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A Conversation with Lotus Circle Founding Member Masako Shinn

June 5, 2013

Masako Shinn

Lotus Circle founding member and advisor, Masako Shinn, with her son at the first annual Lotus Leadership Awards Luncheon in New York City.

The Asia Foundation’s third annual Lotus Leadership Awards luncheon takes place this week on June 6 at New York’s Boathouse in Central Park, and In Asia sat down with Lotus Circle founding member and advisor, Masako Shinn, who joined the Foundation’s board in 2012, and is a partner of Graphis Inc., and founder of Graphis Asia, a publisher of books and magazines on Asian design.

Why create The Lotus Circle?

Asia is thriving, but women and girls are still not encouraged to be leaders. They are also seriously at risk and vulnerable to violence, ill health, and poverty. The statistics are sobering, but to me they serve as a motivation. I was born in Asia and was lucky – I was educated and encouraged. But it could have gone another way. Early on in my life in Japan, I had my options severely limited by my circumstances, and eventually had to move to the U.S. to carve out my own life. That is not possible for so many women. When I met Carol Yost, who heads up The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program and is a true pioneer in her field, I was very moved by her enthusiasm to improve the lives of women. When she talks about women creating change and the future in Asia, Yost lights up. This is a person who has worked on the ground for more than 20 years. She’s still a believer that improving women’s lives can change the world. I knew in that first meeting I wanted to work with her and learn from her. I haven’t been disappointed.

How does it work?

We are a group of people focused on a single goal: to support The Asia Foundation’s ability to help women and girls reach their full potential. We like to say that we: “tell her she can.” Our contributions fund small, cutting edge-work and pilot projects. If it’s a pilot, and it works, field staff at the Foundation then explore how to replicate that kind of success on a larger scale. It’s thrilling to know that your contribution is being used to find new and fresh ways to empower and encourage women and girls. Our gifts are also used to solicit matched funding. Last year, The Asia Foundation and National Geographic Society matched funds we raised to help world-renowned educator Sakena Yacoobi‘s work with Afghan girls. Dr. Yacoobi created the first learning centers inside refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and she risked her life to run illegal home schools for girls during the Taliban reign.

Why did you choose to work with The Asia Foundation?

The Asia Foundation is the premier international development organization improving lives in Asia today. There is an unusual depth of local knowledge at the Foundation, and the local field staff work as partners for local reformers and path breakers. That’s unique. I also don’t know of any other international NGO with so many bright, dedicated, and hard working people on the ground. They’re shaping the future of development. For example, the Foundation helps solve complex problems like trafficking by addressing the issue at all levels – from grassroots to national – and from every angle: by working to prevent trafficking in the first place, by protecting victims, and working to prosecute perpetrators. The Foundation also works closely with governments on the ground, and between government and civil society to help institutions address the issues of safe migration and legal rights for disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, especially women and girls.

The third annual Lotus Leadership Awards luncheon is in New York City tomorrow. What is your vision for this issues-based sold-out event?

We have a lot to do at one special luncheon, and we need to raise funds for new projects that will protect and embolden women and girls. We will honor Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee, who has so generously and courageously funded a multi-year, multi-country initiative to combat the trafficking of women and girls in Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. We will also award the Honorable Sapana Pradhan Malla, a lawyer, advocate of Nepal’s Supreme Court, and leading women’s rights activist, who helped pass the country’s landmark Human Trafficking Act, now a model for the region. She’s a trailblazer. We also need to discuss, plainly, the crime of human trafficking in Asia and worldwide with our guests. Lynn Sherr, who has reported on women’s issues for 30 years as an ABC News correspondent, will interview U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. I have to say I’m also delighted with our Young Lotus Circle members, and I’m excited to see them get very involved in the issues. They are not shy about sharing their passions, and even using social media like Twitter and Instagram, which gives a new voice to our cause. I love to bring my college-age son to the Lotus Luncheon and pass on our Lotus Circle values to the next generation.

Follow @Asia_Foundation on Twitter for live updates from the Lotus Leadership Awards Luncheon.


  1. Hello!

    I am proud of Masako, who is my ex-colleague in the financial business. She is always fair and energetic.

    I wish she keeps her efforts for a good cause and for helping the disadvantaged people.

    Yoshi Takahashi

    in Kagoshima, Japan

  2. Thanks so much Masako for your dedication to Asian Women. We are also grateful to all the Lotus Circle members who are moved by women and girl issues. We wish you all best of luck, always healthy and energetic.

  3. Hello

    I also proud of Masako of good work she is doing. I wish I can see you in Africa,Ghana,the youth and women are suffering alot so we your team here in Ghana.Thanks

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