Reflections for a Better Way Forward: 5 Lessons from venn 2022


As the world reopens this borders this year, we were finally able to host our first overseas venn in three years! For venn2022, we headed over the causeway to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Earlier (as far back as 2020), we had plans for an island getaway to Pangkor Laut, the family estate of APC member Kathleen Chew; however, a trip to KL in May 2022 and seeing impressive operations by different organisations on the ground changed our minds, as we thought members would learn far more seeing things up close than from a video screen.

In November, we welcomed some 50 APC members and guests from across Asia to venn reconnect, learn about each other’s initiatives and explore new opportunities for collaboration, and visit organisations in KL doing incredible work with marginalised communities—such as refugees and members of the B40 community.

Building stronger societies

This year’s theme Rebuild, Reset, Regenerate: Navigating New Frontiers for Asian Philanthropy was meant to encourage members to reflect on their giving emerging from the pandemic, and to challenge their ways of thinking to find new ways to create impact. On the other hand, building strong, cohesive societies in this age of disunity and misinformation was a strong flavour throughout venn this year.

We kicked off venn2022 with a site visit to Dignity for Children Foundation, a social enterprise empowering refugees and underprivileged youth through holistic and quality education, vocational training, and transformational enterprises. APC members were able to interact with founders Rev Elisha Satvinder and Petrina Shee and meet many of Dignity’s students, teachers, and staff, and learn more about the sobering realities of the stateless in Malaysia and the different hardships faced by marginalised groups. Dignity’s successful innovative enterprise-education model speaks for itself—there is currently a waiting list of over 2,000 students hoping to get into Dignity’s programme.

Similarly, members also heard from Mr Pasupathi Sithaparam and Devasharma Gangadaran from MySkills Foundation at the welcome dinner at APC members Shanthi and Brahmal’s residence, who also work to provide quality, holistic education for marginalised groups. Specifically, MySkills works with at-risk youth who have been rejected by traditional educational institutions, with a campus outside the city serving as a safe space for youths to learn.

Members also enjoyed a special screening of Inspiring Asia, a video documentary series headed by APC member Lionel Li featuring short films that highlight the different initiatives supported by several APC members.

Panellists Steve Chao, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Mr Teng Ngiek Lian and moderator Dato’ Kathleen Chew discuss how philanthropy can play a role in building social cohesion in Asia

Members carried the same enthusiasm to the next day with a full day of panels and discussions. We heard an intense discussion on how philanthropy can help build social cohesion and bridge fault lines with Marina Mahathir, gender rights activist and daughter of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, Steve Chao, Emmy-nominated filmmaker and former war correspondent, and APC member Teng Ngiek Lian from the Silent Foundation.

The first-ever Unconference

Many members have told us at APC that they wanted to have more unstructured time to learn more about each other. So, this year’s venn included the first-ever Unconference session, where members got to pitch their own ideas for sessions (with great topics from Next Gen dynamics to #LeopardTinder, aside from the winning entries below) and determined the agenda by voting for their favourite topics:

  • Anita Fam shared about her vision for an Integrated Wellness Centre for Youth to assist young people seeking mental health support
  • Christopher Franck discussed how members can collaborate better at APC
  • Lam Nguyen-Phuong advocated for inner change and meditation as an impact tool
  • Nadeem Naqvi (Pakistan) shared about Habib’s University’s challenges and opportunities for regional collaboration
  • Leo Drago stirred furious debate questioning the ESG investing framework
  • Anthonia Hui, Michiel Brenninkmeijer, and APC Vietnam Representative Mimi Vu discussed human trafficking prevention in great depth

Developing the Philanthropy Sector

venn2022 also touched on strengthening the philanthropy sector the region. APC’s Laurence Lien and Bradley Wo launched APC’s latest research study the Future of Asian Philanthropy, which uses scenario-planning to imagine how society might look in 2050, in order to start philanthropists to begin planning their own strategies on shaping the future they want.

APC members Anita Fam, Lam Nguyen-Phuong and Martin Tan also shared their thoughts on how philanthropy could lend its resources to strengthen capacity in the non-profit sector and shared the ways they currently support their grantee organisations, and what other philanthropists could do to help the sector flourish.

Francesco Caruso presented on the Asia Community Foundation, a cross-border giving platform currently being incubated by APC, and how members could potentially use it as a platform to facilitate their giving across the region.  Chris Franck, Nicky Wilkinson and Wing Ah Fung reviewed past pitfalls and victories in APC Projects they were involved with.

At the conclusion of venn 2022, members heard from former Malaysian Minister for Economic Transformation Dato’ Sri Idris Jala and journalist Steve Chao on how countries can transform economies for more sustainable and equitable growth.

venn will not be complete without learnings—and this edition of venn was not short of them! In sum, here are some of the takeaways we had from venn2022:

1. Funding expert research can ensure that philanthropic programmes are grounded in hard evidence.
High-quality data and thorough research that should form the basis of philanthropists’ giving strategies and steer them in the right direction. Research can help funders avoid opportunity costs and waste precious resources by revealing the most urgent gaps in the system that need to be plugged, helping donors prioritise and change the design of programmes entirely to become more impactful.

2. Avoid silos in the social sector.

Philanthropists and social sector workers should realise that most issues are interconnected, and an increasingly complex future will require us to pool resources to effect change in the most impactful ways. For instance, funding the education of children can also create a net positive impact on climate change efforts as more young people become literate in pressing world affairs, or decide to take up careers in the environment and sustainability sector.

3. Philanthropy is often a neutral party that can convene different sectors of society
Philanthropists are well-positioned to the bridge that enables the government, businesses, activists and social sector workers to work together. For example, governments may not want to work with parties that oppose their political agenda (and vice-versa)—however philanthropists can provide a pathway to agreement between such actors. They can also help marginalised communities to have a voice in high-level policy discussions by leveraging their connections and influence with those in positions to effect change.

4. Philanthropy should be an advocate for NGOs and social impact organisations

Philanthropists should be attentive to the needs of their grantees on different ways (beyond funding) they could support—from finding ways to simplify administrative burdens, develop capacity for staff, or opening doors to enable programme implementation.

5. Philanthropists should be strategically selective about the partners they choose to work with.
Small, grassroots NGOs can sometimes be more effective and nimble than large, bureaucratic organisations–however, big INGOs have more international influence and capacity. Both types of organisations can be suitable for different contexts depending on the philanthropist’s objectives, and working with a known brand-name may not always be the best approach.

Relive the moments

If you missed venn and are curious to see some of the highlights from the meeting, or if like us, you’re wanting to relive some of the memories, catch this special video highlights of venn2022!