Origin Story

In 1990, the number of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) on U.S. foundation staff had grown slightly but still represented a tiny fraction of people working in philanthropy. AAPIs working at foundations often found themselves feeling isolated in a field that did not reflect their culture, values and interests. For too long, the needs of AAPI communities were ignored, overlooked and undervalued by mainstream philanthropy. It was at the 1990 Council on Foundations annual meeting, where these AAPI foundation staff noticed their small numbers and banded together with other racial justice advocates to address the invisibility of AAPIs.

An intimate circle of leaders – including Sylvia Lee, Ruby Takanishi, Lisa Philp, Kavita Nandini Ramdas, Tani Takagi, and Lori Villarosa – decided to take action to improve philanthropy by and for AAPIs. On October 19, 1990, the group met at the offices of the Levi Strauss Foundation in San Francisco and founded Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) as an association to support AAPIs working in philanthropy and to increase the number of AAPIs in philanthropy.

AAPIP incorporated in 1991 and immediately tapped an unmet need in philanthropy, doubling its membership between 1991 and 1993. “We found comfort in the ‘safe space’ that AAPIP provided to meet other APAs who were interested in the same issues and facing the same challenges as foundation staff,” says Lisa Philp, a former AAPIP board chair who joined the organization shortly after it was created. In 1994, AAPIP hired its first executive director, Marjorie Fujiki, who was followed by Moira Shek (1999-2001), Peggy Saika (2002-2015), Cora Mirikitani (2015-2019), and Patricia Eng who started her tenure as President & CEO in 2019.

From the start, AAPIP also recognized that it needed a strong local presence in order to affect change and create national impact. To do so, it established a regional chapter structure that now includes eleven cities in the Northeast Region, Rocky Mountains, Midwest Region, the Northwest Region and in Northern and Southern California.

Over three decades, AAPIP has grown dramatically from a small, dedicated group of philanthropic professionals to a robust national network of funders and community leaders who are committed to expanding resources, connecting leadership and advocating for change to create a more just and equitable society for AAPI communities.