Track Session 1.1 Serving the underserved
Track Session 1.1
Serving the underserved
- Faustina FYNN-NYAME Executive Director (Africa), Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
- Aditya NATRAJ Chief Executive Officer, Piramal Foundation
- Uta SCHÖNBERG Professor of Economics, The University of Hong Kong
- Pritha VENKATACHALAM Partner and Co-Head, Asia and Africa, The Bridgespan Group
- Bernard CHAN Chairperson, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
The track session had an engaging conversation between a mix of practitioners and funders. The panel first tackled the challenge of defining what is meant by the title of the track. While each panellist had a different view on who is underserved in their communities, they all believed that for solutions to work – serving communities of need required actively engaging the underserved and ensuring agency over how to use, operate, track and ultimately benefit from solutions. Beneficiaries needed to be the owners of the solutions to ensure buy-in and sustainability.
Mrs Pritha Venkatachalam, Partner and Co-Head, Asia and Africa of The Bridgespan Group, emphasised the need to treat communities as active participants rather than passive recipients and urged a shift from a beneficiary-centric approach to a more holistic, systemic perspective. Ms Faustina Fynn-Nyame, Executive Director (Africa) of Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, brought an African perspective, discussing the challenges of the term “underserved” and the history of external interventions in Africa. She emphasised the importance of putting clients and the people they wish to serve at the centre of decision-making processes. She advocated for community-driven solutions and localised approaches, citing examples of successful initiatives like school feeding programmes in Nairobi. She stressed the need to break myths about Africa’s resources and government support, underscoring the urgency to empower African communities.
Responding to The Hon Bernard Charnwut Chan, Chairperson of The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Mr Aditya Natraj, Chief Executive Officer of Piramal Foundation, shared insights into the challenges faced by marginalised groups in India, particularly first-generation economic migrants transitioning to urban environments. He highlighted the cultural and social biases that hinder women’s participation in the workforce and presented innovative programmes designed to empower women in India. He also emphasised the need for a change in workplace culture and gender norms to create more inclusive environments. Prof Uta Schönberg, Professor of Economics of The University of Hong Kong, delved into the economic costs of marginalising groups in the labour market, such as religious and ethnic minorities and women. She reflected on policies in European countries aimed at breaking gender norms and encouraging fathers to take parental leave, ultimately resulting in more gender-balanced workplaces. She stressed that addressing marginalisation is not only a social imperative but also an economic one.
The panel felt that philanthropies were well suited for creating systemic change as governments and the private sectors might not focus on solutions that may take years, if not decades, to make impact. Philanthropies have the staying power to work with the system and as Mrs Venkatachalam said to “take 5 steps forward, but then take 2 steps back” needed to slowly change systems. Overall, the panel believed that philanthropy’s role in advocating for policy change can help kick-start this process and support the first generation in making difficult, long-term change.