Sangeetha Yogendran

Finance opportunity knocking: more inclusive investors and more impact-driven inclusive businesses means growth for the sector

Interview with Sangeetha Yogendran (Inclusive Business Sector Expert and Manager, AVPN) and Roshini Prakash (Knowledge Director, AVPN) by Dana S. Gulley
East Asia and Pacific
28. Jun 2019

First, what is the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, and how are you growing the ecosystem of social investment in Asia?

AVPN is a unique funders’ network based in Singapore, which is committed to building a vibrant and high impact social investment community across Asia. As an advocate, capacity builder, and platform that cuts across private, public and social sectors, AVPN embraces all types of engagement to improve the effectiveness of members across the Asia Pacific region. The core mission of AVPN is to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector by connecting and empowering key stakeholders from funders to the social purpose organizations they support. With over 500 members across 32 countries, AVPN is catalysing the movement towards a more strategic, collaborative and outcome-focused approach to social investing, ensuring that resources are deployed as effectively as possible to address key social challenges facing Asia today and in the future.

Can you give us a specific example of an inclusive business that has been impacted by AVPN’s work?

Great Women is a green, fair trade social enterprise with lifestyle retail store fronts, based out of the Philippines. Great Women supports artisanal, fair trade products, with every product imbued with the passion and spirit of women. "Great" stands for "gender responsive economic action for the transformation" of women, and this social enterprise is focused on women’s empowerment and creating jobs in handicraft and artisanal products. As one of eight inclusive businesses selected for the Deal Share Live session at the AVPN 2019 Conference, Great Women was able to present and pitch to conference delegates, including several impact investors, philanthropists and intermediaries, and forge several promising connections. These connections include support to look for grants and investments. As of publication, the conference has just wrapped up, and AVPN looks forward to continuing our conversations with the selected inclusive businesses over the next few months.

Impact investors expect financial return alongside impact. Can you talk a little bit about how this plays out? Can this be challenging for the entrepreneur to navigate?

We have observed the way that impact investors are now leveraging a range of investment practices to both better support the needs of the organisations in which they currently invest, as well as to expand their range of potential investees. We believe that increased awareness on inclusive business and information sharing can bring in inclusive businesses to impact investors’ pipeline. However, there are challenges for the inclusive business entrepreneur to access finance. This is because many businesses have not achieved significant scale due to challenges in reaching the market and understanding its size, finding time and resources to innovate effectively for the market, as well as addressing any risks of engaging with serving low-income communities.

Given your understanding of the financing/funder landscape, do you have any advice for inclusive business entrepreneurs?

The growth of impact investment in the region represents a significant opportunity for inclusive businesses. Investment opportunities are much greater in inclusive business models because they are larger in scale and have greater commercial viability, as compared to social enterprises, which require smaller investments and grant funding. Inclusive business entrepreneurs can benefit from having a very clear value and social proposition and demonstrate how there is potential to grow and scale their business, while maintaining their clear commitment to supporting those living at the base of the pyramid. We found that several businesses were operating as an inclusive business but were not aware that they even qualified as one, so awareness raising and information sharing on inclusive business among the different ecosystem partners, is essential in this landscape. In being able to articulate their impact, many businesses can have the opportunity to gain access to impact finance they may not have yet.