ADFW 2023: Interview with Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of AVPN

Batra heads a funders' network focused on enhancing resources for impactful initiatives
ADFW 2023: Interview with Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of AVPN
Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO at AVPN

Naina Subberwal Batra, a prominent figure in Asian venture philanthropy, aims to foster a coalition of leaders from varied backgrounds who share a common goal of endorsing the UN 2030 Agenda. Serving as the CEO of AVPN, Batra leads a regional network of funders dedicated to boosting the accessibility of financial, human, and intellectual resources for impactful initiatives.

Economy Middle East sat with Batra during the Abu Dhabi Finance Week (ADFW) to discuss the upcoming 2024 AVPN Global Conference in Abu Dhabi,  emerging trends and more.

Economy Middle East: What’s the reason for your pivot to Abu Dhabi? How will the hosting of the event in the UAE capital add value to the AVPN Global Conference brand?

Naina Batra: The decision to host the 2024 AVPN Global Conference in Abu Dhabi is a strategic move to widen our horizon and deepen our impact across Asia. This marks the first time AVPN is bringing its annual flagship event to West Asia, symbolising our commitment to inclusivity and representation in the social impact sector across all of Asia.

The UAE, especially Abu Dhabi, embodies a rich tradition of philanthropy, coupled with a burgeoning interest in innovative, entrepreneurial approaches to social change. This aligns perfectly with our mission to mobilise capital for impact across Asia. The country’s active engagement in impact investing and its enthusiasm for collaborative partnerships present an ideal backdrop for our conference.

By convening the world’s foremost investors, funders, philanthropists, and Limited Partners in Abu Dhabi, we’re not just hosting an event; we’re creating collaborations and ideas that will help take bold action. Also, this Conference will offer our global delegates a unique opportunity to gain insights into West Asia’s specific social investment landscapes and innovations. Our goal is to leverage these diverse perspectives and experiences to foster learning, sharing, and collective action, thereby accelerating the pace of social impact across Asia. 

Economy Middle East: How successful has the AVPN Global Conference been in mobilising funds for social impact? What is the level of interest from the investment and philanthropy communities in supporting certain advocacies, such as sustainability for instance?

Naina Batra: All previous AVPN Global Conferences have been a resounding success in mobilising funds for social impact, marking it as a pivotal event in the realm of social investment. Over the years, we’ve seen a significant surge in participation from the investment and philanthropic communities, which is a testament to the growing recognition of the importance of sustainable and socially responsible practices.

Our conferences have served as catalysts, sparking conversations, and leading to concrete actions. For instance, the level of commitment towards sustainability has been particularly noteworthy. We’ve witnessed a remarkable increase in investments directed toward sustainable ventures and initiatives. These range from environmental conservation to social entrepreneurship projects that prioritise sustainable practices.

Moreover, the enthusiasm for supporting such advocacies isn’t just limited to funding. There’s a growing trend of knowledge-sharing, strategic partnerships, and collaborative efforts aimed at creating a more sustainable and equitable future. The AVPN Global Conference has become a platform not just for investment but for inspiration and innovation in the way we approach societal challenges in Asia.

Economy Middle East: Tell us a bit more about the theme of this year’s conference in Abu Dhabi. How do collaboration, leadership, and innovation impact philanthropic activities and investment in social impact projects?

Naina Batra: The 2024 AVPN Global Conference, themed ‘One Asia, One Future,’ stands as a beacon for Asia’s social investment landscape. This Conference is a dynamic platform where investors, leaders, and visionaries converge to spotlight and tackle Asia’s pressing social and environmental challenges. As our most inclusive Conference ever, we are knitting together the diverse tapestry of Asia – from north to south, and west to east – fostering an environment ripe for knowledge exchange, networking, and the formation of robust alliances dedicated to collaborative action.

Our sessions, diverse in their focus, will explore various investment approaches and delve deeply into pivotal topics like climate, women’s empowerment, health, and youth, underscoring the interconnectedness of these issues.

The AVPN conference is built on the pillars of collaboration, leadership, and innovation. Collaboration emphasises the impact of uniting diverse stakeholders, from private sectors to NGOs,  transforming the social impact landscape through shared knowledge and partnerships. Leadership at the conference focuses on showcasing diverse, influential leadership models from Asia, highlighting inclusive and significant global social impact narratives. Innovation is key, extending beyond technology to innovative capital channelling strategies, aiming to address social challenges effectively and sustainably by leveraging both private and public resources. These three themes collectively shape the conference’s agenda and objectives, underscoring the importance of collective action, inspirational leadership, and creative problem-solving in social impact.

Economy Middle East: What is the state of social impact investing in Asia and globally? What trends do you see emerging in 2024?

Naina Batra: Social impact investing continues to grow in popularity globally, and in Asia, amid rising concerns over climate change, human rights, and social justice dominating the emerging risk landscape. In the last decade, more investors look to align their financial portfolios with social and environmental objectives, including pension funds, financial institutions, foundations, and development finance institutions. With the development of sophisticated financial products and measurement tools to evaluate both financial and impact returns, impact investing is transitioning from a niche market to a more mainstream approach.

In Asia, the social impact investing landscape is diverse, with countries at different stages of development. Some of the governments in Asia have been taking more proactive steps to support impact investing through policies and initiatives than others. For example, the Japanese and Singapore governments have introduced tax incentives that encourage impact investing. Since the growing emphasis on aligning investments with the SDGs, impact investing has transitioned from a niche market to a more mainstream approach.

In terms of trends, the market is continuously evolving and investors are increasingly looking for opportunities that offer both financial returns and measurable social and environmental impact. In addition, impact investing will also focus more on emerging markets in the coming years. There will also be more collaborative efforts to help accelerate the development of high-functioning markets that support impact investing. 

Economy Middle East: What are the main challenges affecting the growth of social impact investing in Asia, in particular the Middle East?

Naina Batra: In Asia including West Asia, we’re grappling with similar hurdles. A primary concern is the lack of standardised metrics for impact measurement. This issue leads to inconsistent practices and diminishes the credibility of impact investments.

Regulatory environments also pose challenges. Many Asian and West Asian countries have regulatory frameworks that are not yet fully optimised for impact investing.

Awareness and understanding of impact investing is another common issue. There’s a need for more education and clarity around this concept.

Additionally, the diversity of Asia and West Asia, with their varied cultural, economic, and political landscapes, calls for highly tailored investment strategies. Lastly, the challenge of accurately assessing the long-term impact of investments, especially in the context of climate change, is prevalent due to the complexities involved in comprehensive data analysis and consistent reporting.

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