Li Ka-shing donates HK$500 million (approximately US$64 million) to The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Hong Kong’s richest man and notable philanthropist Li Ka-shing is helping establish the city’s first synthetic biology institute through his most recent donation. Synthetic biology is a cross-disciplinary area of research in which genomes are designed and modified to help resolve challenges in life sciences. Advances in the field can impact key areas of human development such as manufacturing, medicine development, and food production. The need for innovations in such areas is urgent: current and future increases in global population are straining resources and necessitate the development of alternatives. Speaking on the occasion, Li underscored the vision behind his gift, “Just as synthetic chemistry and petroleum was central to the 20th Century, synthetic biology and DNA are the technology engines of this century, bringing disruption to traditional manufacturing and new opportunities in the industrialization of biology.”
Mano Amiga Philippines and She Talks Asia co-founder, Lynn Pinugu, discusses why she gives back to society. Lynn Pinugu traces the roots of her philanthropy to a financial crisis her family went through when she was in university. Her writing skills helped her win a journalism competition, which awarded her with a scholarship that supported her studies. She realized that children who lacked basic education would struggle to access such opportunities. After graduating, Pinugu volunteered in Mexico where she came across Mano Amiga, a network of low-cost schools transforming the lives of underprivileged students. She replicated their model in the Philippines in 2008, impacting over seven hundred lives since. Pinugu further expanded her work and founded She Talks Asia to support women in her country who are confined by traditional gender roles. Through She Talks Asia, Pinugu is offering them a safe space to discuss these issues. She concludes that humility and an eagerness to learn have kept her motivated in this journey.
Singapore falls quite behind Malaysia in responsible investing, according to Blooomberg. Singapore edges its regional competitor in several metrics such as efficiency and quality of life. In fact, CAPS’ Doing Good Index 2018 found that Singapore is one of Asia’s three economies doing the most to catalyze private social investment—Malaysia ranked a tier below. But a new Bloomberg report finds that fewer asset managers in Singapore have incorporated environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into their investment decisions relative to their Malaysian counterparts. In fact, nearly twice as many asset managers in Malaysia have developed their own ESG scoring models as compared to Singapore. These discrepancies, according to Ben McCarron, founder of sustainable finance analysis firm Asia Research & Engagement, are attributable to Malaysia’s clear regulatory push towards responsible investing. As a global center for Islamic finance, Malaysian investors are also more familiar with the use of social factors to guide their investments. Overall, however, Asia still lags behind financial centers in Europe and the United States when it comes to responsible investing.
The Economist Intelligence Unit profiles the impact investing landscape in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in new report. Commissioned by Standard Chartered Private Bank, the report aims to create knowledge for high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) on sustainable finance and its intersection with philanthropy. The goal of the study is to help HNWIs decide how to allocate their portfolios to achieve the best return against their requirements. The report—based on desk research and in-depth interviews of eight experts—focuses on Asia, the Middle East, and Africa as these regions are witnessing the highest growth in either receiving or propelling sustainable finance, impact investing, and philanthropy. One of the report’s five main observations concerns definitions: there are often very subtle differences between terms such as impact investing and sustainable investing. The report recommends HNWIs to set clear parameters and objectives to navigate gray areas in the definitions.
The path to scale is broken for nonprofits. In an opinion piece published by India Development Review, Dhananjay Rohini argues that the support ecosystem surrounding nonprofits may be failing them in their pursuit of scale. Nonprofits often find themselves solving “inherently harder” problems such as those arising out of market failures or weak institutions. Amid these challenges, nonprofits must also bear the high transactional costs of seeking funding for one project at a time. The successful delivery of projects may improve the chances of future funding, but “donor fatigue” could still be an impediment. This situation is quite contrary to the private sector where multiple mechanisms exist for raising funding and where unremarkable but stable companies often succeed in attracting funding. Among the strategies Rohini lays down to alleviate some of these failings are: donors paying the entire costs of programs, and funding large-scale initiatives instead of individual projects. Non-pecuniary support in payroll management, reporting, and HR can also help nonprofits focus on the core problems they seek to solve.
Founder of nonprofit helping trafficking victims named among 2019 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders by Asia Society. Ta Ngoc Van is the chief lawyer at Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit based in Hanoi which rescues Vietnamese women and girls who fall victim to human trafficking. Van is credited with helping 800 trafficking victims and has provided legal representation to nearly a hundred. Human trafficking affects over 40 million women, children, and men and according to the International Labour Organization, citizens of the Asia Pacific region are twice as likely to be at risk as those of a developed country. The Ministry of Public Security in Vietnam reports that about 80% of human trafficking victims end up in China. According to the article, this is in part due to the country’s gender imbalance, which is seen to exacerbate the issue. Van’s fellow honorees are playing their part in alleviating the region’s challenges through journalism, policy advocacy, and technology among others.
KKR’s Global Impact Fund exceeds US$1 billion fundraising goal. The global investment firm, which manages assets worth US$148 billion, announced the Global Impact Fund as its first impact-focused fund in 2018. This new fund employs UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide investment decisions. The actual “investment playbook,” concerning the type, duration, and commitment to value-add, however, remains the same. The Global Impact Fund joins the likes of TPG’s US$2 billion Rise Fund, the world’s largest impact investing pool, and similar funds from Bain Capital and Partners Group. Co-head of KKR Global Impact, Ken Mehlman, states that the fund will allow KKR to access investment opportunities that previously had to be let go due to their size; the new fund will prioritize deals worth US$100 million or below. The fund has already deployed two investments: US$32.4 million in Singapore-based energy-saving company Barghest Building Performance, and about US$510 million in Indian environmental management company, Ramky Enviro Engineers. The latter investment is understood to have been funded in part from the Global Impact Fund and KKR’s 2017 Asian Fund III worth US$9.3 billion.
Korea’s SK Group developing blockchain donation platform. The donation platform will enable direct, low-cost, and peer-to-peer foreign currency donations that will be settled immediately without requiring any input from external or intermediary institutions. Cross-border money transfers are subject to various fees if sent through traditional intermediaries, and blockchain technology has emerged as a promising solution to the problem. This application of the technology, however, is yet to achieve mainstream approval despite its merits. While no firm deadline has been quoted for the project, SK Group has committed that the platform will be open sourced. Interested developers will be able to replicate the platform and alter parameters such as transaction terms. Donations on the platform will be settled in Korean won through the Social Value Coin (SVC), which will be pegged to the won in a 1:1 ratio. Another token, Social Value Power (SVP), will be distributed as reward to donors at the ratio 1:1000 SVCs (or Korean won).