Cover The AVPN Global Conference 2022 (Photo: Natalie Chan)

The largest gathering for social investing in Asia took place in June in Bali, with plenty of important takeaways for funders and social entrepreneurs alike

Social investors from all over the world came together in June for the AVPN Global Conference, a four-day event held in Bali that saw 1096 delegates gather to share knowledge, build partnerships and to explore ways to address the socio-economic challenges Asia is facing.

AVPN is the world’s largest network of social investors active in Asia. It also powers the Asia Gender Network, a pan-Asian network launched in spring 2021 that is committed to mobilising money for gender equality. The conference marked the first time that members of the Asia Gender Network convened in person, and Gender was one of the key pillars of the conference alongside Climate, Livelihoods and Healthcare.

Gender lens investing is at an early stage. It aims to integrate gender analysis into the investment process with a view to mobilise capital to advance gender equality, support women’s economic empowerment and improve outcomes for women and girls. At the conference, a USD25 million Gender Fund was one of several new pooled funds announced; it will be launched at the G20 Summit in Indonesia later this year, for which the AVPN Conference is an official side event.

With four days of plenaries, breakout sessions, workshops, networking experiences and small group sessions, there was plenty to inspire and engage attendees and encourage and further the development of impact investing in the region. Below are some of the takeaways from the event.

1. For gender lens investing, there is a missing middle

Investment can be forthcoming at the initial idea stage and again at the later growth and maturity stage of a small and growing business. However, many businesses struggle to secure capital from angel investors, venture capital and financial institutions at the crucial early stages of growth. The missing middle financing gap needs to be addressed with more conversations around who can support at this stage and how innovative finance models can move capital towards the early stage. Funders need to bridge this missing middle.

2. Most resource partners are working in silos; there needs to be more collaboration

Many funders and resource providers have their own, individual mission, and when it comes to the role of each one in the ecosystem, there is no mapping of who is doing what. Having the visibility to see where there is overlap and where there are gaps could help to maximise impact. Collaboration requires time and effort, but funders should be learning, discussing, collaborating and partnering so resources can be channelled more efficiently and effectively.

3. We need more women investors

A greater number of women investors and women within venture capital and financial institutions will influence the allocation of capital and help to drive gender equality and diversity. 

4. Money comes with too much paperwork, which can undermine impact

The overwhelming takeaway from the conference was that funders need to place more trust in the people they are funding. Too often, there is an imbalance of power and there is scope creep. And there is often too much paperwork. Investments are dependent on forms and reporting that require a lot of time and energy on the part of the beneficiaries.

Ludwig Forrest, Head of International Philanthropy at the King Baudouin Foundation, talked about carrying out trust-based philanthropy, and to trust that beneficiaries are using the money for good. The King Baudouin Foundation doesn’t ask for the extensive reporting that other foundations make standard as they realise that paperwork can take away from the real work that needs to be done.

 

5. We need to talk about what doesn't work

Robert Rosen, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships at the Gates Foundation, stressed the importance for funders to talk about what doesn’t work or where things have failed. Too often funders focus on highlighting their achievements and sharing impact figures and the number of people that have been helped; they don’t want to highlight mistakes. But discussing things that haven’t worked or issues faced can move the conversation further. Sometimes projects fail and that’s okay. What’s important is to try and learn from the mistakes and share those learnings and best practices.

6. There should be a common language

There is no common vocabulary or glossary of terms when it comes to social investing. Collecting some common terms and having some education on terminology for social entrepreneurs in particular would help to bridge the communication gap between funder and recipient and allow the two sides to communicate more effectively.

7. One nation’s government is blazing a trail in gender lens investing

The Australian government’s Investing in Women initiative is on a mission to drive women’s economic equality in Southeast Asia. Studies have shown that women-led companies receive less venture funding even though companies with at least one female founder perform better than those with all-male founder teams. Investing in Women seeks to understand why women’s SMEs have historically been overlooked for investment and strives to change this, largely through partnerships with impact investors to strengthen access to finance for women-owned and women-led SMEs in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, but also through supporting change in workplace culture to achieve gender equality, and by working with partners to shift attitudes and practices to support women in the world of work.

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