The Power of Partnerships: How Asia Is…
Christine Heenan

Christine Heenan Senior Vice President, The Rockefeller Foundation

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July 17, 2019

The Power of Partnerships: How Asia Is Charting a Path for Solving the Global Goals

Christine Heenan

Christine Heenan Senior Vice President, The Rockefeller Foundation

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July 17, 2019
The city of Bangkok. Patrick de Noirmont/AsiaWorks for the Rockefeller Foundation

Partnership has always been at the core of The Rockefeller Foundation’s DNA, and at the annual conference of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) late last month in Singapore, it was energizing for me to observe hundreds of optimists and change-makers coming together to forge and advance solutions to some of the region’s greatest challenges.

It was partnership, initially with governments, that brought The Rockefeller Foundation to Asia at the dawn of the twentieth century. Together we established the region’s first ministries of health, and helped build the field of modern public health through Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, and the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing. Today, these institutions remain the gold standard in medical care in the region, and, arguably, the world. They endure because they were built on a bedrock of partnership.

During this century, we at The Rockefeller Foundation strongly believe the power of partnerships will drive the most successful philanthropic endeavors – those that make change that endures and improves millions of lives.

The fact is, our challenge today is not as much to discover solutions as it is to scale them. We know how to prevent cervical cancer; we know how to bring renewable energy to those without power; we know how to adapt our diets so that food protects us rather than harms us.  We live in an era where widespread change requires bringing all of our resources to bear: philanthropic capital, market capital, private sector innovation, civil society, empowered communities, and government policy. New technologies are giving voice and livelihoods to people across the planet, especially women and girls. But unlike decades past, philanthropists seeking to affect lasting change can no longer work by themselves, or with governments alone. We have to leverage each other’s strengths to make real the change we wish to see. We must stand on each other’s shoulders to break through.

Good partnerships require humility, a willingness to compromise, and the ability to look past differences and remain open-minded to new ideas and approaches.

The urgency we face is greater than ever before. We have just over 10 years until the 2030 deadline the world has set to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Asia in particular sits at the crosshairs of some of the world’s most pressing challenges – from climate change to preventable diseases to inequality. But the region also possesses tremendous assets waiting to be unleashed to help solve these problems. It has advanced technologies unimaginable two decades ago. Its youth and unique culture of entrepreneurship have opened new possibilities previously inaccessible to marginalized communities. It is generating wealth at a speed unmatched in modern history. Through partnership, we can ensure these forces converge to help all of humanity rise.

Philanthropic partnerships, when successful, are fueled by the same characteristics that contribute to any kind of successful partnership: mutual respect, complementary strengths, and the synergy that makes their cumulative impact greater and more far-reaching together than independently.  Good partnerships require humility, a willingness to compromise, and the ability to look past differences and remain open-minded to new ideas and approaches.

Christine Heenan, Vice President of Global Policy and Advocacy at The Rockefeller Foundation, sits down with journalist Zubaidah Nazeer to address audience questions after the screening of the #Solvable documentary during the 2019 AVPN Conference, June 2019 in Singapore.

When it comes to cross-sector partnerships, Asia is, as usual, leading the way. Consider Hong Kong-based Prudence Foundation, which uses its ties to the private sector to help communities be more prepared for natural disasters – its Disaster Tech Innovation Program crowdsources innovative technologies that can help government officials save lives during storms, earthquakes, and floods. Or look at the Ayala Foundation’s partnership with local governments and schools in the Philippines, to bring new techniques and technologies into the classroom for teachers and principals alike – making lifelong learning possible for educators in addition to their students.

For our part, The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to advancing the power of partnerships in Asia. We’re working closely with the Thai government to accelerate collaboration across ASEAN – home to incredibly diverse cultures, languages, religions, and politics. In particular, we’re supportive of their new ASEAN Center for Development Studies and Dialogue to be headquartered in our regional hometown of Bangkok, to improve the coordination, agility, and success of our effort to solve the SDGs.

Meanwhile in India and Myanmar, we’re partnering with private financiers, on-the-ground nonprofits, and local and state-level energy service companies to bring reliable electricity to some of the most energy-poor communities in those countries. As I saw last year in the remote Indian village of Naratoli, this work is bending the curve on energy access so that children and families can thrive in the modern economy and power their potential.

Humanity has never been more interconnected and interdependent than in this century. The world is changing rapidly, increasing in progress as well as in risk. Realizing our greatest hopes for the future – and avoiding our greatest fears – requires collaboration in order to achieve the global goals by 2030. Every individual, organization, and coalition – from funders to innovators, to government and business leaders, civil society and those working at the front lines – will play a critical role in solving the greatest challenges of our time. The key is in doing this together. In an era of convergence, we too must converge. As I said in Singapore, we hope many others will join us.


Editor’s Note: This is adapted from a speech the author delivered at the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network’s Annual Conference in Singapore, on June 27, 2019.

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