EVPA founders interview: Doug Miller

 

Doug Miller

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After setting up the EVPA, Doug Miller went on to found sister organisation, AVPN, in Asia and has now set up International Venture Philanthropy Center (IVPC) to spread the concept of venture philanthropy to Africa and Latin America with Teams working presently in both continents.

Founding the EVPA was what I’d call a night jump – we knew we were dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in philanthropy, we felt that the venture capital/venture philanthropy model was a good one, but there was no written plan other than going out and engaging with foundations and other suppliers of financial, human and intellectual capital – corporates, professional service firms, high-net worth people –  but when we launched, we didn’t actually know how to get to where we wanted to be, we just knew what the mission was. For me, the whole goal was, and still is, the acceleration of the evolution of philanthropy. We were operating for probably two years before we stepped back and said ‘OK, now we know enough about the landscape, we’ll do a formal plan.’

I think the term VP had never been heard in Europe so our first mission was to explain what it meant. People now understand the term social investment as an advanced form of philanthropy and it involves not just giving your money away but investing it with specific outcomes in view. EVPA has helped to make the idea of VP and social investing a mainstream concept. Our goal was to have number one, more human, financial and intellectual capital going into the social sector,  number two, to have it deployed in a more effective manner and, number three, to have people collaborate. I think it’s good that the concept is more broadly accepted, but there’s still a long way to go to people adopting what I’d call best practice. One of the things I’m personally concerned about is that the people who have the money sometimes try to exert more influence than they should. The people who run the NPOs or the social enterprises are much closer to the market and they know more, so sometimes it’s better to listen than to talk.

The other thing EVPA should really be given credit for is that it was the foundation for what came after, with AVPN in Asia and now in Africa and Latin America. We’ve been able to use it as an example. Going to Asia with the EVPA directory and some of its publications, AVPN got to 100 members in Asia in 11 months. Without EVPA, it would have taken much longer.

In the 15 years VP and social investing have evolved a lot. Impact investment, which has developed in the meantime, has basically broadened the continuum of capital. We have a number of members who describe themselves as impact investors and we welcome that because we believe that a number of organisations that EVPA and AVPN support could benefit from impact investment. At the beginning of EVPA we specifically designed a ‘big tent’ because we want different perspectives around the table. When you’re trying seriously to address social issues, you can find synergies, not only with the money, but with the experience and the culture. It can be messy, but if people are really serious about creating social impact, they can tolerate it.

In 2015, EVPA launched a specific corporate development effort and through IVPC, we’ll be facilitating the corporate engagement initiative in Asia, then Africa and Latin America. I think corporations now better understand their role and the way they can both help society and themselves by engaging in efforts around philanthropy. My own personal goal is not only to drive ahead on the venture philanthropy front but to see – leaving aside terms like VP, social investing or impact investing – how we can get the whole infrastructure of dealing with the social sector to be more transparent and more effective. It is the methodology and good execution of the strategy by committed teams that will change lives— the names do not matter. We also need an enhanced sense of URGENCY.

This conference is probably one of the most exciting we’ve had. It’s great to see the energy, the number of people and the significance of the conversations, but it’s a journey on which, maximum, we’re ten per cent along the way and we’re chasing a set of problems that is moving faster than we are, so we need to up the pace.

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