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Taking a Bet on a Philanthropic Pooled Fund for Southeast Asia

Don't forget to regulate the complexity of your fund

Traditionally, it has been difficult to motivate Asian funders to commit to cross-border or regional social-change efforts. Most have wanted to focus on pressing needs in their own backyards, and successful collaborations have often remained bilateral, project-driven and non-formal. While the concept of pooling resources has been around for more than a century, Asia has been slow to catch up to the west in terms of volume, scale, and verifiable results of joint philanthropic efforts. 

Then came COVID-19. Starting in the spring of 2020, global and local funders wanted to do something—anything—to support response efforts. While these funders released considerable funding toward immediate relief, a lack of health-care expertise combined with the inability to travel to Asia led to ad-hoc, siloed and uncoordinated efforts. At AVPN, a diverse network of funders and resource providers in Asia-Pacific, we saw our members struggle with the paucity of first-hand information, an inability to meet with locals and daily reminders that the virus was ravaging communities. 

By the end of 2020, frustrations grew. The depth and breadth of issues the pandemic triggered rendered individual efforts inadequate. This prompted a clear shift in the focus of conversations with members, from immediate recovery efforts to building longer-term, collaborative solutions. As an intermediary, the question for AVPN then became: How can we expand the ways we work to support response efforts? We identified three core assets to build on: local representatives in 13 markets, established partnerships across the region, and 10 years of experience in bringing together funders and social change organizations. Building on these strengths, our members’ growing interest in collaborative philanthropy, and their shared aim to address social issues emerging from the pandemic, we created a pooled fund—a funding vehicle that aggregates capital from multiple funders to streamline operations and costs, thereby freeing up more resources for social change organizations.

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