3 important lessons learnt from my experience leading Asia’s largest social investing network

Written by: Naina Subberwal Batra

It is the start of a new year, and I have been asked this question on multiple counts: “What are you doing new this year?” It is easy to ride on the waves of the ‘new year, new goals, new me’ trend, but I believe there is strength in consistency and resilience. From almost 6 years now as CEO of AVPN, I see the future of philanthropy networks established in three long-term goals:

Be an industry advocate

I often find myself needing to justify the need for having a network because of the misunderstandings behind the terminology. The common comment I have heard over the years is “I know everyone in the sector so I don’t need a network”. Indeed, it is important that a network is not simply a gathering of birds of the same feather; but a network that aims improve the social economy ought not only to bring together stakeholders across borders and sectors, but also unusual organisations that will otherwise not be part of the same convening. I have seen such innovative connections taking place here at AVPN, one of which being the Bright Start multisector collaboration amongst Kellogg’s, Sesame Workshop, and the Breakfast Revolution, which aims to address morning hunger in India.

The reality, moreover, is that when people meet each other without a specific agenda, little gets accomplished, and few, if any, partnerships happen. A network has more than just mere networking opportunities. It actually facilitates shared learning outcomes and multi-sectoral partnerships.

A network has to be an advocate for ecosystem-level change. You can’t establish sustainable impact with just a small group of like-minded stakeholders. Diverse groups of players have to identify synergies and work towards a common goal – this is where networks like AVPN can come in to catalyse this matchmaking process.

Walk the talk

One of the biggest critiques that networks face is the assumption that they are all ‘talk’ and no ‘action’.   I firmly believe in the responsibility to walk the talk, and with a mission to ‘Move Capital towards Impact’, every activity in AVPN is designed to help facilitate the flow of financial, human or intellectual capital towards impact.

In addition, we find that social investors are struggling with finding the right opportunities to deploy capital.  While funders and resource providers are already starting on their giving journey, there are still substantial untapped and unused resources.  AVPN tries to channel these resources towards more varieties of concrete actionable opportunities through its Deal Share, APF Xchange and collectives to motivate and push its members to deploy capital strategically.

Break boundaries

The amount of capital required to meet the SDG’s by 2030 is in the trillions of dollars on an annual basis.  Philanthropy is only a fraction of this amount.  In order to move the needle towards social equality, there needs to be a huge shift in all forms of capital to move towards impact.

I believe that the silos created by labels of philanthropy, venture philanthropy or impact investing limits the amount of capital that can be deployed to maximise impact. By breaking the boundaries between social and commercial capital, networks can then engage all capital across a continuum of returns towards impact. In order to achieve this, we will need investors who also come from different points along that continuum.

Too often, we preach to the choir but by opening our doors to those who do not usually see themselves through an impact lens, we encourage mainstream investors to relook at their portfolio as a whole instead of limiting their giving or social investing to a minuscule percentage of their corpus. AVPN’s 500+ members span grantmakers, corporates, capacity builders, universities, family offices, impact funds, development organisations and government/policymakers.  Together, they have deployed over USD 4 billion in 2017-18 towards impact.  This is, however, still a drop in the bucket given the extreme wealth that is created in Asia and the level of inequalities that currently exist.

I hope we can start to make a dent in this statistic. Here at AVPN, we are not just another network, and not just hosting another conference. There is not enough time and too many urgent worries in this world for us to sit back and make just another form of social impact. Join us in this year’s Conference to break boundaries and change the world together.

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Naina Subberwal Batra



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