definitely believe that if our members are active they will be role models in their communities and will therefore attract other philanthropists and social investors to the sector.

KITE: Having been the CEO of AVPN for a little over a year now what are your aspirations for the organization over the course of next few years?

NSB: I would like to see the growth of a highly engaged members’ network. The network belongs to the members and is there to support them in their VP activities. I would like Members to identify where they need content support and AVPN to then deliver this support to them.  Social problems in Asia are complex and many and it is only by cooperation and collaboration that we can aim to make a dent in these.  In a sea of infinite causes collaboration is key and I believe that AVPN provides a platform across Asia for philanthropists, corporates and impact investors to come together for good.