Lessons in Effective Capacity Building

The only thing better than having an engaging discussion with people who are passionate and enthusiastic about addressing social disadvantage is getting to have two days of discussions with 600 passionate people.  Recently, I got to do just that at the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) 2016 conference in Hong Kong.  The attendees represented organisations from around the world, addressing disadvantage through various disciplines of social investment, philanthropy and innovative service delivery.

Titled ‘How has Social Investing Impacted Asia?’ I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of session topics, and the global focus. Sessions included panel and interactive discussions on social innovation, multi-sector collaboration, capacity building, digital disruption, collective impact, next-generation philanthropy and more.

Having just announced Marnin Studio as our first venture partnership in WA, we are transitioning into venture management, and I was therefore really interested in the session on Effective Capacity Building.  The panel included representation from Big Society Capital (UK), New Profit (US), Bridgespan Group (US), EdelGive Foundation (India) and the Community Foundation of Singapore.  Although capacity building may seem intuitive and straight-forward, there is a lot of ambiguity, and a difficult balance between building capacity by supporting as a facilitator or creating dependency by supporting as a driver.

Moderated by Paul Carttar from the Bridgespan Group, the session began with each panelist explaining their organisation’s approach to capacity building. Some took a very hands-on role, taking a board seat and being involved in decision making, while others supported in an advisory capacity as a mentor or coach to the venture organisation’s management team.  Their venture portfolios were also all weighted a bit differently in terms of the degree of support provided (light, medium or high-touch) and in terms of whether the capacity building was coupled with funding or provided on its own.

They all utilised external resources like pro bono partners however, and New Profit also used venture organisations (past and present) to provide peer to peer support across their venture portfolio.  There was also consensus on the importance of building trust and establishing strong, authentic relationships with the venture organisations.  They agreed that this was best achieved by having clear communication and being able to openly discuss problems and challenges. They also discussed the uniqueness of venture philanthropy support being long-term in nature, with most panelists noting that they engage with venture organisations in varying capacities beyond the venture partnership.

Overall, it was great to learn from the experiences of these leading organisations, and to engage and meet with so many inspiring people across the two days of the conference.  As we develop our Venture Philanthropy portfolio in WA, it is important that we continuously learn from and apply successful approaches to the way we work with our venture partners.  This will ensure that we are optimally supporting and partnering with them to deliver lasting social impact.