Takeaways from the Asia Philanthropy Congress: Innovation is driving development in Asia.

By Katie Carrasco

Nov 30, 2022

The Asia Philanthropy Congress, which took place last week in Tokyo, is a platform that seeks solutions to social problems through cross-sectoral collaboration. It also provides a venue for setting agendas to address Asia’s social issues as well as facilitating dialogue among philanthropists, foundations, and other stakeholders throughout Asia.

There were many interesting panels, speakers, and ideas. A notably strong theme throughout the conference was that of innovation’s pivotal role in driving development in Asia. Asia is home to two thirds of the world’s poorest people; and solutions to, for example, the climate crisis, require innovation due to the relatively new nature of the challenge, as do many problems that have existed around the world without yet being solved.

Attending the session ‘Future of Philanthropy and Social Innovation’ gave me the opportunity to reflect on the important space my organisation, the Global Innovation Fund, occupies in terms of our capacity to fund innovations and the benefits of our strong partnerships across the board.

In the session, panellist Paul Polman (Co-Author of ‘Net Positive’) reminded the room of why businesses should be interested in furthering philanthropic aims: if “society fails” the ”business fails and business bears the cost”. In short: the “cost of not acting is more than that of acting”.

However, he also outlined that philanthropy is “the type of capital that should be most risk-taking”, which is where our strength lies as an organisation. At GIF, we are able to source the most innovative ideas with the most potential, assess these, and then give them a chance to flourish. At this crucial early stage for a start-up, it is not always possible for government bodies or businesses to do this. We can take smart risks on exciting prospects. We look to apply our world-class impact metric to innovations with the potential to scale and support the world’s poorest to build resilience and adaptation.

Of course, we are much stronger due to our partnerships. Moderator Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, was absolutely right to stress the “importance of different actors coming together including government, civil society, profits and non-profits”. This is exactly what we do at GIF. To be an effective funder of innovation, strong partnerships between mission-aligned organisations that all share the same commitment to improving the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people is critical. At GIF, as well as our donors, we have excellent working relationships with colleagues from leading educational institutions, charities, think tanks and professional organisations, all of whom enrich our approach and empower us to be better investors in impact.

In order to achieve a market economy that generates both wealth and equitable social development in Asia, it is absolutely vital to highlight the role of innovation. The evidence has proven this. For example, between 2015 and 2020, just six of our early investments in innovative ventures generated more than $500 million in social benefits. Investing in innovation is inherently risky, yet the rewards can be huge. It is vital that we keep sharing evidence, data, and ideas and maintain strong partnerships. Congresses like the Asia Philanthropy Congress are extremely valuable to this aim.

This article was initially published by Alliance Magazine, available here.