Site icon Conservation news

How philanthropy in Asia is evolving

Rainbow over Batanta and Dayang islands in Indonesia.

Rainbow over Batanta and Dayang islands in Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

  • The Philanthropy Asia Summit, held in April, underscored the transformation of philanthropy in Asia and how the evolution is leading to new funding mechanisms and collaborative approaches in the philanthropic landscape.
  • Private wealth investors, family offices, are on the rise. Next Gen funders are prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria and seek evidence based solutions.
  • Asia’s philanthropic sector is stepping forward and wants to play a key role in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges faced by our environment.

In a world grappling with increasingly complex environmental and social challenges, the role of philanthropy is undergoing a profound transformation, particularly in Asia. The recent Philanthropy Asia Summit underscored this evolution, highlighting how new funding mechanisms and collaborative approaches are reshaping the philanthropic landscape. The summit, organized by the Philanthropy Asia Alliance (PAA) and held in Singapore in April, brought together 450 leaders from various sectors to discuss and strategize on “Partnerships for Action,” emphasizing the need for systemic solutions and collective efforts.

The rising influence of family offices

One of the most striking trends in Asian philanthropy is the burgeoning role of family offices, investment firms set up to manage the wealth of a single family. With an estimated 1,400 single family offices in Singapore alone, these entities are increasingly pivotal in driving innovative, impact-focused philanthropy. This shift is largely driven by the younger generation of these families, known as Next Gen funders, who, more than their predecessors, prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria and seek evidence-based interventions.

Seok Hui Lim, CEO of PAA, encapsulated this trend, saying that philanthropy in Asia “is increasingly seen as a catalyst for innovative solutions and funding mechanisms to tackle environmental and social challenges,” and that the Next Gen funders moving it in this direction “are keen to embrace more collaborative, impact-driven approaches to philanthropy.”

Kathlyn Tan, director of Rumah Group, emphasized the long-term strategic vision of family offices. “As the natural world crumbles around us, family offices have the aptitude to recognize long-term threats and opportunities and have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in catalyzing funding for much-needed work to repair our planet home,” Tan said as quoted by The Straits Times.

“In recent years, one of the most significant shifts has been the growing emphasis on environmental causes, particularly ocean conservation and climate change,” she later told Mongabay. “This is driven in part by heightened awareness of the impacts on vulnerable communities and the region’s dependence on coastal resources. Additionally, many local communities rely on a sustainable blue economy for their livelihoods. There are also increased efforts around multistakeholder partnerships, new developments in innovative financing mechanisms, and growing interest in regional and global funder collaborations to meet these urgent needs.”

Mikkel Larsen, the former CEO of Climate Impact X (CIX), a Singapore-based global exchange and marketplace for carbon credits, also expressed a similar sentiment about trends in green investment. “Private wealth investors, especially family offices, is where I have noticed the strongest interest in investments with social or environmental benefits. The younger generation, in particular, is more focused on climate change and biodiversity, viewing them not only as philanthropic causes but also as long-term investment opportunities,” he told Mongabay.

Fishing boats in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand.
Fishing boats in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand. Image by Troup Dresser via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Collaborative philanthropy and PPPPs

The summit emphasized the importance of public-private-people partnerships (PPPPs) in scaling collaborative philanthropy. “Now, more than ever, we need to forge robust PPPPs to scale collaborative philanthropy and elevate the impact ecosystem at large,” Lim said. “Our partners in the private sector — the corporates, investors and family offices — are pivotal in advancing big bets and supporting high-impact startups to speed up and scale impact.”

This call for collaboration was echoed throughout the summit, with numerous speakers highlighting the critical role of multisector partnerships in addressing pressing issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.

Innovative funding mechanisms

Family offices in Singapore are at the forefront of developing innovative funding mechanisms. For instance, Silverstrand Capital focuses on impact investing in regenerative agriculture and biodiversity protection. Kelvin Chiu, founder of Silverstrand, told The Straits Times, “As a single family office without external investors, we are in a unique position with more flexibility in terms of investment timeframe, return expectations, and types of investment. Unlike many funds … that often prioritize financial returns and proven business models, we have the liberty to support nature-positive businesses that create deeper impact but may be deemed too early or too risky by others and end up being overlooked.”

When asked where he would like to see more investment, Silent Foundation director Matthew Teng said, “I hope to see more investments in nature-based (pure conservation) projects (like reforestation, community forest, and marine protected areas) in coming years as more companies and governments see the value of such projects via carbon credits.” Similarly, Rumah Group has been channeling funds into initiatives aimed at improving ocean health, such as seaweed farming and plant-based proteins.

Challenges and opportunities

Yet while there’s a growing interest among family offices and other private sector entities, there are significant hurdles to overcome. These include the need for greater transparency and better metrics for measuring impact, as well as the challenge of aligning short-term financial goals with long-term environmental and social outcomes.

Moreover, investors in Singapore are looking for stronger market signals when it comes to sustainability. “Corporate investors in Singapore seem constrained by consumers who are not fully aligning their spending with their stated interest in climate change action, a point highlighted in a recent Bain report,” Climate Impact X’s Larsen told Mongabay. “Institutional investors in Singapore follow the same patterns as elsewhere in the world.”

Essentially, investors remain reluctant to go in this direction unless there’s a critical mass of demand to do so.

Villager employed at the reforestation project in Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesian Borneo.
Villager employed at the reforestation project in Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesian Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Ecosperity Week and its insights

The summit coincided with Ecosperity Week, a sustainability conference organized by Temasek, a global investment company headquartered in Singapore. A recurring theme was the need to redirect financial flows from activities harmful to nature toward those that protect, restore and sustain it. Razan Al Mubarak, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, underscored this point in a video address, stating, “We need to redirect financial flows from activities that harm nature toward those that protect, restore, and sustain nature.

“We cannot meet the goals of the Paris agreement without nature,” she added. “Investing in nature-based solutions is a key opportunity, and it is projected to create over 390 million jobs by 2030, as well as unlock US$10.1 trillion in business opportunities.”

The importance of nature-based solutions was a key focus, with speakers stressing the economic and environmental benefits of such investments. “Nature-based climate solutions have the potential to provide up to a third of the emission reductions we need to keep global warming below 1.5°C. But nature itself is also declining at unprecedented rates, wreaking havoc on ecosystems worldwide,” said Kyung-Ah Park, Temasek’s ESG investment management head and managing director of sustainability. “Asia is among the most at-risk regions, with 63% of its GDP at risk from nature loss, but also where the opportunity is. Hence, we need a holistic, integrated approach to achieve our collective climate and nature goals.

“We aim to rally stakeholders for action, and catalyze the systems-level change we need to realize a thriving, sustainable world for current and future generations,” she added.

The path forward

The discussions at the summit, Ecosperity Week and side events suggest an ambitious path forward for collaborative philanthropy in Asia. The convergence of philanthropic capital, private investment and public sector support is creating a robust ecosystem for impact-driven initiatives. The challenge will be to sustain this momentum and ensure that the investments made today lead to meaningful, long-lasting change.

“We should not talk about climate and nature separately,” Partha Dasgupta, a University of Cambridge economist who works on the economics of biodiversity, said as quoted in The New Straits Times. “Nature provides goods that everyone needs, such as food, water, timber, and ingredients to make pharmaceuticals – the stuff we harvest and mine. But crucially, nature also provides services that are far less visible but essential. In addition to pollination, this includes nitrogen fixation, production of oxygen, water cleansing by wetlands, and decomposition of waste.”

The Philanthropy Asia Summit has shown that Asia’s philanthropic sector is aspiring to play a major role in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges. By leveraging the unique strengths of family offices, fostering multisector partnerships, and embracing innovative funding mechanisms, philanthropic leaders in the region believe it can become a global force for good.

Banner image: Rainbow over Batanta and Dayang islands in Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Exit mobile version