Naina Subberwal Batra – “The World Is Becoming a Much More Borderless Place”




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Jan 17, 2019
by Lucy Browett and Anna Rawe
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Naina Subberwal Batra – “The World Is Becoming a Much More Borderless Place”

CEO and chairperson of AVPN discusses the future of philanthropy in Asia and the organization’s relationship with Salzburg Global Naina Subberwal Batra (center) at Salzburg Global Seminar

Naina Subberwal Batra is the CEO and chairperson of AVPN. Her leadership has grown the AVPN membership by 254% and elevated the organization into a truly regional force for good. She is a Salzburg Global Fellow, having participated in New Horizons in Social Investment: Global Exchange for Action and Impact, part of the long-running series on Philanthropy and Social Investment. Salzburg Global spoke with Batra to discuss AVPN, philanthropy in Asia and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Salzburg Global: Could you start off by introducing yourself and AVPN?

Naina Subberwal Batra: I am the CEO and chairperson of AVPN. AVPN is a membership platform for funders and resource providers. We have 520 members from 32 countries and our members range from foundations, family offices, corporates, intermediaries, impact funds, government[s], [and] universities. Anyone who deploys capital, whether that’s financial, human or intellectual capital to the social sector in Asia is qualified to be a member of AVPN.  

SG: Why do you think it’s so important to have these partnerships and all these relationships between different institutions?

NSB: If you look at the scale of social problems - and Salzburg Global is very focused on the SDGs - if we were truly to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to deploy capital across the spectrum. If we only look at philanthropic capital, it’s only in the many millions or maybe a few billions. In order to achieve the SDGs, we need trillions of dollars, and that will only happen if you have partnerships, if you have coalitions and if you bring different groups and stakeholders together, which is why I think platforms like AVPN are crucial and environments provided by organizations like Salzburg Global that bring people together are very important.

SG: What kind of things do you think are important for a good partnership? Do you have an example of something that’s worked well or something that’s come to fruition through AVPN?

NSB: So I think for partnerships, mutual trust, aligned expectations, and constant communication are very important. A good example is the partnership that Salzburg Global and AVPN have formed. It started out by an initial exploration of [a] common interest. The moment we agreed that we had some synergies, it led to a lot of open communication between our teams, the building of trust, and then finally executing it in the form of this program.

SG: Do you think maybe it’s good for Asia to have collaborations with cross-continental organizations and is that why you brought people from different areas around the world to this program?

NSB: I think global co-operation and collaboration and sharing is very important. There are lessons that we’ve learned. And I’m not saying that the sector is more advanced that it is in the south, it’s just there have been different experiences in the north than there have been in the south. There can be sharing of these experiences and then tweaking based on our own regional needs and our regional make-up. The tweaking of those experiences can really help. Also, what we realize increasingly, the world is becoming a much more borderless place. People are moving far more than any other generations before them, and therefore we have a lot of Asian diaspora[s] that live in the US, that live in Europe that are interested in giving back to Asia. It’s only when we understand each other and we understand the different organizations working across geography are we able to make those connections happen.

SG: How do you think AVPN or any of its member partnerships are innovative or maybe have the organizational capacity for innovation?

NSB: I think innovation, especially in Asia, is across the board. I think we Asians tend to take a little bit of time to learn new things, but the moment we do, we replicate and innovate at the speed of light. Philanthropy is no different than any other sector where that has happened. What we find is that, if you look at philanthropy and how it’s developed or is developing in Asia, we’re finding a lot more collaborations that are happening at a faster speed than they did in the US or in Europe. Where it’s different in Asia is that there’s much more tendency to form multi-stakeholder groups. So you’d find a corporate coming together with a foundation, coming together with government to actually collaborate on a project. It’s much rarer to see that with more established foundations in the West.

SG: How has the history of philanthropy in Asia changed over the years you’ve been working in it?

NSB: I think philanthropy in Asia has really changed. Philanthropy in Asia has been around for eons, right? We’ve always given to temples, to churches, to religious giving, but now what I find is that there’s a lot more institutional giving. In the last five years, I find that millennials are much more excited about giving, and there is now a sort of spectrum of giving. So it’s no longer just grant-making through philanthropy, but it’s actually looking at grant-making, looking at debt and looking at equity. So how to do we bring in innovative financial structures to our giving?

SG: What talent management approaches do you think are necessary to further the Sustainable Development Goals?

NSB: I think talent management is crucial. We don’t have enough of it in the philanthropy sector, and definitely not much in Asia, which is why AVPN has launched an academy to actually help develop the human capital that is needed to grow this sector, whether it be entry level positions or it be people who are looking at a mid-career change. So how can we equip them with knowledge and secondly, and more importantly, with experiences of the sector so that they can look at building a career in this sector, but also looking at finding jobs that can match their expertise?

The program, New Horizons in Social Investment: Global Exchange for Action and Impact is part of Salzburg Global Seminar's multi-year series Philanthropy and Social Investment. This program was held in partnership with the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, a network committed to building a vibrant and high impact social investment community across Asia.