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On August 4 The Asia Foundation opened the doors to a new office in Myanmar, re-establishing our permanent, on-the-ground presence there with Yangon-based Country Representative Dr. Kim N. B. Ninh. The Foundation has a long history of work in Myanmar, dating back to the 1950s, and since 2007 we have donated more than 80,000 books valued at $3.2 million.
The Foundation’s programs initially will focus on strengthening institutions of democratic governance; enhancing the country’s foreign affairs capacities; supporting the management of subnational conflict; supporting free, fair, and credible elections; expanding access to information and informed public debate; and assisting with economic reforms for broad-based growth and opportunities for all. During its six decades of work in Asia, The Asia Foundation has played an active role in helping virtually every Asian country that has undergone a democratic transition, and is well positioned to make important contributions in Myanmar. Dr. Ninh served previously as the Foundation’s country representative in Vietnam, as well as assistant director of the Governance, Law, and Civil Society Programs and director of Conflict Management Programs.
In 2010, with generous support from The Estée Lauder Companies, The Asia Foundation awarded secondary school scholarships to 70 girls in An Giang province, Vietnam, to pursue their educational goals. Through the newly expanded partnership that will fund an additional 131 Estée Lauder Scholars, The Asia Foundation will continue to educate and protect at-risk girls in the region, supporting the growth and progress of women in Vietnam.
The newly announced gift will enable more than 130 young women between the ages of 12 and 15 from An Giang and Can Tho provinces in Vietnam to become Estée Lauder Scholars and receive three-year scholarships that include tuition, books, learning materials, uniforms, and bicycles for transportation.
Many young women and girls in these provinces quit school at an early age because their families cannot afford to send them to school. Carol Yost, senior director of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program applauded The Estée Lauder Companies’ growing commitment to improving the lives of young women in Asia: “Together, we are witnessing a vital shift in these young women’s lives, and their parents are now encouraging and supporting them in their education. These scholarships are powerful in transforming the future of the scholars for the better.”
The Asia Foundation and The Estée Lauder Companies recognize education as one of the most critical pathways to empowering women. Access to basic education places life decisions more firmly into the hands of students, allowing them to make more informed choices about the lives they wish to lead. Education provides the skills, information, and self-confidence to become better citizens, workers, and parents, and it is the key to reducing the cycle of poverty.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Mr. Chong-Moon Lee was honored at a large gathering of philanthropists, business executives, international development experts, journalists, and individuals interested in women’s empowerment at the third annual Lotus Leadership Awards Luncheon on June 6, 2013 in New York. Mr. Lee, a native of Korea, received a Lotus Leadership Award for his contributions to the health and well-being of women and girls in Asia. Mr. Lee has long supported development initiatives in Asia, and recently announced his support for a multi-year, multi-country initiative to combat the trafficking of women and girls in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.
The Honorable Sapana Pradhan Malla, a lawyer, advocate of Nepal’s Supreme Court, and leading women’s rights activist, also received a Lotus Leadership Award for her contributions to anti-trafficking and the protection of women and girls. Award-winning ABC News veteran Lynn Sherr interviewed U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as part of a panel discussion.
Chevron and The Estée Lauder Companies were premier luncheon sponsors. Vista Equity Partners, Citi Private Bank, and Kirkland and Ellis were also generous sponsors. The Lotus Leadership Awards were launched, conceived, and organized by The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle Advisors, a community of committed individuals working together to empower girls and women across Asia through the Women’s Empowerment Program. Read about the work of the Young Lotus Circle, a diverse group of young professionals working alongside The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle Advisors, including their recent Paint Nite gathering in New York City, on Facebook.
The Asia Foundation announced on August 2, 2013, a generous gift from Gina Lin Chu to the Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. Ms. Chu is a trustee of The Asia Foundation and a founding member of the Lotus Circle. “Ms. Chu is not only a committed advocate for the advancement of women and girls, she is also a volunteer of a rare breed: one who truly understands the value of unrestricted support” said Carol Yost, senior director of the Women’s Empowerment Program. After consulting with her program team, Yost decided to utilize Ms. Chu’s gift to launch a new ‘Gender Smart’ Initiative that will seamlessly integrate gender into the Foundation’s work throughout Asia, making The Asia Foundation truly ‘gender smart’. Matching support from the Lotus Circle will further leverage Ms. Chu’s gift. “In an organization in which the vast majority of funding is project-restricted, it is a challenge to find resources that allow us to innovate and build our capacity internally.” Yost continued, “We are gratified by Ms. Chu’s demonstration of trust in our ability to employ her support where we know it will have the most impact.”
Demand for water for the 700 million people living in the world’s most densely-populated river basins – the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra – is rising, and new tensions are surfacing that threaten South Asia’s stability. To address these tensions, The Asia Foundation has expanded its partnership with the Skoll Global Threats Fund, to strengthen access to information on transboundary issues and foster a regional dialogue between stakeholders on the critical issue of international water sharing.
The new grant from the Skoll Global Threats Fund will help The Asia Foundation assess the availability of data and information relating to transboundary rivers in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, while building the capacity of civil society and the media to utilize transparency tools and mechanisms to push for greater access to data and information on water and climate issues.
This project builds on a grant made by the Skoll Global Threats Fund to The Asia Foundation in 2012, under which the Foundation conducted a political economy analysis of the Teesta River Basin, one of South Asia’s most contested sub-basins straddling the border of India and Bangladesh. In collaboration with its local partners, The Asia Foundation identified and mapped key actors and stakeholders in the Teesta Basin, their incentives, relative interests, and their ability to influence water governance decisions in the basin. Based on field work on either side of the India-Bangladesh border, the analysis identified the drivers of change for reforming state-centered approaches to water governance in the Teesta Basin, and provided recommendations to inform future actions of the governments of India and Bangladesh, civil society actors in both countries, and donors.
Since the Luce Scholars program was launched in 1974, The Asia Foundation has administered—in Asia—the signature program of the Henry R. Luce Foundation, a major effort to provide an awareness of Asia among future leaders in American society. On Sunday, May 19, 2013, at One UN Plaza in New York City, trustees of The Asia Foundation and the Luce Foundation, along with Luce Scholars from many of the classes, including the very first, gathered to honor and celebrate this remarkable forty-year partnership.
In his prepared remarks for the evening, Dr. Haydn Williams, President Emeritus of The Asia Foundation, touched upon the long and warm association between The Asia Foundation and the Luce Foundation, as well as their pioneering, cutting edge agendas: “Both foundations were early patrons of higher education in Asia, especially colleges for women,” said Dr. Williams. “Luce was also an early important backer of The Asia Foundation’s programs in law and human rights.”
The Luce Scholars program is unique among exchange programs in that it is intended for highly qualified young Americans who might not otherwise have an opportunity to come to know Asia. The year-long program for up to 18 scholars every year provides stipends, language training, and individualized professional placements in Asia. The range of organizations that have hosted Luce Scholars over the years reflects the extraordinary dynamism and rich diversity of Asia, and is as broad as the scope of talents and interests of the scholars themselves.
This year’s Scholars, the fortieth class, are assigned to public and private institutions in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, with placements including the Coral Triangle Center, Buddhism for Social Development Action, and the Law Reform Commission of Thailand.
New LankaCorps Fellows Experience Sri Lanka
The second class of our unique LankaCorps program has embarked on fellowships exploring their roots while giving back to Sri Lanka, the country of their heritage. Seven LankaCorps fellows from the US, Canada, and Australia were carefully selected and are currently living and working for six months in Sri Lanka placed with host organizations identified by The Asia Foundation in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The program fosters identification with Sri Lanka among members of the young diaspora who have limited experience with the country and helps them engage with post-conflict Sri Lanka.
Asia Development Fellows: Emerging Leadership for Asia’s Future
The Asia Development Fellows: Emerging Leadership for Asia’s Future is a new initiative currently being launched by The Asia Foundation to target, nurture, and support dedicated next-generation development and policy leaders across Asia.
The program will empower a dynamic, innovative and inspirational network of emerging leaders, with the goal of finding shared common purpose in the pursuit of creative and lasting solutions to the region’s major development needs and challenges. Applications for the inaugural cohort of 10 Asia Development Fellows will be invited starting in November, 2013, for the 2014 program year.
SLIDESHOW: A Storybook Partnership
In developing countries, one of the impediments to early childhood education is the availability of high-quality, age-appropriate reading material in local languages. Children’s book publishing is limited by the lack of specialized skills among local publishers, authors, and illustrators, and a consumer base that can afford extracurricular books. To address this gap, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program and Room to Read are partnering to expand access to compelling and culturally relevant early reading material to children in under-served communities throughout developing Asia. A collection of photos from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka where the project is slated to begin can be found here.
Two new trustees recently joined the Foundation’s board, The Honorable Howard L. Berman and William H. Neukom.
Mr. Berman served as U.S. Congressman of California’s 28th Congressional District for 30 years, from 1983 to 2013. He served as both Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Ranking Member of the Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at various times. Mr. Berman was a leading voice on immigration and foreign policy in the House, and was the force behind some of the most important foreign affairs legislation over the past decade. The National Journal Almanac described Howard Berman as “one of the most creative members of the House and one of the most clear-sighted operators in American politics.”He is now with the law firm of Covington & Burling.
Mr. Neukom is the president and chief executive officer of the World Justice Project. Previously, Mr. Neukom served as the Chief Executive Officer and managing general partner of the San Francisco Baseball Associates. Former general counsel of Microsoft and president of the American Bar Association, Mr. Neukom has also served on many organizations, including the Dean’s Council at Stanford Law School, and the Board of the Pacific Counsel on International Policy.
In 1954 twenty-one civic minded, and forward-thinking citizens who shared a strong interest in Asia, distinguished personal achievements, and dedicated public service joined to form The Asia Foundation—a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Asian development. Among the original founding officers of the board, there were several presidents/chairmen of large companies including T.S. Peterson, CEO of Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), Brayton Wilbur, president of Wilbur-Ellis Co., and J.D. Zellerbach, chairman of the Crown Zellerbach Corporation; four university presidents including Grayson Kirk from Columbia, J.E. Wallace Sterling of Stanford, and Raymond Allen from UCLA; prominent attorneys including Turner McBaine; Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James Michener; Paul Hoffman, the first administrator of the Marshall Plan in Europe; and several major figures in foreign affairs.
As we mark The Asia Foundation’s 60th year in 2014 and reflect on the remarkable vision the Foundation’s founders set out so many decades ago, our fundamental values and mission ring as true and are as critical as ever—to improve lives, expand opportunities, and help societies flourish across a dynamic and developing Asia. Much has changed in Asia and the world since 1954 but the solid groundwork set by the Foundation’s founders has enabled The Asia Foundation to continue to evolve, leading decades of critical development work and impacting countless people across the region.