AVPN 2014: It’s all about the ecosystem


Cliff Prior


Cliff Prior

Doug Miller opened the 2014 AVPN event with the mantra: reject can’t, embrace urgency, and drive system change. He hardly needed to. The energy, pace and system development shown by every participant was exceptional.

2013 was the first ever Asia venture philanthropy meeting, and was a powerful event. To move such a big step up in just one year was a triumph.

One session after another, speakers acknowledged that silo working, one social investor to one social entrepreneur, is just too slow and difficult to tackle the urgent challenges in Asia. Every discussion was about system working, capacity building, developing the intermediaries, recognising that different skills and capabilities need to be brought together to achieve impact at speed.

A particularly valuable event was led by Bethylle Missika of OECD’s netFWD. Chris West of the Shell Foundation described a 10 year journey from conventional grants to long term, engaged work with multiple types of support, which switched their success rate from 80% non sustainable to 80% sustainable. Stephen Nairne of Lundin Foundation described a broader ecosystem approach beyond individual investees, and the need to create a dividend for local people if any ecological interventions are to last. Harvey Koh introduced the thinking behind Monitor Inclusive Communities’ reports Blueprint to Scale and Beyond the Pioneers, seeing value chains, intermediaries, government engagement and systemic work as key to achievement. But he also noted the challenge in the foundation world – if there are so many contributions to success, it is much harder to claim the attribution which is so important to many boards.

This was a conference which championed support to intermediaries and to boost the core organisational capacity of social ventures. It was all about building the ecosystem, how we operate together to make it easier for us all to do better.

My reckoning is that it took the west 10 years to come around to that view. To see it recognised in just a year in the east is startling. But it’s not all rosy.

There are still far too few startups to feed through into any realistic pipeline for social investors and venture philanthropists. Some countries have strong cultural barriers to entrepreneurship let alone social entrepreneurship. Many have huge logistic and infrastructure challenges. Asia is more than half the world by population though nowhere near half the world by social economy. But that has to be followed by the word “yet”. At this pace, it won’t be long. There is a refreshing honesty and lack of competitive grandstanding, a hunger for what will work, and a willingness to get out there and try it for real.

Doug and the AVPN team deserve a lot of credit for this. They have created a culture which is can do, works at speed, and encourages purposeful collaboration. They got the right people in the room with the right attitude for success. Roll on 2015.

Cliff Prior, Chief Executive of UnLtd

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