To commemorate AAPIP’s 25 years of building a more democratic philanthropic sector, we asked you to help us identify 25 leaders who are making a difference in your local community and/or nationally. The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represent a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experiences, roles and sectors. We invite you to learn about these outstanding leaders, their inspiring work and what keeps them going in our blog post series.
Thai Ha-Ngoc, Program Associate, Henry P. Kendall Foundation, and Grantmaking Co-Chair/Steering Committee member for Saffron Circle giving circle
1. Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?
I am passionate about advocating for AAPI communities for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I see it as a way of giving back to those who helped my parents when they moved to the United States as immigrants. I hope that in some small way that my advocacy has helped new immigrant families in reaching their full potential. I also feel a great responsibility as one of a small number of Asians working in philanthropy to support and advocate for the issues that affect our AAPI communities most directly. And lastly, I’ve engaged in this work as a way to better understand my heritage, culture, and community. I’ve met an amazing group of people here in Boston through Saffron Circle and AAPIP, who share the same values and commitment as I do. They’ve inspired me to go beyond my comfort zone and have helped me develop both as a young professional and as a community member.
2. What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?
I believe one of the most unrecognized issues facing our communities today is concerning mental health, particularly how its stigma in AAPI cultures too often results in mental illnesses going undiagnosed and untreated. Mental illness affects each of us in some way, whether it is ourselves, our friends, or our family members. Fortunately, there are a few organizations, such as Saheli and Asian Women for Health, who have taken it upon themselves to raise broader awareness around this issue. However, much work needs to be done to continue supporting and expanding these efforts if we are to shift perceptions.
3. In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?
I still consider myself as just scratching the surface in terms of my personal involvement in addressing the needs of the AAPI communities. I would say my biggest contribution so far has been as the Grantmaking Co-Chair and Steering Committee member for Saffron Circle, a multi-generational, pan-Asian giving circle committed to creating positive social change in the Massachusetts Asian community. I see two purposes in my role as a leader and member of Saffron Circle: first, to increase the amount funding to Asian-focused nonprofit organizations by engaging new and potential giving circle members; and second, to allocate our existing resources in a way that maximizes impact in the AAPI community. While we’ve been able to support many incredible organizations over the past nine years, I still believe we can do more to learn about and respond to the needs of the AAPI community in Massachusetts.
4. What keeps you inspired?
I’m inspired by all the social justice activists – across the various social movements - who are fighting for a more just and equitable community on a daily basis. Activists such as fellow Bowdoin alum, DeRay Mckesson, with his involvement in the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the volunteers and staff at Asian American Resource Workshop here in Boston. It is impossible not to push yourself even harder to do more when you hear about the adversity they are facing.
As the Program Associate at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Thai manages the grants process, conducts research on key issues and trends, and identifies opportunities in specific programmatic areas relating to the Foundation’s grantmaking strategy in building a more just and sustainable food system in New England. Prior to joining the Foundation, Thai served as an AmeriCorps member in the Massachusetts Land Initiative For Tomorrow (MassLIFT) program at the Sudbury Valley Trustees, based in Sudbury, MA. There, he monitored and developed baseline reports for conservation and agricultural land owned or managed by the regional land trust.
Thai graduated with a B.A in Environmental Studies and Economics from Bowdoin College where he served on the Common Good Grant Committee, which supports nonprofits in the Greater Brunswick region. Thai currently serves on the Steering Committee for Saffron Circle, a multi-generational, pan-Asian giving circle committed to creating positive social change in the Massachusetts Asian community.