“You would really enjoy it, and you will meet lots of fabulous people – like you – doing great work,” June tossed back her hair and waved her fork in the air at the little Greek restaurant in Forest Hills where we often have lunch.
The compliment was really not a compliment but code for an invitation to attend the Beautiful Foundation USA’s 4th Seed of Giving Conference with her, to meet some of the people she tells me about, and to find out a little more of what is going on in this particular universe. “You meet, you eat.”
June and her gift of synopsis. How could I not go?
But unlike many great questions that will hover like unanswered mysteries during our brief sparklike lifetimes such as what is the meaning of life, there are some puzzling enigmas that, under the bright klieg light of research and data, are startled into revealing their answers.
One question caught my attention at the conference and I listened intently to the panel of speakers, searching for answers.
The question is:
How can shopping and drinking change the world?
You may be thinking that personal vices are hardly worth more than a disgusted snort and airy dismissal but I am a big believer in being open to opportunities and certainly after Hali Lee of AWGC, the Asian Women Giving Circle, talked about how they invest in change as “philanthropy virgins” who can become future philanthropists, board members and engaged civic citizens who like to shop and drink, well, I could hardly keep from jumping up and down from joy.
Picture this. A small committee whose members:
- contribute $2500 to a pot of money that is granted out to AAW, Asian American women, who use the arts to further their activism
- increase the visibility of AAW doing philanthropy
- educate donors by voting during grantee selection
- and as Wayne Ho of CACF, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, mischievously pointed out, “Did everyone notice Hali mentioned drinking three times?”
Yes, they have a lot of fun shopping, drinking, raising dollars and yes, this is how they are changing the world.
Every field, every self-defined group has their leaders. The more successful ones also have advocates, a growing awareness of what work needs to be done and most importantly, a lot of people who are not shy about making some noise about what they need.
I was impressed by the eagerness of this crowd to ask pointed questions and agree passionately with keynote speaker Peggy Saiko of AAPIP, the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, who said, “I prefer framing our work as ‘enduring challenges’ rather than ‘institutional racism'”.
How do you even begin?
Here are four questions Peggy asked to jumpstart our collective thinking:
1. Why are there such low numbers of API on foundations, boards and higher positions of decision making?
2. Why are there no overarching strategies in philanthropic support to the API community?
3. Why does the API community continue to remain invisible and in need during times of crisis?
Peggy says that current data shows that philanthropy could be doing more in supporting a “democracy of distinct communities”. Last I heard, a very large number of foundations target distinct and diverse communities as funding priorities. Do you think it is possible that we, the “model minority” have become more than invisible? Do you think we are now, white? What is the best way to transform our message from “invisible” to “inevitable”?
4. How can we be better at arguing and advocating for presence at the table and in decision making roles?
Can I say something here?
I consider myself part of the Asian American community, OK, I married a nice Jewish guy but that doesn’t change my gene pool. I am immersed in emerging and diverse communities. I work in Queens for crying out loud and you cannot avoid running into a huddled mass anywhere in this borough. But I was slightly bewildered by the acronyms and the shorthand speak of this group. Like most people, I like to know what everyone is talking about, especially when I am the newcomer.
API stands for Asian/Pacific Islander. APA stands for Asian Pacific American. I suppose if I read the stuff in my folder this would be a non-issue. My bad.
How can we expect people new to us to feel part of what we do if our message is jargon heavy. Clarity, at all times. You never know who may be listening and not reading.
Just a thought.
And another great phrase, “the culture of shame”! Is this what stops people from talking about their needs publicly? Does the need to save face make us lose the opportunity to heal?
Another question Peggy answered was, “Are there too many nonprofits?” Could this possibly be the reason such a low percentage of support trickles down to API?
“Lucy Bernholz asks the better question, which is,” she exclaimed passionately. “do we have the right set of groups who can deliver the services and goods our community needs? Here is where investments must be made to sustain the just society that belongs to all of us.”
Back to enduring challenges. AAPIP decided to become grantmakers to mobilize investments in “cultural competency” and to nurture “signs of hope”.
The story of their fourteen giving circles on grass root levels is a lovely sign of hope.
“These circles are not just about fundraising. It is a way for people to understand the field and how it is structured.” And shop and drink, I was glad to hear.
A Beautiful Story
“In their first year of existence, the Los Angeles giving circle of Korean American women emptied their closets, held a street sale, inspired a noted Korean golfer to write them a check for $10k and a local restauranteur to donate $2,500. AAPIP contributed a 50% match helping the circle in raising $32k in total for an evening of having fun and, taking care of each other.”
Peggy paused for a moment.
“It is so true what they say about beauty,” I thought to myself with a smile growing inside my soul. “Beauty is rarely skin deep.”
What do you think is the best way to change the world?
Do we need more data, more stories?
What about more “cultural assets” to move our faces into the mainstream of buzz?
I have a few ideas. Tell me yours.