AAPIP Voices

Giving Circles: Building a Movement of Change


Last weekend, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) convened giving circles from around the country in San Francisco. Being a relative newcomer to AAPIP, I thought I had signed up for a free weekend trip with amazing food, not knowing what kind of content would be in store. The quality of food surpassed expectations, but what really resonated was the quality of people.

In particular, two things really stuck out for me during the weekend.

One came from Eugene Cho, founder of One Day’s Wages, who said that a fundamental aspect of leadership is being willing to do what you are asking others to do. If you cannot, you are simply a salesman without integrity. This has a lot of meaning in the context of building a giving circle movement. During the weekend, we were asked how we can help grow the number of giving circles to 50, and the real answer is that we have to care about the root values of the giving circle. We need to show integrity, as Eugene would put it. As we continue to grow the giving circle movement, our paths are much easier when we have a deep connection to an issue. Throughout the weekend, all of the participants displayed that strong connection, as well as the energy and enthusiasm to help make this campaign a reality.

The second thing that stuck out came from the restaurant where we all had dinner. The restaurant had a quotation wall, and one from John Steinbeck spoke to the human mind as being the most valuable thing in the world.  As the giving circle campaign continues, it is important to note that each circle was envisioned by a few people—minds—wanting to make a difference. And the impact of that idea is something that can be taken to heart. As was brought up in discussion, giving circles do not have to exist forever, but can exist within certain timeframes. The longevity of a giving circle is measured not in years of existence, but in the impact of the funding distributed to Asian American organizations, and the awareness spread on behalf of building democratic philanthropy.

It was great to get away for a couple of days, and return to Boston re-energized, inspired, and grateful to have a nationwide network working towards the common goals of building democratic philanthropy and supporting Asian American organizations. Since the first giving circle was formed in Chicago (with the assistance of AAPIP), the giving circles have awarded over $800,000 to Asian American organizations nationwide. That is an amazing feat when you consider that these giving circles run solely on volunteer efforts. While it is important to keep progressing forward, I want us all to take a moment to reflect on the impact and support we have provided the Asian American population. One grant at a time, we are empowering our communities and working to change the institutional systems at play. Let’s continue to build the movement of change!

Allistair Mallillin is the Development Associate for United South End Settlements and a member of the Saffron Circle, a giving circle of multi-generational, multi-ethnic Asians committed to creating positive social change by pooling resources and sharing talents in the greater Boston Asian community.