Reflecting on strides in the impact investment industry


Athena Lam


Between June 8–12, 2020, the AVPN hosted its annual conference virtually, allowing for an unprecedented number of participants to participate and access archived videos. This piece is a reflection on the evolution of the AVPN conference from a participant’s perspective.

Seven years ago, the AVPN was the first conference that connected me to other venture philanthropy organisations and the wider impact investment community in Asia and across the globe. In 2013, the conference felt an oasis meeting of like-minded people that lasted two days, after which we would all depart with renewed conviction about the common challenges we faced and inspiration on ideas on how to tackle them. Joining the AVPN conference in 2020 after years in adjacent industries, the growth of the impact investment industry has become apparent.

Initially, I decided to join because of the themed days that signaled that actors in the Asia Pacific region are aware of urgent issues impact-driven investment must address, such as climate action and gender. What struck me during the event was the diversified representation, that extended beyond family offices to international organisations, charities from regions beyond Asia, and government. The curation of the presenters lead to the nuanced and candid insights that emerged.

For example, while “The Role of Angel Investing in Asia” may seem to be a routine topic, a female-led discussion brought essential factors to the surface. The panel was moderated by Lily Yu from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation with speakers, with Jennifer Viloria from IISLA Ventures, Elaine Kim from CRIB Pte Ltd, and David Soukhasing from ANGIN, which allowed for public consideration of investment through a gendered lense and what often motivates women to become entrepreneurs. For example, the panelists noted that women are often driven to start businesses because they want to improve the lives of people and communities and need to be sustainable to continue to serve, making them good investment opportunities for angel investors. They also touched on persistent sexism by saying that some female founders would bring a man to investor pitches to be pragmatic and get in front of the right people. Their gendered experiences enriched the their observations and provided grounded advice, such as advising first-time angel investors to measure the ROI of their first investments by how much is learned rather than just the financial gain.

The high-level panel themes throughout the event allowed presenters to also bring different perspectives into a broader discussion. For example, Joanne Manda from the UNDP for moderated the panel “Country Deep Dives: Partnerships for Financing Sustainable Development in a Post COVID-19 Future” that facilitated country comparisons between the Philippines, India, and Indonesia, whether it was addressing disaster risk management, financing models, implementing renewable energy. Similarly, the “Public-Private Solutions Sandbox” panel touched on a broad range of challenges, such as the climate crisis and the blended financial solutions to meet them. Olaf Tchongrack from the UNHCR drew a direct connection between environmental degredation, increased refugee displacement, clean energy and operational cost reduction and risk mitigation. The panel helped audiences consider the institutional challenges that actors, from international organisations to Islamic finance organisations, face as well as their latest solutions to meet the evolving needs of communities they serve.

Finally, the conference also gave a spotlight to emerging topics that have huge impact potential, such as Islamic capital operates and is being used to achieve SDGs in Asia. By providing a deep dive into these topics, the conference helps the wider impact community understand Shariah-compliant instruments, as well as more deeply appreciate intersectionality for more inclusive investments.

I hope that the AVPN will continue to give a center stage for female leaders, curate diverse representation in panels, and elevate under-represented topics and groups to continue to be a platform of learning in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. The innovations and exchanges between impact-driven professionals from Asia’s diverse countries is one that the global community can now draw inspiration from.

Athena Lam is a B2B content strategist with experience in impact investing, tech, and business development for purpose-driven companies in East Asia and Berlin, Germany.

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