Innovation in Asian Philanthropy Report Launched

By Dien Yuen

Innovation in Asian Philanthropy: Entrepreneurial Social Finance in Asia, a new study published by the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy at NUS Business School (Singapore), was launched on May 8th amongst a crowd of domestic and international audiences at the philanthropy seminar, Innovation or Imitation. Does It Matter?.

Authored by Dr. Rob John, the report looks at trends in Asian philanthropy and the vehicles that philanthropists are using. The study was done using a qualitative approach that included 40 interviews, resulting in a comprehensive report that also includes 27 organizational profiles and a philanthropic snapshot of each Asian country. Previous studies on the subject, such as the UBS-INSEAD study on family philanthropy in Asia, were also mentioned in the report.

In his remarks at the launch, Dr. John stated that philanthropy is at the crossing point between wealth creation and social and environmental challenges in Asia. Asian philanthropists can learn best practices from the West and then can choose to adapt, imitate, discard or innovate accordingly. Furthermore, donors were moving from funding the project costs usually associated with grants to investing in organizations (including the social entrepreneur). Asian philanthropists were also shifting their roles from donors to investors.

Many of the tools mentioned in the report (venture philanthropy, impact investing, giving circles, etc.) are not new. However, the approach used and the context is unique in Asia because the environment almost forces innovation as an obligatory practice. Thus, there has been a need for newly coined terms such as the “entrepreneurial philanthropist” – described as a high engagement, risk-taking investor (active and hands-on) who brings financial and non-financial added-value to a project or organization.

There is still much to do to improve the ecosystem in Asia for philanthropy and to allow the practice of philanthropy to flourish. Organizations like the AVPN (Asian Venture Philanthropy Network) aim to build a community where learning and exchanges can take place. However, we still need more support organizations and networks to stimulate the field.

Overall, I welcome any documented reports on the state of philanthropy in Asia and the tools used by Asian philanthropists. This study specifically provided concrete examples and matched tools and the organizations practicing them. In Asia, it seems very few organizations are properly recognized for their work. While these organizations are “linked to the people who founded or run them,” this report is one of the few that I have seen that provides a diverse sample of their stories.