Last week’s Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) conference (20-24 April) was one of those rare events: where you meet friends (old and new), experts, and people who you have long wanted to connect with. An event that leaves you with a feeling of time well spent: you left with some great learning, too many business cards to follow up on, and a mind full of exciting future projects that emerged in discussions.
Not only were the panel sessions very insightful, but the level of conversations during networking sessions were exceptionally high. Unsurprisingly, some very familiar questions were debated: how do we identify and select ‘good’ social entrepreneurs? How can we get more investment-ready social ventures to our investment pipeline? How do we measure social value created? How can we co-invest more often? How do we create more collaboration?
This time, however, participants dared to present failures, innovations and new pilots, openly, addressing key issues and transforming shared learning into a shared reality.
We heard about:
- The new ASEAN impact challenge uniting partners to reach the most promising innovations
- A new platform connecting social investors with social entrepreneurs to facilitate partnerships
- The United Nations Social Enterprise Facility, a new social impact investment fund to support sustainable and inclusive social enterprises
- An amazing social enterprise challenging its assumptions and handing over activities to an unusual (for them) partner: a fully for-profit business, successfully taking over while retaining sustainable social impact
- Organizations such as Tote Board or DBS Foundation coming to the sector with strategic and pioneering programmes to support the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Asia
- Learning from failures, including the fact that we should spend far more time at the beginning of a partnership talking about what could go wrong
- Practitioners piloting tools and methods to solve common issues: centralized shared services for the social entrepreneurs supported (eg accounting, CRM), impact assessment delivered by third-party experts, and in-house leadership programmes to address the ‘talent gap’
One of the things I am personally most excited about is cross-network collaboration. I lead the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN), the international network for organizations supporting early-stage social entrepreneurs. With more than 50 members operating in over 50 countries, the network gathers a wealth of expertise around providing financial and non-financial support to help social entrepreneurs start, grow and become investment ready. As a network, we are providing essential support to capacity-building practitioners, building ‘the pipeline’ for members of complementary networks like AVPN, EVPA and ANDE.
Last week at AVPN, I co-hosted a session with Jenny Everett, deputy director of ANDE, where we presented ground-breaking research on support organizations and early-stage ventures. We also piloted an interactive mapping of GSEN and ANDE members and the services they provide to entrepreneurs. This map has ignited discussions around how our networks and members could better collaborate to strengthen the impact ecosystem in Asia.
This pilot and other conversations let me think that this is probably a great start for further collaborations with ANDE, but also with EVPA and AVPN, especially on data collection initiatives. Indeed, I believe that we need to connect the dots: aligning our respective metrics and data so that we can all build comparable evidence. This can help the emergence of stronger social impact ecosystems across the globe.
However, let’s not forget that this work needs much more support if we want to solve our world’s most pressing social issues.
Social entrepreneurs are bringing passion and entrepreneurial solutions to make the world a better place. Yet only a tiny fraction of early-stage social entrepreneurs get access to the support they need to scale and grow. There are US$46 billion in impact investing funds – an amount that is growing every year – are simply not enough strong, investment-ready social ventures in the pipeline.
If we want to see more scalable social ventures make it to the point of investment readiness, we need to unleash the potential of support organizations (such as GSEN members and others) working with social entrepreneurs at the early stages of their journey. We must support their work and help them attract new players to the impact ecosystem.
This is my call for action after the AVPN conference last week.
Krisztina Tora is international & GSEN manager, Global Social Entrepreneurship Network (GSEN).