venn2019: Asian Philanthropists Gather to Invest in their Giving “Health”

by Felicia Hanitio

Every year, APC gathers all our members from across Asia for two days of rediscovering their giving purpose, connecting and learning from one another and sector experts, and exploring new opportunities for joint action. venn2019, the most well-attended member summit yet, brought 49 APC members and guests  together in Singapore on 7-8 November for lively discussions and exchange, bookended by site visits exploring Singapore’s criminal justice system and arts landscape.

True to APC’s spirit of encouraging a deep, firsthand understanding of social issues, members and guests kicked off their Thursday morning on 7 November with a sobering tour of Singapore Changi Prisons, followed by lunch served by former inmates turned culinary trainees at HCSA Community Services. Through interactions with the current and formerly incarcerated, prison service staff, and social workers, members heard about the unique challenges and possible solutions for working with one of society’s most vulnerable groups. For example, despite Singapore’s comprehensive rehabilitative services which enable over 90% of long-term formerly incarcerated to secure job offers before release, returning residents continue to face pervasive societal stigma that hamper long-term employment and reintegration to society. Moved, several Singapore members expressed interest in supporting long-term mentorship programmes that would help to build trust for ex-offenders, or to expand on the diversity and scale of vocational training programmes. Meanwhile, all participants were reminded that tackling society’s biggest issues often starts with being willing to challenge our own perspectives.

HCSA graduates share their story with APC members

Members and guests then gathered together after lunch for the start of venn2019’s official programme. After welcoming remarks from APC CEO, Laurence Lien, several members presented on ongoing projects tackling issues as diverse as school leadership, stunting prevention, community development, and peace building in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Facilitating collective impact through collaborative philanthropy sits at the core of what APC does, and Laurence noted that many of these member projects have been catalysed during previous venn summits and member gatherings. As one member aptly summarised during his presentation, “When you want to take risks, you want to take it together with others.”

APC CEO Laurence Lien with Minister Grace Fu in a discussion about importance of philanthropy

The unique role philanthropists play in spurring social innovation and collective impact was explored again later Thursday evening during a dinnertime chat at the National Museum with Ms Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth . Minister Fu expressed her view that philanthropy is able to complement government’s efforts, by undertaking projects that the government might be restricted by, such as projects that target a specific segment of society, demographic or race. She also distinguished between defensive and offensive philanthropy: defensive philanthropy responds to external needs and pressures, while offensive philanthropy is led by personal passions or the desire to spur impact. Both are needed in Singapore and the greater region. Several members also shared about their personal journeys and the motivations that drive their philanthropy.

While philanthropy is well-poised to pave the way for lasting social impact, such results do not come without regular self-examination and commitment to continuous improvement. Philanthropists regularly face public critics who are concerned that global elites working for social change may only take surface-level actions while failing to address the root causes of inequality. Thus, Day 2 of venn2019 began with a provocative fishbowl discussion of the role of philanthropy in today’s world, with members offering their perspectives on how they have taken active steps to be more holistic and transformational in their social change efforts.  For instance, one of our Indonesian members shared that he is a strong proponent of place-based philanthropy as well as the use of data to design and monitor effective, impactful programmes. Meanwhile, others acknowledged the cross-border nature of some problems such as refugee crises. Continuing with the reflective mood, everyone also took personalised “health checks” on their giving and shared about their concerns and failures in philanthropy.

APC Members participate in a lively discussion on their philanthropy “health

Members’ learning and exchange commenced with breakout sessions featuring guest speakers and member presentations on the themes of Environment, Education, and Community Development in Vulnerable Communities. Together with experts from GA Circular, NEWRI, Global School Leaders Malaysia, billionBricks, and Pacific Links Foundation, members discussed various solutions to combat waste pollution across Southeast Asia, leverage effectively on education technology, and accelerate action on the world’s most pressing issues. Wrapping up two days of dynamic discussions, APC’s Chairman, Stanley Tan, encouraged members to persist in the spirit of continuous learning, and welcomed members to venn2020 in Malaysia

W!LD RICE Artistic Director Ivan Heng and APC member Anthonia Hui discuss the importance of philanthropy for the arts in a panel moderated by APC Director, Stacey Choe

Finally, members celebrated the end of two days of deep learning and sharing with a private tour of W!LD RICE theatre at Funan, followed by a panel discussion on Philanthropy and the Arts. Founding Artistic Director, Ivan Heng, shared that due to the nature of their work, they are constantly at risk of being cut off from grants. As such, support from philanthropists have been critical to plug the gap. Ivan also stressed the importance of the arts, that not only does it ignite creativity, create social awareness and develop empathy, it is also an effective tool that supports social integration and community building across different social groups. The two-day event ended with a fun awards ceremony during our closing dinner, to celebrate our members’ achievements, while also allowing our members to go home with some thought-provoking questions on how to further their philanthropy. We look forward to meeting everyone again at venn2020 for our next annual convening to continue sharing our best practices!

Cheers to another great venn and gathering!