Beyond Bali – APPC’s developing agenda

Birger Stamperdahl

When the Governing Council of the Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium (APPC) met the day after the conference in Bali in July, they faced a formidable task: looking at APPC’s future programme directions in the light of the wealth of suggestions that came out of the conference. Most of these fell within existing programme areas, but three new issues were identified as deserving particular attention: learning from the fundraising success of religious organizations, non-profit governance and diaspora philanthropy.

Until now APPC has worked in four main areas:
Improving the legal and regulatory framework The centrepiece of APPC’s work in this area was the 1999 publication of Philanthropy and Law in Asia, which provided the first baseline information on non-profit law in ten Asia Pacific societies.[1] APPC is about to start a similar effort covering five countries in South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Increasing public awareness The key activity here has been sponsoring the online Asia Pacific Philanthropy Information Network (APPIN), accessible at APPIN provides a wide range of information on the state of philanthropy and civil society in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Facilitating resource mobilization See p28 on Investing in Ourselves: Giving and fund raising in Asia, APPC’s study of innovative fundraising strategies successfully employed by Asian NGOs.

Capacity-building for non-profits and companies to help practitioners develop awareness and increase their skills in implementing philanthropic programmes.

An agenda for APPC

The majority of the very large number of recommendations offered by conference participants (see conference report in Alliance, vol 6, no 3, September 2001) fell within these current programme areas. Three issues that are new to APPC’s agenda did also emerge, however, and will be taken up in APPC’s workplan beginning next year.

What can we learn from the success of religious organizations in fundraising from the general public? APPC household surveys in India, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand show – and participants at the Bali meeting also noted – that religious organizations across Asia raise much larger amounts in charitable donations than development-oriented NGOs. Why is this? It may be that these are simply separate charitable ‘markets’, but it may also be the case that development NGOs would benefit from focusing more attention on public education and on addressing issues of accountability, transparency and effective leadership to make themselves more attractive to relatively generous local communities that give to others but not to them. This and the diaspora philanthropy issue clearly fall within the ‘facilitating resource mobilization’ programme but they are aspects that have not yet been covered.

What role might Asian immigrant populations living abroad potentially play as sources of support for philanthropic endeavours in Asia – the ‘diaspora philanthropy’ issue. Various initiatives have recently been launched to raise funds from diaspora populations living in Europe and the US. These have raised many new issues, including: the absence of uniform standards of certification for organizations located in countries that are attempting to solicit funds in the US; the absence of uniform standards of due diligence required to be applied to potential grantees in Asia; the lack of oversight mechanisms to govern international financial transactions; and the absence of agreed standards for donor reporting and stewardship.

How can the internal governance of philanthropic organizations and other non-profits in Asia be improved? Governance issues also received some attention from conference participants: to whom are non-profits accountable? How do they manage funds raised from the public and from donor organizations? How do they make decisions? There are wide variations in non-profit governance practices across Asia, and the widely touted governance models drawn from the US may not be appropriate in the varied cultural and political contexts of the region. Many Asian governments exercise a high degree of direct oversight of non-profit organizations, thereby limiting the role and autonomy of governing boards. In addition, many Asian NGOs are still led by their charismatic founders, who don’t particularly welcome strong governing boards either. As non-profit leadership in Asia evolves beyond the first generation and becomes more institutionalized, it is likely that governing bodies will become relatively more influential in selecting executive leaders and exercising supervision. What is clear is that the character and quality of internal governance become increasingly important as increased public attention is focused on non-profits.

APPC believes that all three of these ‘new’ issues would benefit from increased comparative research, documentation of best practices, policy dialogue and public discussion. APPC will also continue to explore ways to promote corporate engagement in Asia. This is an area in which APPC has so far made only a modest contribution and is still very much trying to identify its comparative advantage and niche. With the recent addition of two corporate CEOs to the Governing Council, we hope to identify over the coming year areas in which we can make a distinct contribution.

Organizational challenges facing APPC

Discussion of APPC’s future programme directions cannot be separated from discussion of what sort of organization APPC itself is and how it is governed. APPC faces a number of organizational challenges as it moves forward. Its own internal governance was improved by expanding what is now called the Governing Council from its original six members to 18, representing 13 countries and territories. The Council is self-selected and self-perpetuating, which means that it is not formally accountable to any other body. The Council is keenly aware of the need to develop more regular and sustained links to philanthropic discussions, activities and perhaps organizations at the country level across Asia. These linkages may eventually result in new mechanisms for the selection and rotation of Governing Council members.

The nature of APPC’s internal governance is directly related to its origin as an informal network of researchers and practitioners committed to strengthening indigenous philanthropy in Asia. APPC is not an incorporated entity. The Asia Foundation currently serves as its financial agent and is legally accountable for the receipt and management of funds raised on its behalf. As APPC explores the feasibility of legal incorporation in Asia, it will need to assess whether its mandate and programmes are sufficiently distinct from those of other regional entities to warrant separate incorporation and whether it can add real value to country-level activities. Issues of internal governance and financial sustainability will also need to be very closely examined.
1 A limited number of bound copies are available without charge from The Asia Foundation. In addition, the entire book, or individual chapters, can be downloaded without charge from the APPC website at For a brief summary of the main findings, see Barnett F Baron, ‘The role of civil society in promoting democracy in East Asia’, International Journal of Nonprofit Law, accessible at

Barnett Baron is Vice Chair, APPC, and Executive Vice President of the Asia Foundation. He can be contacted by email at

What is APPC?
Launched in December 1994, APPC is an informal network of grantmaking philanthropic institutions and organizations that support the development of indigenous philanthropy in Asia. Its mission is to increase the quality and quantity of philanthropy within and to Asia by strengthening the institutional infrastructure and improving the operating environment for philanthropy and the non-profit sector. APPC is not an implementing organization but serves primarily as a catalyst, convener and network builder.

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