Back in 2013, Naina Batra joined Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), as she believed that Asia did not fully understand the idea of venture philanthropy. As CEO of the organisation, Batra has made it her mission to educate the society and business community.
“Venture philanthropy used to be a very alien concept in Asia,” Batra says, “its [mechanism] almost seemed completely dichotomous [to many businesses]— like a ‘left-brain’ ‘right-brain’ relationship– where the ‘venture’ aspect was the way of making money, and the philanthropic area was the way we gave it away.”
Batra then felt the need to reframe the way venture philanthropy worked in Asia with AVPN, by working on methods to encourage investors and companies to give more strategically and in a more focused fashion, consistently synergising contributions across a multitude of areas like gender empowerment, healthcare support and improved employment opportunities.
In doing so, Batra has worked towards tapping into previously untouched or underutilised pools of capital such as investment capital to expand contributions, in addition to continuing AVPN’s focus on multi-year funding and providing capacity building by bringing back their pool philanthropy funds.
“AVPN is now really much more than just a venture philanthropy network; it is now a platform where all kinds of capital could come together to help different organisations,” says Batra.
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Since its inception in 2011, AVPN has grown to become the world's largest network of social investors in Asia, with over 600 diverse members across 33 markets. Batra shares that AVPN currently has eight philanthropic funds focusing on a variety of areas from healthcare to climate change in Asia that have collectively raised over US$11 million thus far, with its latest and soon-to-be-launched largest pooled fund to date aimed to support women’s economic advancement and contribute towards strengthening gender equality across the region.
“We want to [use these funds] support small medium enterprises (SMEs) on the ground in growing their capacities,” explains Batra, “it is crucial to have [well-empowered] organisations to execute the fruits of impact.”
The company has also launched several fellowship programs such as the AVPN Impact Investing Fellowship Programme, Africa-Asia Impact Investing Fellowship and AVPN Gender Lens Investing Fellowship.
All of these efforts have very much culminated into the upcoming AVPN Global Conference happening from June 20-24, which will bring together some of the world’s leading philanthropists, investors and policymakers to announce new alliances, launch new pooled funds, and form strategic partnerships to help Asian nations address the current shortfall in meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The conference, to be hosted in Bali, Indonesia, will act almost as a ‘primer’ to this year’s G20 Summit happening in November as well, where its output will be added to the main agenda of the summit for concrete action to be taken to catalyse capital for greater impact in Asia.
Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo, and the country’s minister of tourism and creative economy, Sandiaga Uno, will be opening the conference. His ministry is also the host partner for the event.
According to Batra, this is the first time a government ministry is actively partnering with AVPN for its activities. “What that really means moving forward is that governments all over the world are [increasingly more] open to public-private partnerships [in this space], especially when it relates to how they can build more impact in their own activities, and how they can get businesses that are working in their own countries to be more focused on a positive social impact for their communities,” Batra says.
Many of the panel discussions at AVPN’s Global Conference 2022 will be centred around the issues of climate change and sustainable development, gender, health, education and economic opportunities.
Other prominent figures that will be speaking at the conference include Robert Rosen, director of the Gates Foundation, Dato’ Shahira Ahmed Bazari, managing director of Yayasan Hasanah and Boon Heong Ng, deputy CEO of Temasek Trust amongst others.
Batra says that it has also been heartening to see more leaders from corporate businesses come on board to speak at and support AVPN’s conference this year. “We will be expecting the Indonesian heads of leading corporates such as Johnson & Johnson and Visa, and we are excited that more companies like these are stepping up to take on greater engagement in the venture philanthropy space,” she adds.
“What AVPN is trying to do with this year’s conference is to mainstream impact [and philanthropic action] across all businesses,” says Batra. “Impact is for all businesses, and everybody needs to start thinking about it and talking about it [in that way].”
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Asia’s time is now
While close to 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, Batra observes that many issues in Asia do not feature in international discussions or policy decision-making processes, particularly in the West.
She believes that’s where AVPN’s Global Conference 2022 comes in – the only platform today in Asia that highlights Asian ‘models’, that brings Asian investors together to look at collaborating, co-investing and sharing stories of successes and failures of Asian models in Asia.
Due to the pandemic, the coming conference will be the first full in-person event since 2019. Previous editions during the pandemic years were in virtual or hybrid formats. “We will be seeing attendees from a wide range of countries, with a particularly significant representation from Indonesia, Singapore and India, but also from many non-Asian countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom,” Batra says.
“We want the conference to be a space where we will be discussing Asian issues [led by Asian leaders], but for an international community that goes beyond solely an Asian audience,” she adds.
Batra also emphasises how the G20 presidency lying in Asian countries for these two years– this year with Indonesia and India for the next– places Asia under a particular spotlight as well for more pertinent discussions on region-based issues. “Considering how we have only eight years left to achieve the SDGs, and how no Asian nation is currently on target to meet them, greater intentional collaboration between public and private sectors worldwide for progress to be made is a must,” Batra adds.
“I think it’s Asia’s time,” Batra says, on the topic of the region’s readiness for making social change and rise to prominence in the world. “We are much more confident [today] in our own voices, stories, and sharing in our own language and the society that we want to become,” she adds.
“In Asia, we are very good at listening, before bettering ideas and making it our own faster than anyone else,” Batra says. “And I think this is our way to shine by showing the world how to create and build back better post-pandemic right now.”
Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore