25 Leaders in Action Awards (2015)

In 2015, AAPIP celebrated 25 years, a significant milestone for any organization.  For AAPIP, it was a special opportunity to connect and activate our vast and diverse network.  We celebrated leadership in its many forms while honoring the spirit of our activist founders through the recognition of 25 Leaders who take important actions every day to lift up AAPI communities around the nation.

The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represented a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experience, roles, and sectors throughout the country.  Additionally they address issues from immigrant rights to LGBTQ matters, from education and affordable housing to racial equity.

From August to December 2015, we celebrated our awardees and had them share their stories on our blog.

Rosie Abriam (Metro DC)

President/CEO, The Center for Asian Pacific American Women

Co-Chair, AAPIP DC Chapter

Co-Chair, Cherry Blossom Giving Circle

Committed to building the leadership opportunities of others, Rosie Abriam directs the Center for Asian Pacific American Women. CAPAW is a national organization dedicated to inspiring and activating others to be agents of change through their signature fellowship program. The fellowship program is unique in that it focuses on the individual, community, and institutional levels of transformation. Rosie is also a member of the Cherry Blossom Giving Circle, which raises funds and awareness to advance the work of Washington Metropolitan Area nonprofits meeting the needs of underserved Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

Check out our conversation with Rosie here

Surjeet Ahluwalia (Metro DC)

Executive Director, Asian American LEAD

Dedicated to strengthening relationships between underserved communities and philanthropy, Surjeet Ahluwalia creates awareness about and gives a voice to the needs of the Asian Pacific American community in the Washington D.C. Metro. Through philanthropic partnerships with government agencies, community leaders, and funders, she is able to coalesce leaders from all sectors. She is a leader committed to inspiring and activating others to be agents of change, particularly Board Members, staff, and youth.

Read our conversation with Surjeet here

Rajasvini Bhansali (San Francisco Bay Area)

Executive Director, IDEX

Rajasvini (Vini) Bhansali is the Executive Director of International Development Exchange (IDEX) and is a determined advocate who has utlilized her position to advance greater accountability to their grantee partners in the global south as well as to transform the top down paradigms that persist in philanthropy. She has dedicated her life to strengthening our democracy through movement building, and through her long and varied career and leading efforts to address the digital divide, advance human rights, and ecological sustainability.  

Read our conversation with Vini here

Cathy Cha (San Francisco Bay Area)

Program Director for Immigrant Rights and Integration, Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

As a daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Cha has worked within philanthropy and the nonprofit advocacy sector to promote equal opportunities for immgrants to be fully engaged members of the community. She has worked at the local, state, and federal level to increase citizenship, voting, education, and more humane and common sense immigration policies.

Read our conversation with Cathy here

Kelly D. Chau (Silicon Valley)

Director of Wellness Services, Asian Americans for Community Involvement

Arriving in the U.S. as a refugee child fleeing the Viet Nam War was among the childhood experiences that have contributed to Dr. Kelly D. Chau's commitment to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. She actively collaborates with schools and community-based groups in Santa Clara County, promoting education, outreach, and culturally and linguistically competent behavioral health services for unserved/underserved communities. She is truly a role model who has mobilized and motivated others to make the community in which they come from a better place for all.

Read our conversation with Kelly here

Thai Ha-Ngoc (Boston)

Program Associate, Henry P. Kendall Foundation

Through his work at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Thai Ha-Ngoc is working to strengthen the New England food system and to reducing the causes of climate change. His first experience in grantmaking began in college as part of a student grantmaking committee and extends to his personal giving as a member of the Saffron Circle which is committed to creating positive social change in the Asian community.

Check out our conversation with Thai here

Taylor & Ayden Her (Minnesota)

BMPP Giving Circle

Taylor (15) and Ayden (11) Her are siblings who are helping to make decisions about their family's charitable giving through the Building More Philanthropy with a Purpose giving circle. Both Taylor and Ayden make recommendations on behalf of their family and are fierce advocates for programs serving AAPI children and youth. They also started a cyber campaign when American Girl announced that it was no longer going to carry the only Asian American Girl doll in their history doll collection, and were featured in 18 Million Rising.

Read our conversation with Taylor and Ayden here

Read Kaohly Her's blog post about her family's commitment to social justice and philanthropy

Raj Jayadev (Silicon Valley)

Co-Founder, Silicon Valley De-Bug

Raj Jayadev is the co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug and is an unassuming social justice innovator who has developed a multi-media platform to effectively tell the often hidden stories of Silicon Valley workers, undocumented immigrants, and families impacted by mass incarceration. Throught his efforts, SV De-Bug has garnered the attention of the New York Times and other major local and national media outlets to expose the abuse and inhumane treatment of poor communities of color in the region.

Read our conversation with Raj here

Dana Kawaoka-Chen (San Francisco Bay Area)

Network Director, Bay Area Justice Funders Network

Dana Kawaoka-Chen has been instrumental in driving the development of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network from a loosely affiliated group of 5 funders to a robust, highly active alliance of more than 200 local and national funders. Through her philanthropic advocacy, Dana is an artful convener, aligning visions, ideas, and aspirations - and whose work could be made more rich and consequential when put together.

Read our conversation with Dana here

Surina Khan (San Francisco Bay Area)

CEO, Women's Foundation of California

Inspired by her mother growing up in Pakistan to take a systems approach to feeding malnurished children, Surina Khan has worked collaboratively to advance the dignity and human rights of all people in both the nonprofit and philanthropic arena. She has worked on a myriad of interconnected issues, including expanding the rights for women, LGBT people, people living with HIV/AIDS, and in the area of strengthening democratic participation and governance.

Read our conversation with Surina here

Jirayut (New) Latthivongskorn (San Francisco Bay Area)

Co-Founder, Pre-Health Dreamers

Jirayut (New) Latthivongskorn immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 9 from Thailand and from very early on became involved in his community. He has advocated for the visibility of undocumented Asians in the immigrant rights movement, and for removing barriers for students to pursue their dreams in the health and science field. As an aspiring medical doctor, New also seeks to remedy the barriers that low-income and immigrant families of America face in accessing healthcare.

Read our conversation with New here

Romana Lee-Akiyama (Philadelphia)

Co-Chair, AAPIP Philadelphia Chapter

Director of Grantmaking and Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives, WOMEN'S WAY

Romana Lee-Akiyama is the Director of Grantmaking and Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives at WOMEN’S WAY. WOMEN’S WAY is a powerful voice for women and girls, seeking to create an equitable, just, and safe future for all communities in the Greater Philadelphia region. In this dual role, she has led all grantmaking efforts of the organization, as well as serving as the chief strategist and advisor in all matters related to diversity and inclusion. Romana is also the co-chair of the Philadelphia Chapter of AAPIP, and has played an active role in supporting Hispanics in Philanthropy and other philanthropic leaders of color in the Philadelphia region.

Check out our conversation with Romana here

Frank Liu (New York)

Co-Chair, The Dinner Guys Giving Circle

A truly inspirational leader to many, Frank Liu brings innovation, enthusiasm, and optimism to his efforts to mobilize those around him for a greater purpose. He co-founded The Dinner Guys, a New York-based giving circle whose mission is to celebrate and strengthen the love and support of their members over meals and other life-affirming occasions, and collectively contribute to improve the conditions of and/or support underserved AAPI LGBT sectors in New York City.  Some of the groups they have supported include Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY).

Read our conversation with Frank here

Sharon Maeda (Seattle)

Founding Executive Director (Retired), 21 Progress

Sharon Maeda's deep love for humanity, steadfast integrity, and generosity have been exemplified through her work within, in partnership with, and on behalf of diverse and underserved communities. She has worked across sectors and continues to strive to achieve equity and justice by impacting individuals, communities, and institutions. She is especially remarkable for the mentoring and support she's provided over several decades to young and emerging leaders for AAPIs as well as across other races, ethnicities, and cultures.

Read our conversation with Sharon here

Joy Messinger (Chicago)

Educator, Organizer, and Non-Profit Consultant for Reproductive & Social Justice

Working at the intersections of multiple issues, Joy Messinger extends her multifaceted lens and experiences to her community activism. As a proven organizer and leader, she motivates activists working on a wide range of issues, including reproductive justice, sexuality education, AAPI women's and trans concerns, adoptee, and LGBTQ POC issues. She is also a published poet and an acclaimed spoken word artist.

Check out our conversation with Joy here

Serena Moy (Chicago)

Administrator, The Blowitz-Ridgeway Foundation

Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Asian Giving Circle

As a founding member of Asian Giving Circle and the AAPIP Chicago chapter, Serena Moy has been instrumental in creating platforms to discuss and address the funding disparities facing low-income AAPI communities as well as leadership pipelines for emerging practitioners committed to addressing those funding gaps.

Read our conversation with Serena here

Fa'aluaina (Lua) Pritchard (Seattle)

Executive Director, Asia Pacific Cultural Center

As Excutive Director of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Fa'aluaina (Lua) Pritchard is working to bridge communities and generations through arts, culture, education, and business. Lua is also a key leader of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC), dedicated to promoting equitable access to culturally competent and linguistically accessible health and human services, economic development for small businesses, civil and human rights, equal access to education, and other concerns of Asian Pacific Americans in Washington State. Lua is a nationally recognized leader working at both the grassroots and federal policy level in both the Samoan community and more broadly. Her work spans several decades and has enriched the lives of communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

Karthick Ramakrishnan (Los Angeles)

Professor of Public Policy & Political Science, UC Riverside

Founder, AAPIData.com

Karthick Ramakrishnan is passionate about the power of action research and is working to ensure that quality data about AAPIs is accessible for all. His research is focused on civic participation, immigration policy, and the politics of race, ethnicity, and immigration in the United States. As a result, he is effectively shifting the public discourse on where AAPIs stand on critical issues such as affirmative action, income inequality, and affordable health care.

Read our conversation with Karthick here

Luna Ranjit (New York)

Co-Founder/Executive Director, Adhikaar

Regarded as an expert on emerging immigrant communities, Luna Ranjit ensures that underrepresented voices, including those of Nepali women, are part of advocacy efforts on issues including immigrant rights, domestic workers, nail salon workers, labor trafficking, and language access. Luna is the Executive Director of Adhikaar (meaning "rights" in Nepali), a New York-based nonprofit organization working with the Nepali-speaking community to promote human rights and social justice for all. Most recently, Adhikaar has spearheaded efforts to raise critical disaster relief funds in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes, the worst that the country has experienced in 80 years, affecting millions of families.

Read our conversation with Luna here

Roselma Samala (Los Angeles)

Program Officer, The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation

A champion for increasing resources for diverse and underserved communities in Los Angeles, Roselma Samala has actively leveraged her role to inform the mainstream philanthropic community about the assets of AAPI communities and the challenges they face. As a natural problem-solver and connector, she works collaboratively to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations to grow their resources and impact.

Read our conversation with Roselma here

Neville Vakharia (Philadelphia)

Assistant Professor/Research Director, Drexel University

Co-Chair, Asian Mosaic Fund

As a member of the Asian Mosaic Fund giving circle, Neville Vakaharia has been a force in ensuring that resources are targeted to Asian-led community based organizations. The Asian Mosaic Fund has supported a variety of organizations serving the Asian American community: arts organizations, a community center and nonprofits helping crime victims, those with AIDS, and those seeking to learn English. He has spent countless hours and energy in developing a framework for responsible grantmaking as well as a sound participatory decision-making process for giving circle participants.

Read our conversation with Neville here

Sue Van (Miami)

President/CEO, Wallace H. Coulter Foundation

Since learning about the critical funding gap and the vast needs of AAPI communities, Sue Van is utilizing her business prowess and entrepreneurial spirit to support nonprofits to become sustainable and therefore more powerful. Much to her chagrin, The Coulter Foundation she leads has become the largest strategic investor in the community. She is dedicated to ensuring that AAPIs are given every opportunity to pursue the American dream. 

Paul Watanabe (Boston)

Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies/Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston

Recently appointed as a WHIAAPI commissioner, Paul Watanabe has been instrumental in producing numerous studies to help shed light on the wide range of issues facing the Asian American community.  Paul is currently director of the Institute for Asian American Studies and associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His principal research and teaching interests are in the areas of American political behavior, ethnic group politics, Asian Americans, and American foreign policy.  His leadership has been recognized across academic and community spaces and increasingly vocal in local philanthropic advocacy efforts.

Read our conversation with Paul here

Kayva Yang (Minnesota)

Non-profit & Philanthropy Consultant

Kayva Yang has over 15 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, with a commitment to work within and strengthen the capacity of people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied communities in creating meaningful social change. She most recently worked at PFund Foundation, a resource and community builder for LGBT and allied communities by providing grants and scholarships, developing leaders, and inspiring giving.  Additionally, she has been devoted to building women of color leadership and organizing for social change through coalition-building and arts activism.

Read our conversation with Kayva here

Dae Joong Yoon (Los Angeles)

Executive Director, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium

Selfless, brave, and resilient are often attributed to Dae Joong "DJ" Yoon, the Executive Director of National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC). For over 20 years, he has been a tireless advocate for immigrant rights and recently fasted for 22 days on the steps of Capitol Hill for immigration reform. He, along with other fasters, have reignited the conversations for immigration reform. 

Read our conversation with DJ here