AAPIP Voices

TALK STORY: Nearly Thirty


By: Richard Woo, CEO, The Russell Family Foundation

It’s been nearly 30 years since AAPIP was founded and held its first organizational gathering in San Francisco among several handfuls of Asian American & Pacific Islander colleagues in philanthropy.  I know this because I was among that group of people who came together on October 19, 1990 at the offices of the Levi Strauss Foundation, where I worked at the time as an entry-level project specialist.  I clearly recollect the occasion because I facilitated the opening inclusion exercise for that AAPIP convening. The exercise was an interactive activity called Nosotros Somos which in Spanish means We Are.  The experience involved each of us sharing in small groups brief revelations about our identity, families, communities, and aspirations.  This was short-form storytelling to build relationship and community.

Fast forward to April 27 & 28, 2018 and AAPIP’s story arc has continued to climb with the successful gathering of its National Network Convening in San Francisco now with numbers of participants far greater than those attending its 1990 meeting.  I was amazed, appreciative and proud of the rich diversity present at the National Network Convening by so many measures of difference yet unified in common purpose: “expanding and mobilizing philanthropic and community resources for underserved AAPI communities to build a more just and equitable society”—AAPIP Mission Statement.

I felt fortunate to participate in the Convening both professionally and personally.  This was a homecoming of sorts not just because of my involvement in AAPIP’s inaugural meeting but by the fact that I attended the Convening with my adult daughter, Mei Yook Woo, a food justice advocate from the Seattle/Tacoma area where we moved as a family in 2000 so I could work with The Russell Family Foundation.  Mei Yook (herself nearly thirty) and I co-facilitated a Convening workshop entitled “Talk Story: Personal Storytelling for Resilience, Resistance and Transformation.” In keeping with AAPIP’s mission, Mei Yook and I designed the workshop to support participants in “expanding and mobilizing” their own individual and collective voices in service of justice and equity for our communities.  

To help workshop participants jump start their storytelling, here are three story prompts we invited folks to reflect upon:  

  • Describe a time when your resiliency was tested.

  • Share a time when you experienced struggle that allowed you to find your power.

  • Describe a person who has played an integral role in your life during a time of transformation.  

By establishing an atmosphere of trust, relationship, and community early on among participants, people felt free to explore, share and learn from their deep and rich stories.  Here’s what some folks took from the experience:

  • “The value of storytelling can be seen beyond its use as a tool for evaluation of programs.  It can be seen as part of community building and personal development for our grantees and partners.”

  • “Small group work created surprisingly strong and meaningful connections with complete strangers.  Allowed for individuals to learn from each other and discover commonalities.”

  • “I will definitely be applying my learnings with my colleagues, my board, and our grantee partners.  It’s mostly about making time and space to share and honor our mutual humanity.”

In the field of philanthropy, a profession deriving its name from the Greek root words meaning “love of humanity,” there is a powerful place for storytelling that rises from our deepest personal experiences and drives us to work together for a just and fair common good.  Thank you, AAPIP, for building the platform for “Partnerships in Action for Social Change”—this year’s theme of the National Network Convening.

Richard Woo has been active with AAPIP since the organization’s start-up in 1990 when he facilitated the opening inclusion exercise at AAPIP’s founding meeting in San Francisco. Over the course of 30 years in philanthropy, Richard has served on the AAPIP Board of Directors, as well as boards for the Council on Foundations, Philanthropy Northwest, and Northern California Grantmakers. Currently, Richard is the chief executive officer of The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF) in Gig Harbor, Washington.  TRFF supports grassroots leadership, environmental sustainability, and global peace.  Before arriving in the Pacific Northwest, he worked for nearly a dozen years at Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco on community relations, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy—including three years as executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation. Richard began the pursuit of storytelling 30 years ago, while putting his then-young children Jesse & Mei Yook to bed at night.