Music is the space between the notes


Amidst the fever-pitch excitement and breakneck schedules at COP28, I found myself reflecting on the emerging—and much needed—voice of Asia on the green development challenge before us.

Across Asia, learning loss from the pandemic is stark reality. As is the hopelessness that refugees and migrants often face, or the calamitous effects of climate change that frontline communities face. Against the backdrop of on-going wars in Ukraine and Gaza, it is also clear that social and environmental well-being are necessary ingredients for peace and vice-versa. But I also find myself asking: what is Asia’s role in driving solutions to these challenges that transcend boundaries?

Staunch climate bulwark Saleemul Huq, who passed away in October, was a luminary for putting people at the centre of climate action. I first met him when we co-founded the Resilience Measurement Community of Practice seeded by The Rockefeller Foundation, back in 2014. He was at every single COP ever since it began; a fierce champion for his native Bangladesh, and for developing countries that bore the brunt of climate change. Adil Narjam, President of WWF and Dean Emeritus of the Pardee School, paid tribute stating, “No one did more to advance the world’s understanding of climate adaptation, or worked harder to highlight the urgency to bring to to the centre of global policy.”

The composer Debussy once said, “Music is the space between notes.” The COPs were Saleemul’s high notes; but it was the work in between the meetings that connected the notes and formed his lasting legacy. His work carries on in the people he influenced and inspired, continuing the fight for humanity’s survival in the face of rising temperatures.

Perhaps, that is one role philanthropy and the social impact community can aspire to: to create music, a lasting arc to be taken forward into the hearts and in the actions of others. That is why, APC’s new strategy asks us as a community to not only learn and work together, but also to partner and seek to win hearts and minds for a better Asia.

Some of our high notes at APC in 2023:

  • Launches of our Future of Asian Philanthropy, A Philanthropist’s Guide to Giving, and our Regional Early Childhood Development Landscape Research to enable philanthropists give better, more strategically, more impactfully.

  • The launch of Asia Community Foundation (ACF), our sister organisation, to enable donors to give safely, and easily, across borders.

  • Our biggest-ever annual members gathering venn, with profound insights from Acumen Founder Jacqueline Novogratz and Singapore President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who urged us to reflect on our journeys towards social impact and public good, and the evolving role of philanthropy in a fast-changing Asia.

    This is my first venn since joining APC. I personally experienced how our community maintains its graciousness and intimacy while opening our arms to embrace more passionate changemakers in the fold. Our conversations were enriched by opening the circle a tiny bit to let more light in!

  • In our growing portfolio of work focused on underserved communities, this year, the first Rohingya refugee-scholars arrived in the Philippines via a UNHCR complementary pathway programme to embark on tertiary education with resettlement possibilities.  This month, we are also thrilled to welcome to Singapore our first cohort of migrant workers in our pilot programme working to reduce migrant labour debt.

  • The Climate Collective draws to a successful close at the end of 2023 after a two-year journey, having mobilised over $8m in funding, with new collaborations in oceans, food and agriculture, and building resilient communities that we will continue to incubate at APC.

  • For the first time, APC joined a delegation of 10 members and staff at COP28, voicing the issues that matter to Asian communities with global partners and stakeholders.

I also find myself asking: what is Asia’s role in driving solutions to these challenges that transcend boundaries?

— Carol Tan

Along with the high notes in my first year at APC, I have seen firsthand that the APC community—both its members and the team—are the spaces that connect the notes. These high notes and the spaces between are captured in our FY22/23 Annual Report, which I invite you to read.

In our months ahead, we at APC look forward to further growing our portfolios in the four areas of climate, education, underserved communities, and healthy and harmonious societies. Through them, we aim to continue providing opportunities to build community, learn, and collaborate. We also look forward to launching an Education Circle, connecting climate and development efforts, reaching out to new generations of changemakers—because one is never too young to learn about strategic giving, and many more.

We look to continue diligently create spaces for you all—our community—so that our collective high notes may emerge and shine into one cohesive melody. We invite you to join us as we embark on this new phase of our work, as we collectively work to build a better Asia for all.

Carol Tan
18 December 2023