AAPIP Voices

A Philadelphia Story: Leveraging Our Collective Assets


(Body photo: N. Nina Ahmad; Header photo: Philadelphia co-chairs, Romana Lee-Akiyama and Amelia Belardo-Cox)

N. Nina Ahmad is an AAPIP Board Member and The Philadelphia Foundation Trustee, Chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs, and founder and advisory committee member of the Asian Mosaic Fund.

We recently talked with her about the community and philanthropic landscape in Philadelphia.


What does the local community infrastructure and landscape look like in Philadelphia?


Nina:  On many levels Philly has so much to offer.  It has diverse civic institutions, world-class academic institutions and medical facilities as well as vibrant historical, cultural and creative venues.  But like the rest of the country and world there have been dramatic shifts due to the global economy.  


Philly is one of the poorest large urban centers in the nation.  We face significant challenges in addressing the issue of poverty that require all sectors to work together.  Unfortunately, we are being neglected by our lawmakers, the private sector and philanthropy with few exceptions.


However, I am excited about the next generation of leaders who really understand the triple bottom line and the importance of engaging within and across communities.  In Philly, the nonprofit sector is playing a critical role in meeting the needs of our diverse and underserved communities.  They are truly stepping up where government has failed.  What we need to figure out is how to make sure these organizations have the adequate resources to grow their capacity and long-term sustainability.


What does the philanthropic landscape look like? What’s working and what needs to change?


Nina:  One of the reasons why I joined The Philadelphia Foundation board is because it is really committed to investing in diverse leaders and communities.  And this requires being out there in the community and nurturing those relationships.  In 2010, The Philadelphia Foundation ranked second among local foundations and gave more than the two largest foundations (in terms of assets) combined.


It is also important to note that the philanthropic landscape has shifted.  No longer are the donors and foundation leaders as connected to the beneficiaries, so the relationship is minimal.  This is why the work of the Asian Mosaic Fund giving circle is a bright spot because we are all about building a network of caring donors that is connected to our community.


What we need is more engagement across the philanthropic sector to focus on all underserved communities — not just the Asian American community.  It is about increasing awareness and in depth knowledge about our diversity and to create opportunities to do something together.  And at the same time, we need to tackle the misperceptions about Asian Americans head on.  From AAPIP’s research, we know regionally 0.07% of foundation dollars have been invested in our communities.


What is the Philly Chapter doing to facilitate this?


Nina:  I want to really credit the co-chairs Romana Lee-Akiyama and Amelia Belardo-Cox who organized a meeting to figure out what we can do about the lack of philanthropic investments in our community.  And of course, when you bring people together over lovely food and a common purpose, great things are bound to happen.  

It turned out to be an incredible brainstorming session. We talked at great length about potential strategies for increasing awareness on the status of AAPIs.  And the importance of leveraging the personal relationships we all have.  In Philly everybody knows everybody. 


What’s next for Philly?


Nina:  In early December, the chapter is organizing a funder’s roundtable on AAPI needs.  The goals of the roundtable are to highlight the needs of the diverse and rapidly growing AAPI community, share data on current philanthropic investments in the AAPI community and to build connections between funders and the local community.  This event is being co-sponsored by the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, The Philadelphia Foundation and Delaware Valley Grantmakers.  We are especially grateful to United Way who will be providing support for the program and the needs assessment.

For more information about this event, please contact AAPIP Philadelphia Chapter Co-Chairs, Romana Lee-Akiyama and Amelia O. Belardo-Cox.