Role of philanthropy in the post-Covid era: Busting Boundaries to be Change Agents

Laurence Lien (Asia Philanthropy Circle)

Five years ago, when APC was first established, we began with a shared aspiration – that we need change agents to address Asia’s social challenges and that strategic and engaged philanthropists can be them.

Today amidst the greatest health and humanitarian challenge of our generation, the urgency for philanthropists to step up is even more pressing.

The study of boundaries is a critical one today. Problems are deeply interrelated. For example, Covid-19, a zoonotic disease, is a virus that jumped the boundary from nonhuman to human. And the impact of the disease spread has gone well beyond what is health-related, and has exposed and amplified the social inequities in the world.

Even before the Covid crisis, we have seen breakdowns resulting from boundaries not being sufficiently protected. This ranged from the #MeToo movement, triggered by personal boundaries being violated, to the globalisation crisis which germinated from the threats to national sovereignty and self-sufficiency. The climate emergency that we face is itself a result of humans failing in this age of Anthropocene to stay within the zone of stability and sustainability.

These crises are well-known. What is less understood though is the difficult work that lays ahead to address these challenges. More specifically, what is the role of philanthropists in dealing with problems that governments and businesses, with their infinitely vaster resources, cannot solve?

The road ahead is not problem solving that is more of the same. The same is everyone working in silos, when we need a united offensive. The same is sticking to single disciplines, when we need a multi-sectoral approach. And the same would be on fixing things through the tried and tested, when we need the messiness of systems transformation and leadership.

I would posit then that the heart of driving change lies in philanthropists busting boundaries in three ways: in our heads, in our hearts and in our hands.

In our heads, we need fresh ideas and new innovations. New insights often come from wading out to the edge of the boundary, often when it intersects with another, and marrying disconnected thoughts. Novel innovations often come from experimenting with these possibilities, and taking an evidence-based approach to grasp, understand and capture what works and what does not work.

Philanthropy, through offering patient, long-term capital then supports the unproven, early- stage high-risk/high-rewards interventions and organisations that other funders, e.g. government agencies, may struggle to fund.

In our hearts, we need deep compassion and true empathy. Compassion is critical to show that there is mutual care and support and to grow social capital that bridges heterogeneous groups, cutting across social cleavages in this divided world. Empathy goes even further: it helps one transcend boundaries to truly be in someone else’s shoes. With empathy, we can not only design better interventions, but also find the right partners and beneficiaries.

Philanthropy must go beyond being instrumental and transactional. It is about demonstrating care, in a reciprocal, social relationship. When it is seen as two-way, it creates social bonds and trust that in turn result in a stronger social fabric, which is the basis for collaboration and the joint creation of economic value.

Last but not least, through our hands, we need to get involved in the untidy action of crossing and busting boundaries, in order to deliver breakthroughs and systems change. The most creative ideas with the deepest passion would get nowhere if the groups we need to work with are maladaptive and fight back when challenged.

Philanthropy can identify and nurture systems leadership and entrepreneurship, mobilising coalitions of like-minded people who can continually reach out to and convert those who are on the “other side”. Sometimes this requires provoking the status quo, and sometimes it is about evoking a compelling shared vision.

Be it working with the head, heart or hands, the labour is tough. Philanthropists and impact sector leaders need to open up our individual boundaries to cooperate with others to address these complex, interdependent challenges.

So what has APC’s experience been these five years? On the positive side, more philanthropists than I expected are strategic; by which I mean they desire social impact as a primary goal. On the more challenging side, most want to pursue this on their own. Even when they want collaboration, the execution of joint action is tricky. We often have different conceptions of the pathway to impact, and there is no google map equivalent that can help find us a way there.

Overall, I would probably give the five-year scorecard an A-. While we would have liked to have had more members, the ones we have – 46 as I write this – have the right balance of head, heart and hands. They are also highly engaged, and we are able to have excellent programming, with deep learning and conversations.

We currently have 12 collaborative projects and funds catalysed by APC. Members do not just fund these projects, but also contribute their time and expertise. Many of these are greenfield projects, as we try to generate breakthroughs. And more than the direct impact, is the indirect one of demonstrating the benefits of working together.

Moving forward, we will continue to shape the future of Asian philanthropy, making strategic giving an ingrained value and making philanthropy more suited to our unique context. In doing this, we see each member as our ambassadors in philanthropy in their respective communities. And while we are strong in Southeast Asia, in the coming years, we will be expand our boundaries to include our friends from North and South Asia.

Ultimately, our goal is for local philanthropy to create disproportionate impact in solving problems in Asia. The journey is demanding, but we are full of hope, and invite other philanthropists working in Asia to join hands with us.

This excerpt has been published with the permission of APC. Their 2019/2020 Annual Report can be accessed here.

2021: Reflections and Outlook

13 January 2021

We welcome 2021 with hope, not only for successful vaccination programs, but also for a year of recovery and rebuilding.

The social sector—nonprofits, social enterprises, and private and corporate philanthropists—were critical partners as economies across Asia tried to contain the fallout from a multi-faceted crisis in 2020. In addition to the pandemic, Asia was hit with some of the worst natural disasters to date and saw waves of civil unrest from Hong Kong to Thailand to India. We summarize this response below. In a forthcoming paper, we will explore the impact Covid-19 had on social delivery organizations and how they responded. Meanwhile, we wanted to bring you a summary of the unprecedented corporate response to meet the urgent needs of society that the pandemic precipitated.

 

After the initial coronavirus outbreak in China, there was an immediate response from Chinese philanthropists and tech giants. Jack Ma was one of the first movers with a US$14.4 million donation for vaccine development, alongside donations from Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, Huawei, and ByteDance. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also an early mover, escalating its contributions as the year went on.

As Covid spread to other countries in early March, donations and support ramped up across the region. Familiar names in philanthropy (Li Ka Shing, Ratan Tata and Azim Premji, to name a few) donated large sums. Some unfamiliar names cropped up, such as Kakao founder Kim Beom-su. And other Asian philanthropists began to send aid to the US and Europe as needs shifted.

When the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March 2020, CSR quickly took new shape, and some companies set up their own Covid-19 relief funds, including Alibaba (US$144 million), Tencent (US$100 million), Sony (US$100 million), Bajaj Group (US$14 million), and Godrej Group (US$7 million).

A number of ‘Prime Minister Relief Funds’ or similar taskforces were set up—and in turn, companies were encouraged to donate to them. This includes India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs announced that the spending of CSR funds towards Covid-19 initiatives would be counted as CSR activity under the Companies Act.

Donations were also channeled to public health research and vaccine development. China Vanke Co donated US$748 million to Tsinghua University to establish the Vanke School of Public Health. Uniqlo’s Tadashi Yanai donated US$93 million to Kyoto University for vaccine research.

Companies also took a “not business as usual” approach by pivoting their production lines or launching new operations to make medical supplies. This includes Japanese companies Sony, Toyota, Suntory, Mitsubishi Motors, Fast Retailing, and Shiseido, as well as Vingroup (Vietnam), Indorama Ventures (Thailand), Reliance (India), and New World Development (Hong Kong). Other companies donated their own F&B products to assuage food insecurity.

Major banks offered financial relief measures. Owners of major malls in the Philippines and Thailand offered rent relief for their tenants. Some companies diverted their advertising budgets for relief efforts or awareness-raising campaigns.

As the pandemic upended education globally, businesses stepped in to help bridge the digital divide. Companies provided digital tools (i.e., mobile phones and software), improved internet access for students, and offered digital literacy training. Mi India donated smartphones to students in under-resourced communities through Teach for India. PLDT teamed up with schools, Microsoft, and Google to make digital solutions more accessible for the education sector in the Philippines. Tencent leveraged their online learning platform to make online teaching accessible for 20 million students within a matter of days.

While these are just a few examples of how corporates rose to the occasion in 2020, it also underscores the need for even greater private social investment this year. But what might 2021 look like?

1.    Despite exacerbated CSR budgets, there will be growing political and social pressure on corporates to give more and do more.

2.    During Covid, many corporates leveraged the reach of and trust in nonprofits to distribute resources to those most in need. We expect this to continue as the social sector is well positioned to help maximize the reach and impact of CSR.

3.    Public-private partnerships (PPPs) will continue to grow in number and importance as economies focus on vaccine distribution and rebuilding. We also expect there to be an uptick in what we call “PPPs for social good” as the pandemic has exacerbated inequities in income, education, and other areas.

With increased corporate support in 2020, we are cautiously optimistic that they will continue to play a more active role alongside government and the social sector. As we monitor these developments, we will keep you apprised through our upcoming newsletters and research reports.

Best wishes for the year ahead!

The CAPS Team

The Ease of Doing Good in India

Times of India

Dr. Ruth Shapiro, Co-founder and CEO of CAPS and Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed, Director of Research at CAPS, discuss India’s performance in the Doing Good Index 2020, areas of improvement and the steps that can be taken to create an environment that drives capital into the social sector. Read the article here.

Who’s Doing Good

08 December 2020 - 22 December 2020

THE THINKERS

Asia-Pacific governments must act now to unlock impact investment, urge GSG and UNESCAP. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG) recently published their new report, “Towards an Enabling Policy Environment for Impact Investment in Asia and the Pacific.” The report examined impact investment ecosystems in 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, from those with advanced impact investment markets such as India and Singapore to those with nascent ones such as Brunei, Laos and Myanmar. The research highlighted best practices and concrete actions that governments can take to leverage the potential of impact investment and drive a sustainable economic recovery.

CUHK Business School research shows CSR activities by a corporate parent can help subsidiaries build trust in overseas markets. Covid-19 has accelerated the trend of companies being assessed on their social responsibility performance, but this can be complicated for multinational organizations operating in different countries and across diverse communities. In light of this, new research from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School has found that CSR activities conducted by the parent organization of a multinational company can positively influence the ability of overseas subsidiaries to operate in their respective markets. The study, titled, “Parent Firm Corporate Social Responsibility and Overseas Subsidiary Performance: A Signaling Perspective,” cross-referenced and analyzed the financial information, foreign domestic investment and CSR activities of 196 Japanese firms between 2002 and 2014. The research also looks into other factors, such as press freedom, that can impact the “halo” effect of the parent company’s CSR reputation.

THE BUSINESSES

Anil Agarwal Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partner to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition in India. Anil Agarwal Foundation has been leading Project Nand Ghar, an initiative aimed at transforming the Anganwadi ecosystem (rural, community-based mother and childcare centers) in India. The project focuses on modernizing infrastructure and enhancing services to eradicate child malnutrition, provide interactive education, enhance access to quality healthcare and empower women through skills development. The Gates Foundation has joined as a partner to help fund the transformation of the Anganwadi ecosystem and strengthen nutrition interventions in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Together, both foundations aim to support India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) as it works to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2 by 2030.

Prudence Foundation launches second edition of SAFE STEPS D-Tech Awards to find life-saving technologies for disaster resilience. Prudence Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Prudential in Asia and Africa, launched the second edition if its D-Tech Awards, which fund and scale technology solutions related to natural disasters. The awards are part of SAFE STEPS, a multi-platform awareness program developed by Prudence Foundation and its partners to provide life-saving information about natural disaster events, road safety and first aid. The award was created out of the belief that technology innovation can play a more significant role in improving disaster recovery and resilience. Applicants can win grants from a pool of US$200,000 to support the implementation and scaling of their D-Tech solutions. Semi-finalists and finalists gain access to expert coaching, pitching and networking opportunities with humanitarian representatives, venture capital fund managers and fellow tech entrepreneurs.

Chen Zhi and Prince Holding Group step up CSR initiatives. Prince Holding Group (PHG), one of the largest conglomerates in Cambodia, has made several large-scale donations to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic and assist flood victims. Earlier this year, PHG and its chairman Chen Zhi donated US$500,000 and provided supplies worth over US$600,000. Earlier this month, the Group and its chairman jointly donated US$3 million to Prime Minister Hun Sen to help Cambodia purchase 1 million Covid-19 vaccines. The Group also provided flood relief support, such as food and drinking water, and Chen Zhi personally donated US$500,00 to help flood-hit victims in early October.

THE INNOVATORS

Impact Investment Exchange launches US$27 million bond to help women in Asia rebuild livelihoods post-Covid. Singapore-based Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) has issued its US$27 million Women’s Livelihood Bond 3 (WLB3). This is the third of its US$150 million Women’s Livelihood Bond (WLB) series, which aims to create sustainable livelihoods for more than 3 million women in developing countries. WLB3 will support enterprises in India, Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Philippines that are directly supporting women to respond to or recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. The total bond size includes a US$24.7 million issuance and US$3 million subordinated debt provided by IIX’s newly launched Women’s Catalyst Fund as first-loss capital.

Sehat Kahani’s tele-ICU software connects 45 ICUs to critical care doctors in 45 days across Pakistan. The Pakistani health-tech social enterprise has successfully implemented its tele-ICU software in 45 out of 60 target ICUs thus far, as well as trained 800 doctors on critical care and the usage of the software. The tele-ICU platform allows doctors in intensive care units (ICUs) and high dependency units (HDUs) to connect to critical care specialists in real time, record patient information and conduct video consultations. The Tele-ICU Project was initiated with support from UN agencies, the Health Services Academy, the Ministry of Health and the Government of Balochistan. Sehat Kahani also recently partnered with the Ministry of Narcotics Control to launch a telemedicine helpline for youth in Pakistan. The helpline aims to support individuals who suffer from addiction by connecting them to counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

IN OTHER NEWS…

Nepal’s Social Welfare Council’s role in partner organization selection may invite conflict of interest, international organizations say. In Nepal, international NGOs (INGOs) must select a local nonprofit in order to register in the country. While the Social Welfare Council has traditionally tried to avoid conflict of interest by allowing a third party to evaluate the works of INGOs, its new directive has made it mandatory for them to involve the council when selecting their local partners. Representatives of INGOs have expressed concern, saying that the involvement of council officials could influence the selection of local partners and goes against its own policy that has sought to mitigate conflict of interest.

We’d also like to hear from you. How is your organization responding to Covid-19? Email us your stories at research@caps.org.

The Ease of Doing Good in India

India Development Review

Dr. Ruth Shapiro, Co-founder and CEO of CAPS and Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed, Director of Research at CAPS, discuss India’s performance in the Doing Good Index 2020, areas of improvement and the steps that can be taken to create an environment that drives capital into the social sector. Read the article here.

Who’s Doing Good

24 November 2020 - 07 December 2020

THE GIVERS

National Legacy Giving initiative to inspire philanthropic culture in Singapore. According to a Social Pulse Survey, there is a disconnect between awareness and action when it comes to legacy giving in Singapore. While the majority of respondents (83%) are aware of legacy giving, only 33% are considering it, and only 3% would follow through in planning such a bequest. In an effort to make legacy giving more common, The Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) has launched a three-year national legacy giving initiative, titled, “A Greater Gift”. The initiative will work in partnership with wealth advisors and ambassadors—individuals who share why they chose to pursue legacy giving—to facilitate more awareness and planning. CFS will also support charities, especially smaller ones, which may not be equipped to engage legacy donors.

THE NONPROFITS

How a Bengaluru NGO raised Rs220 crore for fight against coronavirus. The India COVID Response Fund, a collective crowdfunding campaign by nonprofit GiveIndia has raised over Rs220 crore (approximately US$30 million) since its launch in March this year. The fund received early support from well-known foundations, high-net-worth individuals, and businesses, which helped spur further giving from individuals around the world. So far the fund has disbursed Rs190 crore (approximately US$26 million) in cash relief, humanitarian aid, and healthcare support to frontline workers through its network of verified nonprofits.

THE BUSINESSES

Businesses continue providing relief aid in the wake of Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Ulysses. The Philippines’ leading companies, including Ayala GroupSM Malls, and MVP Group, have ramped up relief efforts to help communities affected by recent super typhoons. To encourage more cash aid from abroad, the remittance service unit of the Philippines’ BDO Unibank is waving charges on typhoon donations from overseas Filipinos until December 31. The bank’s philanthropic arm, the BDO Foundation, has also distributed relief packs containing food, rice, and drinking water to more than 260,000 families in affected cities and municipalities. Foreign companies are also stepping up: fashion giant H&M donated US$200,000 to the Red Cross to meet the needs of 260,000 people affected in Vietnam and the Philippines. Japanese retailer Uniqlo donated US$1 million in aid through the SM Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Philippines’ SM Group.

DBS steps up support for social enterprises with a record SG$9 million (approximately US$6.8 million) in grants and loans this year. DBS Bank has increased its financial support to help social enterprises cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic through two new initiatives this year: the DBS Foundation Business Transformation and Improvement Grant and the DBS Foundation Social Impact Prize. The DBS Foundation has also continued its flagship DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Grant Program. Last week the foundation announced that SG$1.4 million (approximately US$1 million) has been awarded to 13 social enterprises in its 2020 cohort.

PwC India to upskill 300 million young people in India over the next 10 years. PwC India announced the launch of its new collaborative initiative aimed at bridging the digital gap and upskilling 300 million young people in India over the next 10 years. This is part of PwC’s global collaboration with UNICEF and Generational Unlimited, a multi-sector partnership aimed at helping 1.8 billion young people transition from school to work by 2030. The program will act as a catalyst by working with a range of public and private stakeholders to create equitable opportunities for young people through enhanced employability and earnings potential. PwC India will provide broad support across three areas: Economic Opportunities and Employability, 21st Century Skilling and Learning, and Youth Engagement.

THE INNOVATORS

BillionBricks: the Singapore social enterprise tackling homelessness by building solar homes in the Philippines. Social enterprise BillionBricks is known for its pioneering invention, the WeatherHYDE emergency tent, which has been distributed around the world. However, in recognizing that this tent model was only an interim housing solution, the founders developed the BillionBricks Home: the world’s first self-financing, carbon-negative solar home solution. Each BillionBricks Home is equipped with solar panels that produce four times more energy than what is consumed, allowing families to sell unused energy to the grid and generate additional income. Prototypes for the BillionBricks Home have already been built in India and the Philippines, and in 2022 the first community of 500 solar homes will be built in the Philippines. If this model succeeds, BillionBricks plans to scale its solar-powered community globally by sharing its self-sustaining model as a playbook for organizations around the world to replicate.

Indonesians take local approach to massive problem of food waste. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 Food Sustainability Index, Indonesia ranked 53rd out of 67 countries on food loss and waste. This Nikkei Asia article highlights Indonesian social sector organizations working to bridge the gap between food wastage and food insecurity. For instance, Garda Pangan redistributed discarded food from restaurants, local farmers, and business partners to provide 144,000 meals. Volunteer-led Foodbank of Indonesia has collected 1,200 tons of food this year alone that would have otherwise been wasted. While there is still a lack of awareness around food loss and waste in Indonesia, this article highlights the importance of social sector organizations in bringing attention to the issue and meeting immediate nutritional needs.

THE VOLUNTEERS

HealthServe’s Goh Wei-Leong shares how his nonprofit pivoted during Covid-19. As a medical doctor, Goh Wei-Leong co-founded the nonprofit HealthServe to provide marginalized migrant workers in Singapore with healthcare, counseling and social assistance. When Singapore’s Covid-19 outbreak led to the overnight loss of 95% of its medical volunteers, HealthServe had to pivot. The nonprofit rapidly launched teleconsultation services to make up for the shortfall and escalated the roll-out of mental wellness initiatives such as a virtual tele-counseling clinic and group intervention sessions. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, volunteers still remained engaged digitally and Goh credits the organization’s success to its volunteers: “The pandemic brought out the best among our volunteers and it shows that in the midst of struggling, there is a ray of hope.”

We’d also like to hear from you. How is your organization responding to Covid-19? Email us your stories at research@caps.org

Impact Measurement and Management in India: A Position Paper

Impact Investors Council (IIC) & KPMG

India’s impact investing market is burgeoning, and impact measurement and management is becoming increasingly important in driving its progress. This report is an effort to capture the current state of industry-wide impact measurement and management in India. Based on surveys of 26 impact funds across the country, the report also provides a framework for evaluating measurement and management strategy at each stage of the investment lifecycle. Read it here.

China Social Enterprise and Social Investment Landscape Report 2019

Social Sciences Academic Press

This report, jointly launched by China Social Enterprise and Impact Investment Forum (CSEIF) and Narada Foundation, depicts the fast-growing social investment landscape in China. Findings are based on surveys and data collected on four key components of the ecosystem: social enterprises, social investors, supporting intermediaries, and enabling policies. The report discusses the challenges, opportunities and trends observed in this field. Read it here.

Chen Zhi and Prince Holding Group at Forefront of Cambodia Private Sector’s ESG Initiatives

Taiwan News

The notion of “doing good” in business is not new but has only recently risen up the corporate agenda in Cambodia. This support comes at an important time as the country’s civil society sector remains under-supported and foreign NGOs are expected to pull back funding and support as a result of Covid-19. Private sector enterprises and governmental units can step in and fill the gap. Read the article here.

What Life Will Look Like After Coronavirus

Tatler Malaysia

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything, accelerating the realization that the way we’ve lived for decades is unsustainable and unjust. The honorees on the Gen.T List 2020 are part of a community of young leaders carving out a better world post-pandemic.

CAPS’ Chief Executive Dr. Ruth Shapiro was on the panel of industry experts nominating and vetting candidates for the List. She shares her thoughts on the impact of the pandemic on the philanthropic and social sector. Read the full article here.