Two Must-Have’s When Engaging Governments in Asia: Trust and “Face”

The Asian Philanthropy Forum team is pleased to provide media partner coverage of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network Conference in Singapore. The post below focuses on how philanthropies can best engage governments as partners in their social initiatives. See our additional posts on the conference here

Image: AVPN


Government partnerships are essential for achieving scale but can be a challenge to manage. One of this year’s AVPN featured panels was on engaging governments and featured Benedict Cheong, Chief Executive Officer of the Temasek Foundation; Dr. Mairi Mackay, Global Head Social Enterprise of the British Council; and Amitav Virmani, Country Director of ARK India. The session was moderated by Jonathan Jenkins, Chief Executive Officer of Social Investment Business.

Temasek’s Cheong boiled working with government down to two things: 1) trust and 2) face. When agencies saw philanthropists as trusting and friendly, they were willing to engage. And framing philanthropic efforts in terms of the best interests of government — showing respect — was also fundamental. A patronizing, “you must do this” approach is unlikely to win partners. Also, when designing exit strategies, Cheong recognized the long-term value of letting governments claim credit for successful projects. “It’s not about me or the foundation,” he said. In the end, governments need to own efforts to improve society and to ensure benefits are realized over the decades.

Mackay’s experience with the British Council and their work in Myanmar echoed the importance of collaborating for impact. On collaboration, she said, “Trust is a huge piece. Trust is central…with the government, you need to be clear how to work together.” Measurement, metrics, and evaluation can contribute to clarifying that relationship.

ARK India’s Virmani described a trying experience working with the Indian government due to continuous senior staff turnover, but he also affirmed the high value in working with government to define standards for education and evaluating 120,000 schools. Working with government may not be a walk in the park, but it can lead to scale and is essential for making systemic change.

Finally, Cheong highlighted another especially relevant Asian characteristic of social change — leadership. In describing the dynamics of his foundation’s work with the Ministry of Education of Vietnam, 3 things happened when getting top leaders engaged: 1) signalling occured where those within the hierarchical structure are provided guidance or direction, 2) leaders of government agencies mobilized resources, and 3) government leaders also implemented projects.

Last year’s AVPN session on engaging governments also highlighted similar themes of trust and respect, policy and scale, engaging broadly across government agency leadership in anticipation of change, transparency and data, and striking the right balance of risk-taking roles.


Read more of our coverage on AVPN 2014

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