Taking leadership in Asia: Engaging with policy sector for impact


Patsian Low


Recently, there have been vocal challenges that question whether the impact capital movement has affected systemic changes. Critics have pointed out that majority of impact capital are busy with fragmented and independent programmes, leaving systemic conditions that perpetuate the very problems that they are trying to solve. Nonetheless, in Asia, we are seeing increasing interest in cross-sector funding structures like social/development impact bonds and collective impact models. This could mean more Asian funders working across the ecosystem to mobilise private, public and civil sectors for impact.

Addressing ecosystem challenges in Asia: Early steps
Social investors addressing systemic challenges have shown that the policy sector is a critical stakeholder to their work. For example, the Beijing Social Enterprise Development Promotion Association recently released guidelines on the certification of social enterprises, a crucial ecobuilding first step sending strong signals, attesting to the government’s buy-in into the social economy. Towards the East, the Seoul Metropolitan Government have adopted the non-traditional role of outcome payor in Seoul’s first smart Social Impact Bond (SIB), a type of Pay-For-Success model that utilises blockchain technology to securitize private investments. The increasing importance of impact measurement puts pressure on transparency, and the dizzying pace of change means traditional roles taken by private, civic and public sectors will change.

Establishing a framework to public-private partnerships
Seeing increasing interest from the policy sector to engage more with the impact capital community, AVPN’s Policy Framework provides insight into how policy can engage with the social economy. It goes beyond the traditional policy model of delivering changes in the legislative and policy environment. 7 examples of such forms were featured at the AVPN Conference 2018. With this active policy environment, there was a clear imperative that AVPN’s ecosystem and capacity building work will need to include high potential policy sector leaders.

Supporting policy sector to connect, learn, lead
AVPN’s Asia Policy Forum had taken the first step to be the region’s only convening platform for policymakers to connect with the social and impact investment community. It was a natural extension to work more deeply with a small group of high potential policy sector stakeholders to realise their potential for impact.  With the generous support of BMW Foundation, the Policy Leaders Lab was born – a Fellowship of individuals, representing different parts the sector, ready to learn from each other and engage a network of social investors to lead in their policy initiatives. The inaugural cohort of 13 Lab Fellows from across 10 markets represent ministries, quasi-government centers, civic groups, chambers of commerce and university think tanks – each playing an important role in advancing policy engagement with social and impact investment. Representing diverse sectors ranging from small and medium business development to national policy planning, there are great opportunities for AVPN to harness the financial, social and human capital that can support impactful policy initiatives. A recent example is the memorandum of understanding (English-translated) signed between Indonesia’s government agency to promote the creative economy, BEKRAF, and AVPN to mobilise social and impact investment to foster skills and livelihood opportunities in the creative economy.  Led by Lab Fellow Mr. Fadjar Hutomo, this an exciting beginning to more such initiatives in the region.

The future looks bright for cross-sector collaboration in Asia
It is difficult to not be energised when the drive for these promising initiatives are coming from the policy sector. The Lab Fellows have committed to a year-long programme with AVPN, which brings them deeply into AVPN’s membership network and our knowledge resources. Besides building a robust and resourceful policy community, building on the success of engaging a policy lens in the AVPN Conferences, we want to lend our expertise in convening multilateral stakeholders with policy practitioners to develop strategic cross-sector partnerships and enable Fellows to further their initiative in their respective markets.

To truly create greater impact in addressing systemic challenges, ecosystem builders like AVPN have taken the first step by putting cross-sector partnerships front and center. As Asia consistently brings new challenges and opportunities, let us journey with foundations, social and impact investors, businesses, social purpose organisations and policymakers to find new ways for connecting, learning and leadership for impact across the private, public and people sector. With this new paradigm of collaboration, it is only a matter of time before Asia’s systemic challenges are addressed.

Patsian Low is Asia Policy Director at AVPN

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