AAPIP Voices

Philanthropy, Giving Circles and a New Generation of Leaders: Reflecting on the AAPIP National Convening


The September 2011 convening in San Francisco was the first AAPIP gathering I had attended, and I was impressed by the spirit and scope of the work.  I had the opportunity to bring three leaders of the Dream Act movement to present to the group, and they were so gratified to receive such a warm and supportive reception.  It was especially meaningful for them to speak before a national gathering of Asian American community leaders, and to be welcomed by their own community.

As someone who has worked with philanthropy over the years, I was so heartened to learn more about AAPIP’s advancement of democratic philanthropy.  The world of philanthropy is filled with contradictions.  To many Asian American community and non-profit organizations, philanthropy is an alienating and frustrating labyrinth of unwritten rules and bureaucratic regulations.

Yet, the power of community philanthropy and the giving circle movement that AAPIP has been a part of nurturing is that it promotes grassroots, democratic philanthropy that is controlled not by foundation presidents hidden away in their marble and steel towers, but by anyone who has a few friends and a commitment to make a difference.  The giving circle movement draws on the tradition of many Asian immigrant communities that have pulled their limited financial resources together for mutual support and survival, and who have learned through their own experience the power of collective support and collective action.

Giving circles are doing great work all over the country.  They are building community, identifying important grassroots causes and organizations, and pooling together resources to make a difference.  But they are inherently limited in their scope and reach.  So the opportunity to bring giving circles from around the country to learn from one another, to build on best practices, and to be challenged collectively to be part of this growing movement is an exciting process.

In my work with the Dream Act movement, I have been inspired by a new generation of leaders and activists who represent the hope and future of our society.  With virtually no paid staff, no lobbyists, no fancy buildings, travel budgets and expense accounts, they have built a powerful movement through sheer courage and determination.

But I also realize that they can’t build this movement alone.  They need allies who can support them with scholarships and internships, who can access the media and reach policy makers, and who can provide financial support to grow their movement.  With encouragement and support, the Dream Act students will change the direction of this country.  They are my heroes, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them.