We intuitively believe that in times of crisis, investors would be quick to abandon any pretense of high-minded philanthropy and redirect their money with return on investment (ROI) as their one and only guiding light, investing in any and all “sin” stocks that could save their flagging portfolios.
But one of the biggest and most welcome surprises of the pandemic age has been continued and growing interest in impact investing.
A Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) study found that the global impact investing market is growing, while an ISS study has linked a company’s environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance to profitability. These insights support opportunities for social impact in emerging markets like Thailand.
Learn more about why impact investing is gaining traction in Thailand and discover the key pillars of the Thai social impact ecosystem.
Why impact investing is here to stay
As a new investment class, awareness of impact investing is relatively low despite its growth. Because of their overlapping intentions, impact investing is often heard in the same conversation as socially responsible (SRI) investing—avoiding companies with detrimental social or expnvironmental practices—and ESG investing—building portfolios based on ESG performance.
Impact investing goes beyond merely avoiding social or environmental harm and actively seeks to achieve a positive impact—what the GIIN refers to as “intentionality.” However, there remains an expectation of ROI, which differentiates impact investing from venture or traditional philanthropy.
Unlike other kinds of investment classes, impact investing requires more than writing a check. Impact investors tend to be characterized by a deeper involvement in the development, management, and performance assessment of investees—generally, social enterprises. Johannes Weber, founder of Social Venture Fund, the first pan-European social venture capital fund, stated that social enterprises benefit greatly from impact investors willing to support them by sharing their infrastructure, knowledge and networks.
“… most social venture capital funds go to great lengths in order to support social entrepreneurs not only with money but with infrastructure, knowledge and their network.”– Johannes Weber
Founder, Social Venture Fund
This is the crux of why Thailand is ripe for impact investing. Social enterprises based in Thailand find a number of business development service (BDS) institutions & networks providing mutual technical support, capacity building, and financial assistance.
Ashoka Thailand is the national office of “largest network of leading social entrepreneurs in the world,” and claims to be the first organization to drive social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in the country. Social entrepreneurs that become “Ashoka Fellows” receive financing, capacity-building services, and networking opportunities with over 3,300 Fellows worldwide. Since establishing itself in the country in 1989, Thailand has become a country with the fifth largest Ashoka Fellow network in the world.
Tanin Timtong, one of the many Ashoka Fellows in the country, founded Learn Education Co., Ltd. to develop “Online Blended Learning Solutions,” which combines the advantages of traditional classroom learning, like teacher-student interaction, with technology and systems that resolve many of the disadvantages, such as unfavorable student-to-teacher ratios. This allows students to learn at their own pace and teachers to rebalance their focus away from lecturing and more toward individual coaching.
Schools that can pay are charged a per-student fee, while those that can’t are served through a cross-subsidy structure. Participating schools have seen their national standardized test scores rise as much as 20 percent, and Learn Education already works with 35,000 students across 150 schools nationwide.
ChangeFusion—a non-profit institute established in 2001 under the Thai Rural Reconstruction Movement Foundation under the Royal Patronage—has been a pioneer in the social enterprise ecosystem, providing mentoring, investment, and networking services for social enterprises. This includes coaching social entrepreneurs on business strategy, measuring social impact, and developing partnerships and then funding enterprises with promising and scalable solutions through its investment arm, ChangeVentures.
ChangeFusion has supported several social impact initiatives in the country, including the BKIND Mutual Fund launched in collaboration with BBL Asset Management Co., Ltd. and Khon Thai Foundation to invest in equities of companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand with strong performance with respect to principles of ESGC (Environment, Society, Good Governance, and Anti-Corruption).
National Innovation Agency
Not surprisingly, the Thai government has developed its own organization for supporting social enterprises. The National Innovation Agency (Public Organization) (NIA), a non-profit organization of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, is tasked with spearheading startup business development as part of the government’s goal of strengthening Thailand as a hub of startup business development and innovation.
In 2017, the NIA launched its Social Innovation Platform, a development and investment pipeline for social innovations supporting communities, agriculturalists, SMEs and social enterprises. The pipeline is divided into stages for identifying social problems, issuing grants for pilot projects, and scaling successful projects with zero-interest loans of up to THB3 million (US$100,000). The NIA also partners with local banks to provide additional funding to social startups through loans of up to five million baht.
Social Enterprise Thailand
A part of the Silicon Valley success story has to do with the number of tech enterprises fostering an ecosystem for collaboration and networking.
To leverage the strengths and services of like-minded social entrepreneurs, the Social Enterprise Thailand Association (SE Thailand) was founded in 2019, formalizing an unofficial network of social enterprises that had been growing organically since 2016. SE Thailand connects member enterprises in Thailand while offering non-financial support takes the form of consulting hours and classes, preferential procurement from government and corporate partners, and discounts and other privileges from partner entities.
Corporate partners are encouraged to pursue impact investment opportunities through the association.
Thailand Social Innovation Platform
The values and objectives of social enterprises are diverse, so it has been useful for stakeholders to communicate these values through the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The UNDP’s Thailand Social Innovation Platform aims to create an ecosystem of social impact stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, startups, corporations, universities, non-profits, and investors with the purpose of achieving the SDGs. It ultimately seeks to centralize the various social innovation initiatives in the country.
The frontier of impact investment
The COVID-19 pandemic has been seen as the catalyst of several trends like increased automation and remote working. However, it has also opened the eyes of investors around the world, as the pandemic shattered fragile social safety nets and the most vulnerable communities bore the brunt of the economic fallout.
Amid worsening social inequality—coupled with growing concern over climate change and the biodiversity crisis—the momentum around impact investing is growing, as impact measurements and management practices continue to mature. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has produced 20 country SDG Investor Maps, including one for Thailand, that identifies investment opportunity areas where impact investing can make a difference.
As a dynamic emerging market, Thailand is uniquely positioned to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis at the forefront of impact investment.