Accelerating Change through Innovative Partnership Models – AVPN 2022

Dato’ Shahira Ahmed Bazari, Yayasan Hasanah

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am most delighted to be here to share some of my thoughts on a subject I am very passionate about in strategic philanthropy – and that is on Connecting the Dots, Coordination and Collaboration in the third sector. Thank you AVPN for giving me this opportunity to share Yayasan Hasanah’s own journey in this space.

Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the list of things that make a great nation, the strength of its people ranks highly, if not in the top spot. The last two years were challenging years for all – reeling from the pandemic two years in a row, coping with economic challenges as well as for many, a triple whammy through climate challenges and natural disasters to boot.

As we worked with individuals, families, our civil society partners, and even within the organisation itself – we saw a pattern emerge — and that is – where there was difficulty, there was also immense fortitude. For Hasanah, 2021 was a year that reflected “Strength in Adversity” or in Bahasa Malaysia “Cekal mengharungi Cabaran”.

We saw this not only amongst our partners and communities, but also amongst our own staff and the general philanthropic sector. I am sure you all can relate as you too reflect on the
year that was.

I would like to begin by telling you three short stories of individuals who prevailed and demonstrated positive attitude and strength in adversity.

Meet Kak Na – who lost all hope when her husband, the sole breadwinner, lost his job during the pandemic. But Kak Na, through our skills programme, used her creative sewing skills to earn enough income to take care her of her family and weather the pandemic, while at the same time helping turtle conservation in their community.

Mental Health – Meet Teacher Yuan, a teacher from a secondary school in Sarawak. 12.1% of children between the ages of 5-15 suffers from some kind of mental health issue in Malaysia. Teacher Yuan is one of our heroes, a mental health frontliner for all his students. Over the years, we have trained more than 1000 school counselors around the country to be mental health frontliners in our schools.

Iskul Omadal – here we meet an undocumented or stateless community – the Bajau Laut in Sabah who are educating their own brothers and sisters via an alternative school (a.k.a. ‘Iskul’) that prioritizes practical life skills, basic literacy and numeracy, self hygiene and proper nutrition.

These stories are just a glimpse of the many people we assisted in 2021 – through 169 partners and 222 projects.

Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen,

For some context, as I share some numbers, Malaysia is a country with approximately 33.8 million people – about the population size of Greater Jakarta.

From 2015 to 2020 – Hasanah has distributed RM1.2 billion (or approximately 290mn dollars), impacted over 2.2 million people and worked with 365 civil society partner organisations.

But in 2021 alone, through the power of partnerships and collaboration, we could reach more people in need like Kak Na, Teacher Yuan and the Iskul undocumented children. In 2021 alone, we managed more than 50% additional partners and programmes than in the last five years. The number of people Hasanah reached in 2021 alone represents 66% of the total amount since 2015. Meanwhile, the amount of funds
managed, partners involved, and projects overseen made up almost half of the cumulative figures measured since inception.

So, how did we do this?

This is the power of WE – the partnership and collaboration models that allowed us to assist more people in need in an expedient and efficient way. And this is what I hope to share with all of you.

Before that –

Just a little bit about the foundation.

Yayasan Hasanah (Hasanah), is the foundation of Khazanah Nasional, the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia. We were incorporated on 1st July 2015 as an independent grant-making foundation, following nine years of corporate social responsibility efforts previously driven by Khazanah Nasional (Khazanah).

In Arabic, Hasanah means “doing good” or “good deeds” and despite our primary grant-making role, we believe in going beyond dollars and cents by working towards the bigger picture of facilitating an entire ecosystem of transformation.

Our work focuses on five impact areas — Education, Community Development, Arts and Public Spaces as well as Knowledge — through which we aim to be a convenor, collaborator, and catalyst of change.

So what happened in 2020 and 2021 that catapulted our transition from a purely self-funded grant maker to one that accelerated our scale and impact through third party funds?

In a penal yesterday, Clare from IVPN spoke about working with government – and how the trust capital was tremendously bridged during the pandemic between govt, private sector and particularly civil societies. This is exactly what we witnessed in Malaysia.

There are always silver linings to adversity and challenges as they say; and as we all witnessed, a few
good things did happen resulting from the lockdown and the pandemic.

Due to the immense pressure and societal needs that tested national protection systems all around the
world, saw the mushrooming of innovative models – Necessity is the mother of all inventions as they say.

Some of our successful coordination and collaboration models are demonstrated here:

A significant collaboration model last year was the efforts of Government-Linked Companies’ Disaster Response Network (GDRN) which was transformational in coordinating acute responses to public hospitals and families during the pandemic as well as the catastrophic floods in Dec 2021. A total of RM207.2 million in funding from 39 companies were coordinated and benefitted those affected by the pandemic and floods including close to 60 public hospitals in Malaysia.

Similarly, the pilot initiative CERDIK saw 32 corporations coming together to contribute more than 150,000 devices and data connectivity to enable students from low-income households to participate in online learning. All telco companies in Malaysia participated in this initiative as well.

Yayasan Hasanah was the Secretariat coordinating both initiatives.

Another recognition last year was from the Ministry of Finance, who entrusted Yayasan Hasanah to deliver a wide range of social impact programmes and immediate aid through its various COVID & economic stimulus packages and Budget 2022 allocations which enabled us to reach a record-breaking number of 1.48 million people in 2021 alone.

I must emphasise here that partnerships were anchored on robust governance structures, trust, and adaptability in execution during emergencies. These are key ingredients to successful partnerships, enabling speed in execution to reach those most in need in a timely and coordinated manner.

Let me share and reflect on some learnings:

As we continued to receive requests for coordination and fund management during the crisis, it was evident that this was anchored on several fundamental prerequisites and key foundations :

  1. Having a robust governance and accountability system in place
    Our governance structures, audit and impact measurement processes are transparent, stable and technically sound. At the same time, we ensured and established some ground rules, and governance structure within the partnership to enable smooth decision-making, clarifying the role and scope of each stakeholder (both external and internal) in the process from the onset.
  2. Good trust capital built over the years with private, public and civil society actors
    One of the core reasons why partnerships are entered into is because of the trust we place between organizations in delivering common goal. While Hasanah seemed attractive for partnerships because we occupy a sweet spot between public, private and non-profit spaces, still, trust build over the years is key. At the same time, we were cognizant to align the objectives of the partnership, identify challenges and risks, and establish the ongoing processes that were key to sustaining the long-term trust.
  3. Authentic and deep grass roots experience and understanding.
    While partnership requests and resources may emerge top-down. Partnerships that thrive are locally driven, or bottom-up, and rooted in a thorough understanding of the issue at hand thereby seeking co-operation and co-ordination by several stakeholders. I cannot overstate the importance of engaging with the community for solutions that will matter to them, be owned and sustained by them.
  4. An agile organisation, with high performing talent pool and a supportive board
    Forging and maintaining partnerships is hard work- it is equally important to rally the support of your Board on strategic questions while putting together the right team that will bring the moving pieces together. Finally, while letting the goals of the partnership drive the agenda, partnerships need a dynamic, agile and an enabling environment.
  5. Collaboration of any kind can be adopted that is aligned to your own organisational Theory of Change and impact targets.
    We were quite particular about this, that we manage projects that are aligned to our focus areas and mindful of scope creep within the oragnisation, or doing causes that we have no knowledge or expertise in.

The five pre-requisites – Robust governance and accountability structure, Trust Capital, Deep and authentic grassroot experience & understanding, an agile organisation with a supportive Board and alignment to your own organisational expertise and Theory of Change. were important foundation for us to deliver a win-win-win partnership and impact for all parties.

Being the national foundation in Malaysia, there are high expectations for Yayasan Hasanah to lead social change in the country and bring together diverse stakeholders to weave a collective and stronger advocacy agenda. This requires us to build and nurture multi-sector partnerships and collaborations. However, what must be remembered is that irrespective of the nature of collaboration, be it with government or corporates, the premise of any collaboration is to amplify and deepen reach and impact using the collective voice. The pathways and nature of social issues may differ, but the intention and end goal should be the point of convergence.

It is important as well, as I reflect, three key behaviors that enable high trust partnerships: These are first:

Pre-aligning objectives and manage expectations

A critical learning has been that it is often important to have frank conversations about the goals of each party from the collaboration. It’s not prudent to assume that just because everyone is seated at the same table, the asks and expectations from the collaboration would be naturally aligned. In many cases, we spend too much time deliberating over the terms of the collaboration that we often do not spend enough time deeply engaging with each other on our respective goals and roles.

Second: People and Mission as True North

We have heard this many times – trust me it works! Always put the people we are trying to assit and the mission in the center of everything! Irrespective of the nature, scale and goal of collaboration, what is most significant is the value it brings to the recipients or people assisted. In any partnership and collaboration, the mission at hand should be the true north; thereby relating to my final point which is,

Truly, Let go of Egos and Logos

Sometimes getting stuck with who gets the credit jeorpadises an otherwise fantastic and high impact collaboration. Be mindful and sensitive to this. We must give credit where credit is due; and always be conscious about the objectives of others, not just your own organisation.

Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen,

I hope I have been able to provide some insights to our own journey in accelerating our impact and reach through various innovative partnership models over the last two years. In Hasanah, we have seven different partnership models, and I have just shared a few with you.

Today, Yayasan Hasanah is able to impact more people in need and build capacities of civil society organisations through a structure that is agile and able to respond to the needs of the nation.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” – an apt African proverb to close my session today.

I hope you have found the sharing useful.

Thank you for listening.