Paving the way for impact in Southeast Asia

A global priority: sustainable growth

As a fast-growing region encompassing 11 countries and nearly 700 million people, Southeast Asia is as diverse as it is attractive to international investors. The rapid economic development of the past 15 years has drawn attention not only to the region’s potential, but also to its vital role in helping the world meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet Southeast Asia faces considerable challenges to sustainable growth. As a start, the average GDP per capita, at approximately USD 5,000, lags behind other regions. The region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change, according to the USAID. Agricultural productivity is also expected to decline as current practices strain land and water availability. When it comes to financial inclusion, the majority of micro, small- and medium-sized borrowers, especially women, are underbanked. And the need to upgrade, if not develop future-proof infrastructure – notably for the healthcare, water sanitation and education sectors – has become even more pressing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For these reasons alone, Southeast Asia represents an immense opportunity for investors committed to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a high-growth market. Private impact investors and development finance institutions have stepped in and deployed increasing capital in the region. According to the Global Impact Investing Network, the USD 6.7 billion invested between 2017 and 2019 already represents a 60% jump when compared with the total USD 11.3 billion invested the decade prior.

Even with the rise in impact capital, the region still accounts for only a fraction of global impact investment. Because of the unique economic, cultural and political landscape of each country, exposure to promising impact investing opportunities is highly dependent on local knowledge and access.

Personal insights: impact capital at work

As a seasoned impact asset manager with specialized regional teams we have been able to identify several interesting impact opportunities and hope to pave the way for more impact capital to flow into the region. Based on our experience to date, we expect that the two most populous and fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia, Vietnam and Indonesia, will continue to drive impact investing growth.


In Vietnam in particular, the effects of climate change are expected to exacerbate current problems – from sea level rise and salinity intrusion to flooding – within the decade. The scope of our engagement here reflects this degree of urgency.

Green Lending & Direct Investments
On behalf of a climate finance fund that we manage, we partnered with four financial institutions (FIs) to support development of green and sustainable lending products aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. These partnerships provided long-term funding as well as Technical Assistance (TA). Technical Assistance is made possible through funding from donors*, and supports our partner FIs in developing renewable energy and energy efficiency loan products, as well as enhances their environmental & social risk management capability. In addition to indirectly financing CO2 reduction opportunities, we also supported four renewable energy developers and operators as direct investments.

Electric mobility
We recently had the opportunity to contribute in financing a Vietnamese electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer VinFast to scale e-bus manufacturing and EV charging stations across the country. The transaction is expected to boost e-bus production for use in public transportation and EV development through support in building essential charging and support infrastructure across the country.

Source: responsAbility
Author: Quang Duy Bui