Asia’s faith-led groups could ‘unleash a wave of resources’ for social investment, AVPN’s Subberwal Batra tells conference

At this week’s AVPN Global Conference – held for the first time in the United Arab Emirates – the social investors’ network points to untapped billions held by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and others, which could transform the region.

Asia’s faith-led philanthropists and investors hold vast potential to direct their growing capital towards creating positive social and environmental change, according to AVPN, Asia’s network of social investors.

AVPN’s Global Conference opened on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, the first time that the annual event, which has attracted 1,500 investors, philanthropists, policymakers and other impact professionals, has been hosted in what AVPN refers to as “West Asia”. 

In CEO Naina Subberwal Batra’s opening address (pictured top), she highlighted research that AVPN published this week about Asia’s faith-led groups.

“Philanthropists and investors in Asia, motivated by their values, beliefs, morals, and principles, are emerging as powerful forces for positive change,” she said. 

The report, How Values and Beliefs Shape Giving in Asia, offers an overview of faith-led giving in Asia. In the report, Subberwal Batra writes: “In Asia, where faith traditions hold immense sway, there’s a curious gap in our understanding of faith-aligned giving… the unique dynamics and motivations of faith-aligned actors often remain veiled.”

It’s a call to recognise the immense power within our faith communities, to bridge the gap between faith and impact, and to unleash a wave of resources that can truly transform our region

She adds: “We’re taking a bold step towards shining a light on this hidden powerhouse… It’s a call to recognise the immense power within our faith communities, to bridge the gap between faith and impact, and to unleash a wave of resources that can truly transform our region.”

The report points to research by Said Business School at the University of Oxford, which estimates faith-aligned asset managers across Christian, Islamic and Dharmic faiths, collectively managed total net assets worth US$5tn in 2022, and that only 3% of that, or US$150bn, was committed to creating impact. 

At the same time, developing countries face a funding gap of US$4tn if they are to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, according to the UN.

The majority of Asia’s population is religiously affiliated across Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and other folk or traditional religions, states the report. Additionally, Asia is home to more than one-third of the world’s billionaires and it is witnessing the largest transfer of wealth between first and second generation wealth holders in history. 

This convergence of growing wealth and faith alignment is important as these faiths – and the philosophies and principles derived from them – continue to guide the generosity, charity, and social responsibility of billions in the region, the report says.

For example, the report points out, Islamic finance holds great relevance for social investment through its traditional practices of zakat (alms), waqf (endowments) and sadaqah (public charity), which support communities and, in today’s world, can also be linked with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Subberwal Batra told Pioneers Post: “By leveraging our inclusive and neutral platform, AVPN aims to unpack faith and giving, develop learning opportunities and provide a platform for collective action for social investors across the region, regardless of their faith alignment or lack thereof.”


UAE is 'bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe'

In her opening address, Subberwal Batra highlighted the conference theme of ‘One Asia, One Future’, as she emphasised the need to collaborate across the region.

AVPN 2024 conference delegates

“Why is it crucial for players across Asia, from west, north, east and south, to come together and engage in discussions about philanthropy and impact investment?” she said. “The answer lies in our interconnectedness and the shared nature of our challenges. While each country in Asia may face unique circumstances, we are bound together by common aspirations.”

It’s crucial to include West Asia in the conversation, as it occupies a pivotal geopolitical position

The United Arab Emirates was strategically significant, she said, to discussions about philanthropy and social investment. “It’s crucial to include West Asia in the conversation, as it occupies a pivotal geopolitical position, serving as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe. Its strategic location and abundant natural resources makes it a key player in global affairs.”

In advance of the event, Subberwal Batra spoke to Pioneers Post about the importance of engaging the whole of Asia in dialogue about social investment. She also revealed that AVPN hopes to launch a fund soon after the event to support social entrepreneurs to scale.


The conference takes place under the patronage of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the International Humanitarian and Philanthropic Council.

He said: “Abu Dhabi is honoured to host such a distinguished group of influential political, societal, economic and business leaders, reflecting the status of the United Arab Emirates as a country committed to regional and global progress and cooperation. We emphasise a strong belief that we must think and work together as a family of equals with the most prosperous aiding those who are in need.”


Photos courtesy of AVPN


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