ARNOVA-Asia Conference 2018: New Opportunities in Asia

On the 27 – 28 of July 2018, the Association for Research on Non-profit Organisations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA)-Asia Conference 2018 took place in Hong Kong University. Themed “Evolving Government-Third Sector Relations in Asia”, the conference aimed to address changing roles of the third sector in public affairs, and implications for non-profit management, philanthropic practice, and volunteering.

This is the second edition of the conference’s Asian instalment, signalling an increased interest in the sector in this region. The 2017 conference took place in Beijing, China, and the upcoming edition of the conference in 2019 is due to take place in Tai Chung, Taiwan.

Hong Kong is moving in the direction of social innovation to meet social needs, shared Mrs.  Carrie Lam, GBS, GBM, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who was the officiating guest of the conference. Conference attendees – made up of academics, non-profit executives, philanthropy practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and policymakers – presented on a broad range of themes, from trajectories of government-third sector relations, to processes of collaboration, to the use of ICT and social media.


ACSEP in Action

Two research staff from the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy presented their research. Dr. Frank Hubers shared results from his experimental study on “Does showing poverty affect donations?” while Ms. Hioe Zhi Hui Joanna shared preliminary findings from her and ACSEP Director Associate Professor Lam Swee Sum’s exploratory study on “Grassroots Philanthropy in the New Millennium in Singapore”.


Dr. Frank Hubers (top) and Ms. Hioe Zhi Hui Joanna (bottom) sharing ACSEP research.

“The conference was a good way to understand the social sector in Hong Kong,” said Dr. Hubers. Ms. Hioe concurred, “It was a pleasure to meet scholars and practitioners whose work centres in East Asia, and to hear of opportunities for the sector’s growth at this time.”

International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship 2017

This year marks the 3rd of the International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship (ISSE) since its inaugural in 2015, organised by Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP), NUS Business School. On 21th April, ISSE 2017 provided a platform for academic researchers, social entrepreneurs and various stakeholders to share their knowledge and expertise in the development of social enterprises.

The theme this year, Impact Assessment for Social Enterprises: Contextualisation or Generalisation, is a push towards understanding frameworks to facilitate social investment flows so as to rightly allocate resources to where the expected social impact is the highest.

Before social enterprises can scale up, they need to provide convincing evidence that their activities have a social impact. There exists a wide array of options for social impact assessments, ranging from simple logical frameworks to complex reporting tools and metrics, and from participatory evaluations to randomized control trials. What is the difference among all these approaches – and is there a right approach? Moreover, impact assessment is costly. While some may consider it as a legitimate cost for aiding the enterprises in strategic decision-making, others may feel that it is extra cost and bureaucracy that comes at the expense of the effectiveness of the enterprise.

Our keynote speaker, Professor Fergus Lyon, from the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University, took the stage with his speech discussing the opportunities and dilemmas of impact assessment for social enterprises.

Professor Fergus Lyon, from the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University

Following which, a plenary session featuring 5 thought leaders in the social space here in Singapore shared about the usage of impact assessment within their organisations and in their line of business. The general sentiment was that forming networks, sharing knowledge and engaging stakeholders could ultimately prove impact assessment to improve outcomes for beneficiaries.

Plenary Session with Ms Ramandeep Sidhu, Assistant Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships, National Volunteer & Centre (NVPC), Singapore, Mr Alfie Othman, CEO of the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE), Ranchika Ranchan, Head of Funding & Partnerships (Social) of Tote Board Singapore, Ms Tina Huang, Deputy CEO, National Council of Social Service, Singapore and Ms Martina Mettgenberg Lemière, Head of Insights and Capacity Building, Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) (left to right)


With an end to the insightful sharing session, academic researchers from various institutions were invited to present their respective papers. A total of 4 papers were presented, with titles including:

  • A Landscape of Social Impact Assessment Practices among Impact Investors in Asia – Frank Hubers, ACSEP NUS Business School, Singapore
  • Measuring the Social Value Added by social enterprises – A Case Study applying the SIMPLE Methodology – Jim McLoughlin, University of Brighton, UK
  • Reporting in Social Entrepreneurship – Barbara Scheck, Ann-Kristin Achleitner, Alexander Bassen, Wolfgang Spiess-Knafl, Munich Business School, Germany
  • Distinguishing Game Changes from Boastful Charlatans: Which Social Enterprises Measure their Impact? – Karen Maas, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

As the sessions came to a close, the key takeaway from the day was that there is a need for greater understanding of how organisations can demonstrate their impact and a need for a common language on impact assessment. Indeed, funders tend to have more say in driving this common language and the allocation of the right resources to the right place would maximize the social impact brought about by social enterprises.

The ISSE 2017 Proceedings can be downloaded here.