Complex issues need collective action

Complex issues need collective action

Dear Friends,

Greetings to all from APC!

I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has also been a period of memory loss for me. I have become more forgetful about things. People have written about how this could have come from a lack of cues from the external environment, when each day we are often confined to one room at home and staring at our computer screen. Even when we return to the office, we often have meetings on Zoom, so that colleagues at home are included. And whereas I used to travel every other week and have events in different cities, the look and feel of each online event is the same, resulting in fewer distinctive memories that are properly time-stamped.

So when I am able to attend events in-person, I look forward to them in ways I never used to. Last November, we had our annual meeting as a hybrid event, comprising just under 50 meeting in-person and the rest online. The energy in the room was palpable. People greeted one another like long-lost friends, albeit still safely distanced. Looking forward, we are getting excited about finally using our under-spent travel budget, as the region around us finally opens up.

Does this mean that I don’t like remote work, or the hybrid format? Absolutely not. I just finished a book, “Remote Work Revolution,” by Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Professor who cited numerous studies showing that remote work generally increases productivity. In fact, I would like to thank COVID-19 for forcing us at APC to reinvent ourselves.

At APC, our online events are attended now by more people than they ever were in-person. We have begun the year with roundtables on, rather than in, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Neither speaker nor participant is constrained by the geography he or she is in, and significantly less constrained by time.

I believe that collaboration has also been facilitated by the pandemic. How so? I think people can now see a greater urgency to tackle bigger issues, like the climate crisis. How big issues cannot be tackled properly alone, and how going online can help us bring together partners more quickly and forge quicker and stronger partnerships across borders. Hence, I am thrilled that we officially launched APC’s Climate Collective—completely conceived, gestated and given birth during the COVID period—made up of nine APC members and friends coming together to intentionally exchange, learn, and coordinate action.

Climate change is probably one of our most complex challenges today. At our launch, the theme of intersectionality and how everything is connected was central. APC members, not just Climate Collective members, explored ways that climate is a horizontal, requiring us to climate-proof all of our work, regardless of what primary SDG we focus on. Complex issues like climate also cut across all strata of society, which makes it imperative for all of us to find ways to work at the intersections—to either adapt from each other’s work, or to innovate.

However, climate change is not the only focus issue that lends itself to examining intersections. For every single issue area, we can and must distil the global principles, learn from regional experiences, and adapt and grow local solutions. We can even learn across sectors, and often find new possibilities at the crossroads of two different paths.

The year ahead

Looking ahead, exploring cross-border connections would remain a key theme as we welcome a vigorous year ahead for APC. First, we will be launching some of our cross-cutting ecosystem projects. This includes a public version of the APC Philanthropy Guide Series, which we published for our members in 2021. We will also be launching our Future of Asian Philanthropy scenarios research, which is an exercise to envisage what philanthropy in Asia could look like in 2050, with the objective of identifying potential blindspots and inspiring a collective aspiration of what philanthropy can be. 

Secondly, we continue to forge ahead with on-going projects, including one on facilitating the ethical migration of labour into Singapore, as well as our Assisted Living Facility project in Singapore, which one of our members has newly joined in because he would like to learn and bring the model to his country of origin.

Thirdly, APC itself is forming networks with networks. We are helping to set up new in-country networks in a few key countries, while at the same time, forging new ties with established global networks.

What is clear is that collaboration remains a more critical theme today. As I write, the Russia-Ukraine war is raging. My memory loss would certainly have forgotten lunchtime of 24 Feb 2022, had I not been alerted to this tragedy. Real leadership is in short supply globally, and has been for some time, despite or perhaps because the problems around us are getting graver. Hence, I have been pondering this question: what might philanthropy look like, if it can save the world? Send me your thoughts!

Laurence Lien
28 Feb 2022