Digital Dilemmas: Asia’s Social Sector Faces Cybersecurity Challenges

Asia’s social sector is stepping into the digital era with enthusiasm, yet recent findings suggest significant gaps in preparedness for cybersecurity threats. The Doing Good Index 2024, released by the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS), reveals that a staggering 70% of social sector organizations (SDOs) in the region are insufficiently prepared against digital threats. This comprehensive study shines a light on the sector’s struggles and potential as it navigates the rapidly evolving technological landscape.

The social sector in Asia is a critical player in addressing pressing social and environmental issues. As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the performance of social organizations across 18 Asian economies over the past two years has come under scrutiny. CAPS’ latest study draws on insights from 2,183 social sector organizations and 140 experts across 17 economies to provide a clear picture of the challenges and opportunities presented by digital transformation.

Despite the rapid adoption of digital technology, SDOs are struggling to keep pace with technological changes due to inadequate access to digital infrastructure, lack of capacity, and insufficient donor support. The Doing Good Index finds that digital technology is now commonplace in the Asian social sector, with 95% of organizations surveyed using digital tools in their work, and 88% planning to increase their digital technology use in the next two years. However, this widespread adoption masks significant underlying issues.

A key challenge identified is the lack of resources to fully leverage digital technology and protect against associated risks. The survey found that 59% of SDO staff lack the necessary skills to use digital tools effectively, and 70% of organizations either do not have or are unaware of an organizational cybersecurity strategy. This gap in preparedness poses a significant risk as technology continues to advance, creating a new digital divide that hampers the sector’s ability to deliver critical services to vulnerable communities.

The Index highlights three main technology needs among SDOs: hardware, operational software, and staff training. Yet, securing operational funding for these necessities remains a significant hurdle. Almost half of the surveyed organizations reported that their donors do not fund digital technology and IT costs, highlighting a glaring funding gap that needs to be addressed to ensure these organizations can keep up with digital advancements.

“Asia’s social sector is unprepared for technological change amidst the rapid digitalization in the region,” said Dr. Ruth Shapiro, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of CAPS. “Philanthropy can play a crucial role in meeting digital technology needs. Donors should recognize that challenges in securing operational funding hinder the organizations they support from investing in digital technology that could improve their productivity and impact. Operational funding and in-kind donations can help social delivery organizations invest in capacity building to fully leverage digital technologies to meet their mission of helping our communities.”

The Doing Good Index also examines how different economies are creating enabling environments for private social investment, such as philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The study reveals that there has been little change in the regulatory and societal environments for social sector funding across the region over the past two years, with the exception of Sri Lanka, which has shown improvement.

Funding for the social sector has remained mostly unchanged, with domestic funding (from individuals, foundations, and companies) being the main source, comprising 64% of the average SDO’s budget. Government funding (20%) and foreign funding (15%) have also remained steady. However, the sector continues to face significant challenges, including funding shortfalls, staffing difficulties, and the need for staff upskilling and reskilling. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of SDOs struggle to recruit staff, and 69% report difficulty retaining them.

Governments across Asia continue to send mixed messages on social sector regulations. While some governments embrace the social sector as a partner, others are inconsistent, at times encouraging growth and at other times implementing overly burdensome regulations and restrictions. Despite these challenges, there is strong optimism within the sector, demonstrating the resilience of SDOs in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Mr. Ronnie Chan, Co-Founder and Chair of CAPS, commented, “With ongoing crises ranging from regional conflicts to climate change, Asia faces an uphill battle to create a more equitable future. The good news is that with increasing private wealth, Asia has a unique opportunity to leap ahead and implement policies and programs to solve community problems. We at CAPS are pleased to release the fourth iteration of the Doing Good Index, offering actionable and evidence-based insights for business leaders, philanthropists, and policymakers to consider how they can facilitate and increase private capital flows toward the social sector. The Doing Good Index also offers a blueprint for a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future for the region.”

The Doing Good Index is a vital resource for understanding the regulatory and societal environment in which private capital is directed toward doing good in Asia. Now in its fourth iteration, the Index identifies the policies and incentives that can drive private capital to the social sector and considers how stakeholders can build stronger, more trusting connections. It is an evidence-based resource for policymakers, philanthropists, academics, and nonprofit leaders, offering in-depth insights and best practices to increase and enhance philanthropic giving.

This edition of the Index is based on data from four sub-indexes: Regulations, Tax and Fiscal Policy, Ecosystem, and Procurement. These indicators provide a comprehensive picture of the factors impacting the supply and demand for private social investment in each economy. The 2024 Index also includes questions about how the social sector is embracing digital technology in service provision, fundraising, and business operations. The findings are evidence-based, derived from survey data collected from 2,183 SDOs and 140 experts across 17 economies, supported by a network of partners and experts across Asia. After tabulation, the Index categorizes the economies into four clusters: Doing Well, Doing Better, Doing Okay, and Not Doing Enough.

The Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS), established in 2013, is an independent, action-oriented research and advisory organization committed to improving the quality and quantity of philanthropic giving throughout Asia. CAPS’ mission is to enhance the social investment sector in Asia by researching and advising on best practices, models, policies, and strategies that can contribute to positive systemic change.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, it is crucial for the social sector in Asia to address its technological challenges head-on. By bridging the digital divide and securing necessary funding and resources, SDOs can continue to play a pivotal role in addressing social and environmental issues across the region. The Doing Good Index 2024 provides a roadmap for stakeholders to enhance their support for the social sector, ensuring it is well-equipped to meet the demands of the digital age.


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Maria Irene
Maria Irene
Maria Irene is a multi-faceted journalist with a focus on various domains including Cryptocurrency, NFTs, Real Estate, Energy, and Macroeconomics. With over a year of experience, she has produced an array of video content, news stories, and in-depth analyses. Her journalistic endeavours also involve a detailed exploration of the Australia-India partnership, pinpointing avenues for mutual collaboration. In addition to her work in journalism, Maria crafts easily digestible financial content for a specialised platform, demystifying complex economic theories for the layperson. She holds a strong belief that journalism should go beyond mere reporting; it should instigate meaningful discussions and effect change by spotlighting vital global issues. Committed to enriching public discourse, Maria aims to keep her audience not just well-informed, but also actively engaged across various platforms, encouraging them to partake in crucial global conversations.


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