How philanthropy is supporting Business for Good in South East Asia

Case Study

Better understanding of the corporate accountability landscape in Asia and recommendations on funding direction

Both business and philanthropy operating in Asia have a crucial role to play in transitioning our planet to a sustainable and green future. This report proposes how philanthropy could advance the business for good movement in the region and help to hold businesses to account.


The aim of this 16-week piece of research was to help a private philanthropy in Europe better understand the corporate accountability landscape in Asia, and to make recommendations as to where philanthropic funding might provide the most catalytic change.

As incomes are starting to rise across the region, questions about the wider role of business in society are emerging and ideas and narratives around Business for Good are becoming more mainstream.  

But lack of education, trust and transparency are challenges which hinder progress: where there were new policies in Asia, businesses did not understand how or why to cooperate and comply, and where there were efforts amongst businesses to operate more sustainably, funders and NGOs were not actively involved in addressing the impact on local communities.

With the help of more available data, new technologies, public pressure, and tighter environmental regulations, violations of environmental standards through core business operations and their suppliers are increasingly being exposed.

This is where philanthropy can play a key role, as a catalyst for systemic change and as a trusted bridge and convenor between sectors.

Our approach

We conducted an extensive literature review of over 70 reports, articles and news reports, more than 30 interviews with foundations and relevant stakeholders either based in or operating in Asia, hosted 2 workshops with 14 foundations, NGOs and thought leaders from around the world, and drafted several iterations of key documents including a public-facing and private final report.

Since the region is so diverse, we also identified three groupings with similar characteristics and contexts: 1) South Asia – India and Bangladesh; 2) Capital markets of Hong Kong and Singapore; 3) Low income, emerging economies in South East Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam. We also included Cambodia and Indonesia as there is relevant activity happening here.


This report offers three areas where philanthropy could advance the business for good movement in the region: through standards, accountability and field building.

Standards: Foundations can support locally appropriate standards to be implemented widely across the region. We recommend that foundations:

  • Work with benchmarking, indexing, standards and disclosure frameworks to localise and harmonise in the region
  • Educate business leaders and staff on how to internalise / implement specific standards and frameworks in their operations and along their supply chain
  • Educate business leaders and next generation leaders more broadly on climate change and double materiality

Accountability: Foundations can hold companies to account through legal, policy, reporting and disclosure. We recommend that foundations:

  • Protect, support, incentivise and provide adequate core funding/compensation to grassroots groups and watchdogs who are often undertaking highly risky and disruptive activities working on holding companies and governments to account for violations of environmental standards in their operations and in their supply chains
  • Educate/engage legal professionals, e.g. judges and lawyers; advocate for legal reform
  • Fund data-gathering initiatives to influence companies and build public knowledge, increasing trust and transparency between businesses, public and governments, and develop evidence-based policies about business practices along value chain

Field building: Foundations could help introduce and shape narratives around Business for Good, and build connections, credibility and positioning for funders to be working in this space. We recommend that foundations:

  • Partner with aligned philanthropic organisations by co-funding specific initiatives or pooling funds, particularly to support policy research and companies focussed on delivering positive climate solutions
  • Host events and get to know the ecosystem, encourage active engagement from different sectors and develop a regional profile
  • Support campaigning organisations who can stimulate public dialogue on supply chain issues, build narratives on environmental issues and shift perceptions on the role of business in society

Undertaking this research enabled the foundation to maximise their regional funding tactics and drive better coordination between policy influencing and corporate engagement strategies in Europe and the impact of this work on the rest of the world.