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AVPN launches social investing system in Abu Dhabi with MAS support

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 10 min read
AVPN launches social investing system in Abu Dhabi with MAS support
From left: Kevin Teo, COO of AVPN; Phyllis Costanza, co-founder and president of OutcomesX; and Naina Batra, CEO of AVPN, launching the first phase of ImpactCollab. Photo: AVPN
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Faith-based givers are an overlooked group within the social investing and philanthropic space, says Naina Batra, CEO of AVPN, the largest network of social investors in Asia with over 600 members.

In Singapore, particularly, this group is not often talked about, she adds. “I really believe that this capital can do a lot of good if it is channelled,” Batra tells The Edge Singapore.

“Traditionally, people are very wary of talking about faith. In Singapore, we are so concerned about how we maintain harmony that we don’t really talk about it. But it’s really important, if we are to use that capital strategically to do that.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the AVPN Global Conference 2024 in Abu Dhabi — the first time in 11 years that the annual conference has left Southeast Asia — Batra points to the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) history of philanthropy.

“There is a huge history of giving in this part of the world, especially fuelled by belief, values and faith,” says Batra. “We are, in AVPN, increasingly looking at how we bring these faith-based givers into a similar platform and ecosystem.”

See also: AVPN launches social investing system ImpactCollab with MAS support

This is also seen closer to home. “Like Malaysia, like Indonesia, there is a huge amount of capital that is deployed each year with an Islamic lens,” says Batra. “We feel more and more of that can really be used strategically for impact.”

The UAE, like Singapore, has a multicultural community; nearly 90% of the UAE’s residents are expatriate workers.

Batra notes “a lot of capital flow” from the UAE to South Asia and the Philippines. “How do we really bring them into the same discussion?”

See also: From 2022: AVPN to revitalise dialogue around social impact in Asia

‘Part of Asia’

AVPN welcomed just 200 delegates in its first conference back in 2013, which was held in Singapore, compared to 1,500 delegates this year.

Following a 2022 conference in Bali and last year’s iteration in Kuala Lumpur, this year’s three-day conference marked a farther leap to the UAE.

In a way, Batra believes the conference is still being held in Asia. “The idea to come to the UAE was really motivated by the fact that AVPN’s mission is to grow the ecosystem and really look at how we move more capital towards impact across Asia. West Asia is part of Asia, we don’t tend to recognise that we often talk about the Middle East, but really middle of what, and east of what? So, it is really a part of Asia.”

Batra says it is “crucial” to include West Asia for its strategic importance. “It occupies a pivotal geopolitical position, serving as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe. Its strategic location and abundant natural resources make it a key player in global affairs.”

Of the 1,500 attendees, Batra estimates some 169 delegates flew in from Singapore, 50 from Malaysia, close to 100 from Indonesia, 50 from Australia and more than 250 from India.

See also: Temasek Trust, DBS Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation launch new digital impact marketplace

“It’s a lot of Asian representation and I think that also helps us feel we made the right decision. We’re not leaving anyone in Asia behind,” she adds.

The Abu Dhabi conference takes place under the patronage of Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the International Humanitarian and Philanthropic Council.

The host partners also helped fund the proceedings between April 23 and 25. They include the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, founded by the UAE’s second president.

When asked about the choice of conference venue, Batra candidly says it depends on where support can be found. “We are a non-profit platform and if we don’t get financial support, it’s tough for us to organise a conference of this size and scale.”

So, where would this bring next year’s conference attendees? According to Batra, “a number” of countries “keep approaching” AVPN to host their flagship conference in their country. “At this point, we’re looking at potentially Northeast Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia; so I don’t have a fixed answer.”

That said, she sees the merits of moving the conference around Asia. “By going there, we are able to mobilise that particular ecosystem in that country, but also shine a spotlight on the issues in that country and attract so many people.”

Spotlighting Asia

In addition to her decade leading AVPN, Batra has joined a number of international boards on social investing. In November 2023, she joined the SDG Impact Finance Initiative as an advisory board council member.

Launched in December 2021, the SDG Impact Finance Initiative is a public-private partnership between the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the UBS Optimus Foundation.

The Initiative aims to support blended finance to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Created in 2015 by the UN General Assembly, the 17 SDGs are designed to serve as a “shared blueprint” for peace and prosperity, for people and the planet — with a 2030 target deadline.

The problem, according to Batra, is how everybody is talking about blended finance, but they are “not very clear” what blended finance actually means. In the blended finance structure, concessional capital, often from the public sector, helps attract private capital into marginally-bankable projects, which are often deemed risky or less profitable.

At COP28 in December 2023, Singapore launched the Financing Asia’s Transition Partnership, an Asia-focused blended finance initiative that aims to mobilise up to US$5 billion ($6.67 billion) for green and transition projects.

In addition to creating awareness about blended finance, the Initiative also looks at scale. “How do we attract more capital? We’ve been looking at blended finance projects — they’re not really very large in scale, they’re usually $1 million to $5 million,” says Batra. “But again, with a gap, you need to have much more. So, the idea is how do we bring more concessionary capital that can de-risk more commercial capital to come in? That’s the goal.”

To Batra, her role, as the only Asian representative in the Initiative, is to spotlight Asia. “Like so many initiatives, this one also originated in the West… I join these things because I feel like it’s crazy, right? [Asia is home to] 60% of the world’s population, and we’re not represented.”

Batra hopes to offer a crucial Asian perspective. “People usually bake these ideas and then come and try to sell them in our part of the world. So, it’s much more [important] to have a voice in the design and really talk about our challenges, rather than somebody sitting in Switzerland saying: ‘Oh, this is what you need.’”

MAS support

On the second day of the conference, AVPN launched ImpactCollab, an outcomes-based social investing system, developed with support from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

Tailored for financial institutions, family offices, ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) and impact organisations across Asia, the system aims to facilitate philanthropic giving and impact investing.

In its first phase, ImpactCollab’s “social outcomes platform” will provide a “neutral, unbiased way” to calculate the annual outcomes of what impact organisations do. According to AVPN, the platform will validate and evaluate social programmes by their cost per result and effectiveness.

This will provide social investors access to “reliable, investor-grade impact data” to use in decision-making, says AVPN. “By creating a common language between capital funders and impact organisations to better align their goals and desired outcomes, this impact data registry strengthens trust and enables collaboration across the ecosystem.”

Private bankers “don’t know how to find deals” in the social giving space, says Batra. “So, this will provide an opportunity for them to actually find opportunities in organisations that have been [screened with] due diligence by us.”

The platform will first be available to family office advisers, wealth advisers and private bankers in Singapore, says Batra. “We keep talking about this massive amount of wealth that is there in Singapore, but nobody really gets to the principals in the family offices. A lot of times it’s door-kept by financial advisers and private bankers.”

With ImpactCollab, AVPN hopes to unlock this capital by appealing to private bankers, “who can move from just being financial advisers to being trusted advisers” who offer support on philanthropy and social giving, she adds.

Phase one: The platform

The launch marks the start of the three-year initiative. The full suite of the ImpactCollab system will include “cross-border capital deployment capabilities” and social investing that complies with cross-border regulatory and due diligence requirements.

The social outcomes platform was built in partnership with OutcomesX, a social outcome exchange headquartered in New York. In the coming years, the full system will offer the know-your-clients, know-your-business and know-your-impact resources for due diligence required for facilitating cross-border philanthropic giving.

ImpactCollab will progressively be made available for AVPN members, financial institutions, family offices and UHNWIs in Asia — starting with those in Singapore.

Kevin Teo, COO at AVPN, aims to standardise “data-driven, outcomes-based impact valuations” for up to 1,200 impact organisations, with the target spread across three years. AVPN expects to launch a beta version of the platform within six months to onboard impact organisations.

On the other end, Teo believes the platform will engage its first “small set of users”, including relationship managers and advisers, within a year.

To gather data, AVPN will tap into its 600- odd member community of funders to submit screening data on impact organisations. Teo is mindful that this method could surface top-heavy data, with less information available on smaller impact organisations. “Many of them tend to be hyper-local and non-English-speaking, so they don’t show up in a lot of searches.”

To avoid survivorship bias, Teo tells The Edge Singapore that his team will focus on collecting data on these smaller organisations in their conversations with AVPN members.

Finally, users can expect to pay “some subscription costs” to use the system, says Teo, but talks about the pricing model are still ongoing.

Asia’s philanthropy hub

The launch of ImpactCollab aligns with Singapore’s strategic goals to position itself as Asia’s centre for philanthropy, says AVPN. As the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs draws near, Asia faces an urgent need to bridge a US$1.5 trillion funding gap.

However, the majority of donated philanthropic funds only reach 5% of charities and impact organisations, says AVPN.

The impact investing market alone is expected to grow to nearly US$1 trillion in 2027. While philanthropists are increasingly keen to contribute more intentionally and effectively, the existing due diligence process remains resource-intensive, says Teo.

Knowledge gaps and risk mitigation challenges in cross-border giving are some of the key obstacles for potential donors, Teo adds. “The first part is addressing fears. How do you manage fears? How do you manage risk perception as it relates to philanthropic contributions? Once you are past that hurdle, the second part is: ‘How do you maximise the impact of your capital?’”

ImpactCollab will facilitate “greater cross-border, evidence-based and innovative modes of philanthropic giving”, says MAS’s Gillian Tan, assistant managing director (development and international) and chief sustainability officer.

In a statement, Tan also mentions Singapore’s Philanthropy Tax Incentive Scheme for Family Offices, unveiled at Budget 2023.

See also: MAS to recognise single-family offices' contributions to charity, blended finance, climate solutions: Tharman

The scheme, which will run till Dec 31, 2028, provides family offices a 100% tax deduction for overseas donations, capped at 40% of the donor’s statutory income, among other criteria.

She adds: “Alongside efforts to deepen Singapore’s philanthropic advisory talent pool and the Philanthropy Tax Incentive Scheme, ImpactCollab will support the mobilisation of wealth as a force for good.” 

Photos: AVPN

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