A Bilateral Exchange on Modern Philanthropy

A Bilateral Exchange on Modern Philanthropy

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"Each society has its own philanthropic traditions and practices...[but] those practices need to modernize. Exchanges with other societies can help us to scale up and diversify the ways, means and processes of giving in order to have a greater impact."

H.E. Mdm. Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former Diplomat and Founder of the Tri Viet Center for Social and Educational Studies, opened an exchange among Vietnamese and American women philanthropists on the topic of "Modern Philanthropy and the Role of Women." The event took place on the afternoon of 16 September 2014, with 31 Vietnamese guests and a delegation of seven female philanthropists visiting from Washington State (USA).



Madm Ton Nu Thi Ninh began the discussion . Photo: Quang Tram

 The event was designed to bring together women philanthropists who, as studies in other parts of the world have shown, are poised and capable of challenging the root causes of injustice and social inequality. Similar studies
have not been conducted in Vietnam so we included a few men, fundraising professionals, academics and the local media to add perspective and insights to the discussion. During the half-day event, representatives from the USA and Vietnam shared recent trends in philanthropy, with a focus on collective giving and impact investing, two models of philanthropy that seek to make a larger impact compared with traditional giving activities.


Ms Megan McCloskey shared about Modern Philanthropy and the Role of Women. Photo: Quang Tram

To set the stage for the presentations, Ms. Megan McCloskey (Lotus Circle) shared four examples of modern philanthropy as described by the Asian Philanthropy Forum: strategic philanthropy, venture philanthropy, impact investing and catalytic philanthropy. "Catalytic philanthropy," she explained, "involves donors participating in larger campaigns for change; using all available tools (e.g., mass media, advertising, advocacy, corporate engagement); and sharing their knowledge and experiences with others."


Ms Susan Heikkala's presentation -  Collective Giving – A Model for Community Philanthropy. Photo: Quang Tram

Ms. Dana Doan (LIN Center for Community Development) and Ms. Susan Heikkala (Washington Women's Foundation) each shared their own, first-hand examples of collective giving models taking place in Ho Chi Minh City and Washington State, respectively. The Washington Women's Foundation regularly offers educational programs in philanthropy to its 500+ members who each contribute USD $2,500 annually to the fund and, working together, distribute approximately one million US Dollars to nonprofits and nonprofit initiatives each year. The Vietnamese model sought to engage the broader community, receiving donations as small as VND 20,000 and as large as VND 42 million. However, if we want to expand and enhance collective giving efforts in Vietnam, Dana recommended, "we need to overcome two key challenges: (1) limited networking, educational opportunities and experience sharing among the donor community; and (2) a lack of financial transparency and accountability by both the donor community and their grantees."


 Ms Dana Doan's presentation about Collective Giving in Vietnam. Photo: Quang Tram

For the business minded philanthropist, Ms. Pham Kieu Oanh (Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion) and Ms. Emer Dooley (University of Washington & Social Venture Partners) presented on social enterprises and impact investing in Vietnam and the USA. While Ms. Oanh described the current mismatch between the funding that is demanded by Vietnamese social enterprises and the funding conditions and expectations of the impact investors. 


Ms Pham Kieu Oanh share about  Social Investment in Vietnam . Photo: Quang Tram

Meanwhile, in the USA, traditional investors and the Gen X and Millennial who will inherit their wealth, are increasingly looking for ways to tackle social issues through their investments. As Professor Dooley described it, these investors are moving away from a pure financial focus towards an approach that balances financial returns with impact intentionality – also known as "patient" capital.

modern-philanthropy6Ms Emer Dooley presented about Impact Investing  – The US View. Photo: Quang Tram

During the group discussion participants explored differences and developments in each country on topics such as establishment of a social enterprise; converting a company into a social enterprise; management and reporting on donated funds; balancing donor demands with social needs. There was some discussion on the differences between male and female donors in Vietnam. With regards to frequency, most agreed that women give more often than men. However, men are seen to give larger donations, and more inclined to invest in projects that present a good value proposition, such as return on investment or long-term impact.

See Notes from Modern Philanthropy Exchange 

In wrapping up the discussion, Mdm. Ton Nu Thi Ninh challenged participants to think about how they might strengthen the impact of their giving activities. Two ideas were suggested: a consortium could be established to organize
practical trainings for local philanthropists; and the donor community could support the development of an early stage social enterprise. And, with the US and Vietnam preparing to celebrate 20 years of normalized relations in 2015, there could even be an opportunity for philanthropists in both countries to collaborate.

LIN would like to thank the Tri Viet Center for Social and Education Studies as well as Lotus Circle for co-organizing the exchange. We would also like to thank CSIP for playing a key role in the event; the Villa Song Saigon for providing a lovely venue and Les Rives for transporting the American delegation to the event.

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