AAPIP Voices

My Leadership Reflections: President’s Message (January 2023)

In the quiet stillness of night turned into dawn, I quiet the sounds of discord to hear the breathing of our shared humanity and lift my eyes to see the changing hues of the “mountain top” that is ours to reach. I greet the depths of emotions and sing with soulfulness to compose a joyful new verse fit for this newer moment. 

As the new year unfolds, it offers hope and possibility for a promising future ahead. With some bright spots along the way (a relief that the electoral system in the U.S. held together) – we are all long overdue for a really good year.

I begin with gratitude. To our members, thank you for your steadfast support of AAPIP and unwavering commitment toward an equitable and just world. To all our friends, colleagues, and allies, thank you for helping to move the sector we call “philanthropy” to restore its root meaning – the love of humanity – as we grapple with the history and implications of wealth accumulation.

2022 was an impactful year for AAPIP. Our Power in Solidarity event with our sister organization, Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP), was the largest, most spectacular gathering in AAPIP history. Both experienced and new conference attendees alike raved that the Gathering was “the best conference in philanthropy they have ever attended.” Participants spoke of the unique intersection of Pacific Islanders with Native American Indigenous perspectives and were inspired by powerful storytelling inviting us all into the narrative.  Whether or not participants knew about AAPIP and NAP’s shared origin story before walking in, all were welcomed into a philanthropic home they had never yet experienced within the sector. Together, we experienced the power of cross-racial solidarity, a stunning yet humble example of the deeper meaning of philanthropy within our communities, carving a new baseline to calibrate our work moving forward.

In 2023, we continue our fight for worldly ideals of justice through a small but valiant nonprofit vessel, striving to address classic contradictions within an imperfect organizational structure, in a society that perpetually under-values our communities. Against the backdrop of an ever exploitative capitalist society, the protracted global pandemic, the growing economic and political divide, volcanic harms to our communities, and so much more – you feel what I mean. Take a breath. 

My personal reflections as AAPIP’s leader in this current moment? I navigate the unspoken yet ever present expectations as an Asian American woman to do and be “everything everywhere all at once.” Even within a supportive environment, any perceived shortcoming is not simply an individual failure, but a heavy weight of letting down an entire community. 

It has taken a lifetime of learning to feel comfortable, even perhaps powerful, to shed white dominant notions of leadership where confidence is measured not by self-righteous bravado in a competitive world, but by being humanly vulnerable within a larger community that lovingly challenges as well as collaborates toward shared success. Calibrating change while offering one message for multiple ears that listen with as many unsurfaced and unresolved contradictions as my own is challenging to navigate even in the best of times. From the outside looking in, change may feel too slow and from the inside looking out, it may feel too fast. Or vice-versa. 

There is much work to be done to break new philanthropic ground so our communities can fully experience justice and also offer its unique and joyful gifts. A growing network thousands strong, AAPIP is a regenerative renewable resource of change, fueled by love and tenacity across  several generations within philanthropy. Our path forward to move money and build power with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities is built in partnership with our allies in a newer era toward racial solidarity, with exciting opportunities for collaboration and innovation. As AAPIP’s President & CEO, I know it is both a place of honor and a hefty responsibility. 

Through these months (and years) of profound upheaval outside and weathering staff transitions within, I welcome new learning, not re-doing how things have been done in the past, discerning what wisdom can be applied from experience and what are newer ways to lead. The path ahead for AAPIP involves restructuring our systems from the ground up to prime ourselves for growth while attending to the needs of our staff, our members, stakeholders, and partners. I lean on our shared humanity and offer gratitude for all whose paths cross my own, whether for a fleeting moment, or for deeper connection through time and place. The path we walk is neither black nor white but a bridge that heals the many divides and builds power through solidarity. This new moment has brought new leadership challenges for our organizations, for our movements, for this country, and for the world. The only way forward is to meet those challenges together with love.

 Thank you for walking this path together with AAPIP.