I headed to the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) conference in Singapore (20-23 April) looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with many sector colleagues from around the region. Although only in its third year, the AVPN conference has become a reunion for local or regional foundations, incubators, impact investors and others working in the social sector in Asia.
For this reason, AVPN serves as a convenient gathering for new organizations to meet some of the most active and experienced funders in the region. There were many delegates representing countries relatively new to the AVPN network including China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. This is particularly exciting as this means new models of professional philanthropy such as venture philanthropy are gaining traction in countries where private and corporate philanthropy has traditionally been either minimal or very donor-centric (rather than mission-driven).
I was encouraged to meet quite a few new corporate foundations – both regional and global – that were looking to create the most impact with both their financial and non-financial resources. For example, one foundation gives grants only for operational costs (eg technology or equipment upgrades) while another is exploring ways to open up its supply chain and share manufacturing expertise with socially driven organizations. More of such practical and forward thinking is desperately needed in our region where many philanthropists either only fund non-profit organizations or have decided to become impact investors and provide debt and equity investment to profitable ‘social’ companies (and forgo grantmaking altogether).
On Day 4 (after the official AVPN programming finished), other related organizations, whose members are often also AVPN members, took the opportunity to convene their networks and engage with new potential partners. Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN), a network of incubators supporting early-stage social ventures, and Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), a global network of intermediaries supporting small and growing businesses in developing countries, both held events.
ANDE held its first Fail Faire in Asia with speakers from ANDE, AVPN and GSEN. Despite the old Chinese proverb, 失敗為成功之母 or ‘Failure is the mother of success’, fear of failure is still a major impediment to risk taking and social innovation in Asia. It was heartening to see experienced funders and capacity builders openly share some of their less than successful experiences so their peers could learn from their mistakes. ANDE and GSEN also joined forces to map our their respective (and complementary) networks to better understand what resources exist in the region and what gaps need to be filled.
As Synergy is a member of all three networks, we believe in the importance of connecting all three slightly disparate groups in a synergistic and meaningful way that will benefit the impact ecosystem in Asia. GSEN and AVPN members are critical as they are the local early-stage capacity builders and philanthropic funders in the region to ANDE’s more established and often later-stage global organizations. I look forward to next year’s convening where we can have a more coherent and collaborative approach to building out the Asian impact ecosystem together.