Fostering Collective Impact with Naina Subberwal
Representing more than 600 members globally, AVPN is the largest social investment network in Asia. Acting as an ecosystem builder increasing the flow of capital towards impact in Asia, they ensure that resources are most effectively deployed. Non-profits, companies, development finance institutions (DFIs), boutique investors and impact funds may combine grants, debts and equity across multiple investments within their own portfolio, to achieve deeper impact.
Naina Subberwal joined AVPN as CEO in September 2013 and was appointed Chairperson from 2018 to 2021.
Tell us about the work of AVPN. How do you begin to build an ecosystem that can direct the flow of capital towards impact in Asia?
All AVPN members have a shared commitment to moving their capital to achieve impact and in doing so addressing key regional development challenges. Being at the forefront of building the Impact Economy ecosystem in Asia has been an amazing journey. When we started 10 years ago, many of the ideas of rethinking the role of capital and its relationship with impact were still marginal. Today, that has all changed and we find ourselves central to the discourse in the region. The issues are far more urgent today than they were even 10 years ago, and this makes the work of AVPN even more critical. Our members collectively have the potential to deliver transformative change and AVPN’s role is to help them to achieve this.
Every country in Asia is very different in terms of culture, economic development and government policy, yet your network transcends these differences. How has building such a broad network of 600 members in 33 markets helped to advance social investment in Asia?
The diversity of Asia is one of its great strengths and the variety of social and economic systems in the region means that there is great potential for innovation, learning, and testing of new approaches. Through our ‘Connect, Learn, Act, Lead’ model of change we cross-pollinate ideas and broker collaborations between our members so that we can achieve more strategic and effective impact in the region.
You have committed to building the AVPN portfolio to meaningfully advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. What does that look like in practice?
We curate impact communities with increased coordinated action towards specific critical impact fields, such as climate, gender, health, and youth. Impact Communities employ a catalytic approach to philanthropy by bringing together our members to address the systems and structures around entrenched problems faced in the region.
We collectively mobilise financial, human, and intellectual capital to close the SDG gaps, through facilitating innovative giving vehicles such as unrestricted grants via pooled philanthropic funds. Time and again we have seen that trust and unrestricted funds provide impact organisations with the flexibility they need to deliver positive impact outcomes. This room for dynamism and courageous innovation is especially valuable in these times of uncertainty and shifting contexts.
AVPN’s first philanthropic pooled fund was launched in May 2021, bringing together six funders who together contributed USD 1.2 million. It awarded a total of USD 933,000 to grantees in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar. Since then AVPN has launched multiple funds, both single-donor and pooled, and now offers an end-to-end process of project management, pipeline sourcing, grant deployment, monitoring and evaluation, and capacity building, thus continuing to look at ways to expand its work even beyond grant funding.
Earlier this year, we launched a $25 million gender equality pooled fund that will unleash the power of collaborative philanthropy to close the gender gap in Asia, improve the lives of women, particularly marginalised women, and address the social barriers that are the impediment to women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.
We also just launched a USD 3 million Sustainability Seed Fund with our member Google to support nonprofits that are leveraging the use of technology in combating climate change and driving sustainability in areas such as; biodiversity, air pollution, and climate change, water preservation and waste management. The fund covers 11 markets including Australia, India, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.
Finally, we enable cross-learning and thought leadership between the private sector and public sector leaders as well as policy influencers, engaging governments and the public sector to help shape the policy agenda to solve the SDGs and propel progress across the region. Together with our members, we make sure we put Asian voices at the forefront of global discourse. We are delighted to be an official impact partner for the Indonesian Governments Presidency of the G20 where we have established a platform for all of our members to be able to have a voice in such important global forum.
Your deal share platform is an innovative model for information sharing that catalyzes action for those in the venture philanthropy space. What are your criteria for participation?
The DSP is a platform for credible, high-impact organisations that are on the frontlines of social impact, encompassing a broad range of organisation types, from INGOs, Charities and Social Enterprises. To ensure credibility for the organisations, for businesses and Investors, we conduct a series of checks, one of which is ensuring that the organisations on the platform have been supported by our AVPN members through financial and non-financial/capacity-building support.
We see increasing interest for deal-sharing platforms such as ours, and for more intentional mechanisms for capital movement. We are piloting a new model which encompasses needs-based capacity building and bespoke technical assistance for high-potential social enterprises and targeted investment facilitation.
Tell us about the AVPN Academy and what you hope your members gain from their experience in it.
We leverage the knowledge of our network and create spaces for collective learning from practitioners to practitioners, where social investors of all kinds can build capacity and share learnings. We do this through our Research and Insights arm, and also our AVPN Academy, where people can learn about social investment approaches such as social finance and corporate social impact.
This is a new, emerging, dynamic space. Practice is evolving faster than theory and academic research, and funding organisations don’t know where to go to learn. Information is available in bits and pieces, but it is incumbent on the organisation to piece it together. We saw a need to curate and share what we know so that others don’t reinvent the wheel.
The AVPN Academy provides a space for practitioners to learn through self-paced modules, live modules, peer learning circles and fellowships. In the past year and half we’ve launched and run 20 modules, a digital library, and 6 fellowships, with over 500 active users and growing.
Why do networks like yours and others have a responsibility to bring under-represented social issues to the top of mind investors?
We all have a responsibility to ensure the voice of underserved communities is heard and to demonstrate that if we don’t address the root cause of issues, we are just storing up problems for the future. Whether it is the risk of failing a generation of young people through not providing them with adequate skills and opportunities or whether it is not comprehensively addressing the multiple impacts of climate change, we need to ensure that we find ways to act early and bring resources to address these issues early on.