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SEAF at the Annual AVPN Conference – Part 2: Identifying impact investment opportunities for investors in Asia

SEAF at the Annual AVPN Conference – Part 2: Identifying impact investment opportunities for investors in Asia

The Asian Venture Philanthropy Network Limited (AVPN) recently held its annual conference in Singapore.  Now in its seventh year, the AVPN Conference 2019 brings together a diverse group of investors and resource providers from around the globe to take part in the largest gathering of social investors in Asia. The goal of the conference is to ensure social investors are best equipped to address key social challenges facing Asia today and in the future. SEAF CEO Bert van der Vaart and Senior Managing Director Jennifer Buckley were both invited to speak on their experiences as impact investors. This post is the second in a series discussing SEAF’s experience at the AVPN Conference.

The workshop Jennifer Buckley spoke at a Toniic-organized workshop titled, “Identifying impact investment opportunities for investors in Asia.” Accredited investors, family offices and private foundations are increasingly shifting their capital to businesses and funds that offer potential social and environmental impact along with financial returns. However, the process of identifying and analyzing opportunities that align with an investor’s values as well as their return expectations and risk tolerance can be quite difficult. This workshop was organized to allow conference attendees to learn first-hand from impact investors working in Asia, to exchange best practices, and to provide exposure to impact funds trying to tackle some of the most daunting social and environmental issues in the region.

Jennifer was joined by Richard Muller, the Chief Collaboration Officer at Toniic, Doug Lee (D3Jubilee Partners), Hyun Jae Shin (D3Jubilee Partners), Katy Yung (Sustainable Finance Initiative), Ingrid Kylstad (Katapult Ocean), and Regula Schegg (Circulate Capital). The participants spoke about the impact sectors they are invested in, which impact sectors they were most excited about in Asia, the challenges they’ve encountered and how the impact investor landscape has changed in Asia in recent years.

Interest in women economic empowerment is a nascent concept in Asia and therefore not much fundraising has been done in the region. Gender lens investing as a theme is gaining more momentum with European and American investors. As SEAF has built awareness for its impact investing work within the private investor community, it has addressed questions regarding balancing commercial returns with impact objectives. The private community has been interested in hearing how SEAF’s historical work with DFIs and MFIs in developing and frontier countries has also addressed similar return and impact concerns. In the US and Europe, more wealth managers and foundations are thinking of incorporating impact investing into their portfolio and taking into consideration the alignment of their investment portfolio with the underlying mission of their foundation or clients’ objectives. In Asia, this alignment remains less common with asset owners and family offices continuing to often separate their philanthropic work and investment activities.

The panelists also spoke about the 8 million tons of plastic flowing into the ocean annually. Most of these come from South and Southeast Asia not because of production and usage but due to plastics being exported from Europe and the United States. To reduce the leakage of plastics into the ocean by 45%, the focus must be on investment in infrastructure companies and innovative solutions which tackle waste in the ground and ocean in 5 countries, such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. There has been very little funding in these spaces. Regula from Circulate Capital spoke on her firm’s goal to prove that infrastructure is an investible space that can generate returns. SEAF sees opportunities to partner with Circulate Capital and entrepreneurs working in the region that are focused on plastic recycling.

Jennifer shared some examples of entrepreneurs working to solve the needs of their communities. One example was Dr. Ho, an OB/GYN physician who decided to establish Phuong Chau Hospital Group in 2011 due to her frustration over the lack of quality maternal health care in her hometown, the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam. Today, the hospital offers a wide set of healthcare services, such as pediatrics and general medicine. While a private facility has been recognized by local government officials in the area, Phuong Chau has benefited the wider community by releasing pressure from public hospital facilities, in addition to providing training for upskilling local medical professionals.