Reimagining Philanthropy for a New Asia


Given immense returns on social investment, how can strategic philanthropy address Asia’s education challenges? Insights from PAS2024.

As Asia grapples with an evolving landscape marked by escalating geopolitical temperatures, rising temperatures, and social upheavals, the role of philanthropy in driving change has never been more crucial. This was at the heart of a recent dialogue organised by Asia Philanthropy Circle, Asia Community Foundation (ACF), Accelerate Indian Philanthropy (AIP), and the Gates Foundation.

Hosted at APC member Anthonia Hui’s office against the stunning backdrop of the Marina Bay skyline, the dialogue gathered members from APC and AIP, along with guests from ACF and the Gates Foundation for an intimate evening of discussion and reflection–winding down from a hectic day of sessions at the Philanthropy Asia Summit 2024.

Moderated by Robert Rosen, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships at Gates Foundation, featured a powerhouse panel that explored the evolving philanthropic landscape in Asia, and the pivotal roles philanthropists can play in driving transformation across the region.

Despite unprecedented challenges facing Asia, the panel expressed optimism, having observed an increasing desire for change and innovative solutions. Mike Boots from Breakthrough Energy highlighted the region’s recognition of its crucial role in addressing the climate crisis and its willingness to engage in finding solutions; similarly, Ashish Dhawan from AIP noted a significant increase over the past decade in individuals moving from corporate careers to co commit their time, money, expertise, and passion into tackling complex regional issues.

More concrete action–beyond buzz–is needed (in philanthropy). More can, and should, be achieved by the sector in Asia.

Considering these changes in the landscape, what role can philanthropy play in the region? While there has been increasing buzz surrounding Asian philanthropy–evidenced by large convenings such as the Philanthropy Asia Summit–the consensus from panellists was clear: more concrete action–beyond buzz–is needed. More can (and should) be achieved by the sector in Asia.

Laurence Lien, Co-Founder of APC and Asia Community Foundation, noted that while the philanthropy community in Asia is younger and often more innovative than its Western counterparts, there remains a reluctance to share successful models and practices. This hesitation hinders those who are new to philanthropy from finding mentors and learning from established approaches–the region needs to improve this culture of sharing.

Echoing this sentiment, APC member Mary Ann Tsao highlighted the importance of networks and platforms like APC in creating a space for knowledge sharing and exchange among philanthropists; platforms such as these are essential for sharing methods and ideas, and creating a collaborative environment to drive meaningful change.

As the philanthropy sector in Asia becomes more vibrant, the panel also discussed how this does not necessarily mean global foundations and philanthropic actors no longer have a role to play in the regional ecosystem. Global foundations can still provide valuable know-how from decades of experience, foster knowledge exchange, and offer technical training. They can also supplement local funding to support public goods that are often underfunded.

It is unlikely that the issues facing the region can be solved by public or private market action alone. As Asia continues to change, philanthropic capital–with its great potential for innovation and creativity–will become increasingly important, and necessary. Philanthropy must draw from past experiences and on-going learning to redefine its role in accelerating progress towards a just, sustainable, and equitable future for the region.