The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation

Improving Lives
Expanding Opportunities

Bookmark and Share
Quarterly Bulletin

Winter Bulletin 2014


Message From the President

Celebrating Twenty Years of Empowering Women and Girls

Findings of New Myanmar Governance Study Presented in Washington, DC

McConnell Foundation Representatives Visit Pioneering Environment Project

Briefly Noted

From the Archive: New Skills for Rural Women in Sri Lanka

Asia Foundation Launches Legacy Society

Message From the President

Happy New Year.

2014 will be a significant year for The Asia Foundation as we mark 60 years of contributions to a dynamic and developing Asia. From empowering women to succeed in politics, expanding economic opportunities and eliminating barriers for entrepreneurs, to strengthening the capacity of institutions and equipping leaders with new preparedness planning and response skills to reduce the toll of natural disasters, we have contributed to improving lives throughout Asia.

In an increasingly complex and changing world, a peaceful and engaged Asia is of critical importance. Since our founding in 1954, we have worked side by side with dedicated individuals and institutions across Asia through our 18 offices in Asia. We have built strong connections to many of Asia’s most influential leaders, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who fondly remembers receiving textbooks from Books for Asia, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who spoke at the Foundation’s headquarters in 2012 after spending decades in detention in Myanmar.

Looking ahead, we will continue to address the critical issues facing Asia by promoting inclusive growth, addressing economic opportunity gaps, and strengthening responsive institutions. Our efforts are made possible by the generous support of a diverse group of donors, including bilateral and multilateral development agencies, foundations and corporations, and individuals.

As you will read in this issue, while our longest-running program, Books for Asia, and the Foundation are celebrating 60 years, our Women’s Empowerment Program is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. To showcase our work and raise the financial resources so vital to our ongoing work, we will be hosting events in Washington, DC, New York, San Francisco, and Seoul throughout 2014.

The Asia Foundation looks forward to a bright future, and I hope you will join us in marking these important milestones by attending one of our gala events, staying informed online, and signing up for future Asia Foundation news.

Thank you for your support, and best wishes for the New Year.

David D. Arnold
President, The Asia Foundation


Celebrating Twenty Years of Empowering Women and Girls

By Carol Yost, Senior Director, Women’s Empowerment Program

In the early 1990s, democratic transitions were sweeping the Asia-Pacific region, and The Asia Foundation was deeply engaged in supporting local initiatives to ensure free and fair elections, good governance, and pluralistic societies. It was an exciting time. However, the Foundation became increasingly concerned that these changes were not guaranteeing women’s rights or their ability to participate in social, economic, and political life. We recognize that no society can succeed if half the population is left behind.

The Foundation was uniquely placed to ensure that women were at the table when decisions were made, and that they had a voice in shaping their societies to meet the needs of both women and men. As a result, 20 years ago The Asia Foundation created the Women’s Empowerment Program to advance women’s participation in public life, which would in turn stimulate progress and promote gender equality in the region.

The Women’s Empowerment Program was launched at a regional conference in Manila in January 1994. For most of the more than 50 women leaders from South, Southeast, and East Asia, and the Pacific Islands, this was their first opportunity to engage in a forum to examine women’s political participation. Initially, many voiced concern about discussing women in politics, saying politics was “too dirty” and the exclusive domain of men. At the end of five days, however, they had inspired each other and recognized that women’s political participation was a critical end in itself, as well as a key strategy for achieving gains in other areas. The participants formed the Asia-Pacific Women in Politics Network (APWIP) to highlight their commitment to accelerating women’s effective participation in public life. One year later, the Foundation brought many participants of APWIP to Beijing, where they joined tens of thousands of women to ignite a global women’s movement that continues to play a key role in advancing women’s rights and status around the world.

Those first years were exciting for women in the region and for the Foundation, as we seized opportunities to increase women’s participation and combat gender-based violence. The Asia-Pacific region has come a long way, and we are proud to have been an active player in accelerating positive change for women, their families, and their societies over the last two decades.

But our work is not yet done, and we continue to count on our partners and donors to support our efforts. Six years ago we launched the Lotus Circle, a community of committed individuals and organizations working together to empower women and girls across Asia. To learn more and become a supporter, visit our website.

In Bangladesh, Hillary Clinton, then U.S. First Lady, discusses women’s issues while visiting an Asia Foundation-supported project in 1995.

“Decades ago, recognizing that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its citizens behind, The Asia Foundation launched a dedicated program to unleash the potential of girls and women to be full participants in social, political, and economic life so that they and their societies can prosper.”

Ambassador Melanne Verveer First U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues & Asia Foundation Trustee

Findings of New Myanmar Governance Study Presented in Washington, DC

On October 23, The Asia Foundation’s Washington office hosted a forum on the findings of its major subnational governance study, State and Region Governments in Myanmar.

Released by the Foundation in September in Yangon, the study analyzes the functioning of state and region governments created under Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, assesses their ongoing impact on governance, peace, and decentralization reforms, and makes recommendations on strengthening fiscal planning, capacity, and responsiveness. Researchers from The Asia Foundation and the Centre for Economic and Social Development of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI-CESD) collaborated on this pioneering study.

Speaking to a Washington audience of over 100 policymakers and development practitioners that was streamed live on The Asia Foundation website, co-authors Dr. Hamish Nixon, a governance specialist, and Dr. Matthew Arnold, Asia Foundation conflict and state fragility expert, as well as Dr. Zaw Oo, executive director of MDRI-CESD and a senior economic adviser to Myanmar’s president, presented their perspectives on the challenges of decentralization and the opportunities it presents for progress toward inclusive and accountable democratic governance.

“Decentralization [is] linked to all types of transition in Myanmar; it is where people meet government,” Dr. Zaw Oo explained during the panel presentation. He went on to discuss the country’s long history of hierarchical governance, and the current leadership’s commitment to decentralization reform, emphasizing the importance of minority inclusion within existing ministries. In private meetings with academics, government officials, and the diplomatic c­orps, the study’s data and the team’s insights were enthusiastically welcomed as important contributions to a little-understood policy area that will be key to the donor community’s future efforts.

Supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the study represents the first phase of ongoing research collaboration between The Asia Foundation and MDRI-CESD. Learn more about the Foundation’s work in Myanmar and download the study here.

McConnell Foundation Representatives Visit Pioneering Environment Project

The Asia Foundation’s office in Vientiane, Laos, recently hosted two representatives from The McConnell Foundation, Shannon Phillips, vice president of operations, and Jesica Rhone, director of international programs, in order to update them on the progress of three programs funded by The McConnell Foundation in Laos. Since 2001, we have partnered with The McConnell Foundation to implement high-impact projects in Nepal and Laos. In Laos, McConnell and The Asia Foundation are providing access to justice and legal services to Lao citizens, engaging communities to monitor the quality of Lao river systems, and empowering Lao women to hold leadership positions in business and politics—vital programs that are contributing to healthy, just, and thriving local communities across this lush, resource-rich country.

During their visit, Ms. Phillips and Ms. Rhone visited a small village outside of Vang Vieng in Vientiane Province to observe local citizens using simple, effective tools to monitor the quality of the Nam Song River. The Asia Foundation began implementing the first ever water-quality monitoring program in the country in 2009, and in 2010, with additional support from The McConnell Foundation, we were able to expand our efforts and reach even more communities that depend on rivers in Laos to survive. More than 85 percent of the land in Laos lies within the Mekong River basin, and the future of this landlocked nation’s economic development depends on preserving its rich natural resources. This program is a critical component of The Asia Foundation’s efforts to ensure Laotians have the tools to protect their rivers, gauge environmental change, and participate meaningfully in building Laos’s environmental sustainability. “In addition to the long-term goal of building a credible data resource, the immediate results are also very interesting,” said Ms. Rhone. “Through the simple act of purposeful monitoring, the participating communities are engaging with their water source in a new way. It is encouraging a valuable curiosity, dialogue, and ownership.”

Briefly Noted

Ninth Annual Afghan Public Opinion Survey

On December 5 in Kabul, The Asia Foundation released findings from Afghanistan in 2013: A Survey of the Afghan People, the longest-running public opinion poll in the country. As Afghanistan approaches major security and political transitions in 2014, the survey illuminates citizen views on critical issues in Afghanistan: the elections, security, political participation, the economy, and women’s rights. 962 pollsters interviewed 9,260 Afghan men and women across all 34 provinces, often under challenging conditions.

Afghans cite insecurity (30%), corruption (26%), and unemployment (25%) as the three biggest problems facing Afghanistan as a country. More than half of Afghans polled said that the outcome of the 2014 election will make a positive difference in their lives, but 81 percent were concerned about election-day security. The survey is the longest-running poll in the country. Since 2004, over 55,000 Afghans have been interviewed.

Download the survey report and interact with the Visualizing Afghanistan platform here. View a photo slideshow of the 2013 polling. Engage with us on Twitter using #AfghanSurvey.

Twenty Years in Mongolia


In October 2013, The Asia Foundation commemorated 20 years in Mongolia. As one of the first NGOs to be invited to Mongolia, we supported Mongolia’s transition to a democracy and market economy, including drafting a new Constitution. Today, we work with the central and local government, academics, civil society, citizens, and the private sector on governance, environmental protection, urban services improvement, citizen participation, women’s empowerment, anti-trafficking, and education.


From the Archive: New Skills for Rural Women in Sri Lanka

The Lanka Mahila Samithi (Ceylon Organization of Women) was the most extensively organized and influential voluntary organization in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 1950s. With organization chapters in more than 1,000 villages, women were able to come together to tackle issues relating to health, childcare, and home-based industry. Volunteer organizers in each district visited village chapters regularly to assist in the work, and handicrafts produced by members were collected by the organizers and sold at a central retail outlet at the Samithi headquarters in Colombo.

In 1957, The Asia Foundation helped the Mahila Samithi add a new wing to its Kaduwela rural training center, thus substantially increasing its capacity for training. During the 1950s, the Kaduwela center trained more than 700 young women in a variety of skills. A further grant enabled the Mahila Samithi to buy a Volkswagen van equipped as a multi-purpose unit for cooking demonstrations, a mobile library, the transportation of handicrafts, and film presentations. The Foundation also helped establish 50 rural demonstration centers, consisting of model kitchens, nursery schools, libraries, and playgrounds. Situated throughout the nine provinces of Ceylon, demonstration centers provided past trainees from Kaduwela with an opportunity to pass on their knowledge to other rural women.

Asia Foundation Launches Legacy Society

To celebrate our 60th anniversary, The Asia Foundation is launching the Legacy Society. We hope you will join this special group of people who have chosen to translate their passion for a thriving Asia into a lasting legacy. Below, we highlight one of the inaugural members.

Board member Thomas Rohlen’s interest in Asia came from an unlikely source: on a bet with his college roommates that he couldn’t learn Japanese. This innocuous wager led to a life spent trying to understand Japan and East Asia. The result began with a stint in the Foreign Service followed by an academic career in East Asia, including work on business and industrial organizations, then education, and, finally, the dynamics of East Asian urbanization.

How did you get involved with The Asia Foundation?

I was asked to give a talk at a Board meeting some years ago, and subsequently I followed the Foundation’s work with growing interest. The more I learned the more I came to regard it highly. It does work that gets little publicity, but is remarkably effective and crucial to Asian development across a wide spectrum of needs. Now, as a board member, I realize exactly how smart the Foundation is about how it spends money: we have the right people to work with, the right causes, and we do it in ways that are smart, informed, and successful.

What do you think is the most important work The Asia Foundation does?

The Foundation is unique in that it is able to work on a range of critical issues in ways that are well-targeted and sensitive to local circumstances. Having visited many of the Foundation’s programs in the field, I have seen and been impressed by the concrete results achieved. I also have come to appreciate the Foundation’s genius for making a difference stemming from decades of rich local experience and astute program development.

Why did you choose to include The Asia Foundation in your estate plan?

Finding an organization that does such incredible work and spends its resources so efficiently, it’s important to me that I contribute to its lasting success. I have great respect for and confidence in The Asia Foundation, and I am honored to join its Legacy Society.

To learn more, visit the website or contact Nicola Burt at 415.743.3346 or

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • Instagram