AAPIP Voices

Creating A Movement of Strong Leaders


By: Cynthia Choi, Deputy Director

Irene Hirano Inouye always knew she wanted to dedicate her life to public service and to ensure the needs of diverse communities are met.  As she puts it, “I came of age during a time when I was trying to understand my own family’s story of being incarcerated during WWII.”  Hirano credits her involvement in the Redress and Reparations and Civil Rights Movements for instilling in her the belief to be a part of the change that you want to see.   

From her early days in the trenches of running a health clinic for low-income African American, Latina and Asian American and Pacific Islander women to leading the Japanese American National Museum, her commitment has always been to ensure that all cultures and communities are valued and served.

Hirano brings this very perspective to her role serving on two national foundation boards, Kresge and Ford.  And while she believes there are not enough AAPIs serving on national foundation boards, she applauds the foundations that have made a commitment to including individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives in their leadership. 

“The opportunity to serve in the role of foundation trustee is an honor and with it comes great responsibility,” she states.   Along the with traditional board duties of governance and fiscal oversight, there is also an obligation to ensure the policies and practices of the foundation uphold principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.  This is evident in the staffing and where investments are made.  In fact, Hirano believes that while each foundation is different in their priorities and approach, they all have a “duty to serve the public through the resources it has been endowed with” — and the “public” is increasingly diverse.

Hirano always believes that it is important to create networks and connection that enable us to learn from one another, especially in the case of the rapidly growing AAPI community.  As a foundation trustee she has felt a unique responsibility to provide a way for trustees to have access to information and to create leadership connections to effectively advance the interests of our diverse communities.  There is also a practical aspect of ensuring there is a pipeline for future foundation trustees since it is very relationship based.   She appreciates WHIAAPI and AAPIP for playing the role of convener across sectors to ensure all communities are included.

Encouraged by the philanthropic leadership conversations and activities taking place at the local level, she states, “We need to create a movement of strong voices and advocate for better understanding of our diverse community, better data and ultimately increased investments”.