changing the culture of giving

January 14, 2009

In this AsianWeek editorial (March 23, 2008), “Giving, the Asian Way,” the article contrasts visibility of philanthropy versus the invisibility of Asian American giving.

In Asian cultures, money is not something spoken about or dealt with in the open. It’s discussed at the family dinner table or whispered about over drinks.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Asian American philanthropy is somewhat hidden in the community. Unlike the Andrew Carnegies, Warren Buffetts, and the Bill and Melinda Gates — deep-pocketed moguls who are figureheads for philanthropy — Asian American philanthropists are virtually invisible.

But that’s not to say they don’t exist. They do — in family associations in Chinatown alleys, in community center rec rooms, and in kitchens and living rooms in Asian American households across the country.

As Emily Leach reports in this issue, Asian American philanthropic groups based on traditional Asian forms of giving are now hoping to bridge the gap between Western-style philanthropy (large endowments or donations to institutions like universities, museums and libraries) and Asian concepts of philanthropy (small-scale giving between families or relatives, often newly arrived immigrants).

… We applaud groups like the Asian Women Giving Circle for encouraging giving from the Asian American community to the Asian American community. Many Asian American groups facilitate giving between community members, yet fall far outside the traditional definition of philanthropy and below the radar of the mainstream. We salute these groups who are helping our community’s economic engine run — our way.

In the words of Peggy Saika, president and executive director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy: “It’s an empowerment track for us. It’s us raising our own money and deciding where that money should go. We must change the culture and the practice of giving in our communities.”

Read the full article.

Here’s an excerpt from Emily Leach’s article, The Asian Women Giving Circle: New York City women ‘geh-t’ together to give big:

Though giving circles are on the rise across the country, there is still no central fund for Asian Americans, and Asian American donors lack visibility. Part of this is because most Asian American donations — instead of going to high-visibility causes like museums or libraries — tend to help new immigrants transition successfully to living in the United States. Giving also stays insular within the specific ethnic community that the donor participates in most actively, such as Vietnamese or Chinese; pan-Asian American funds are rare.

The website for the Asian Women Giving Circle is at asianwomengivingcircle.org.

Here’s a thought: is it possible for the giving capacity of private giving exceed that of public giving? If the goal is increasing giving and generosity, for the good of our community and the world, what would this look like for Asian Americans?

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