Insights and Analysis

Lotus Circle: A Gender Smart Investment for Women and Girls

April 13, 2016

By Elizabeth Romanoff Silva

While women and girls are increasingly able to realize their rights and contribute to society, they continue to face enormous challenges and disadvantages across Asia. Today data shows that no country can get ahead if it leaves women and girls behind.

In the words of former World Bank President Robert Zoellick: “Gender equality is smart economics.” Beyond smart economics, progress on the new Sustainable Development Goals—at the heart of the UN Commission on the Status of Women held last month—will not be possible without gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the fourth annual Young Lotus Circle Soirée at the Sun Klein Gallery in New York City, hosted by The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle, a community of individuals, foundations, and corporations who raise private capital to rapidly respond to threats and challenges facing women in Asia.


Participants at the Sun Klein Gallery for the fourth annual Young Lotus Circle Soirée. Photo/Leandro Justin

The event highlighted individual stories of women and girls whose lives were changed by The Asia Foundation’s work. Young Lotus Circle co-founder and advisor Lin Nie Jamison spoke about the importance of providing opportunities for women and girls in Asia to be able to make the critical decisions that affect their lives, and examples of impact she has seen over many years.


Young Lotus Circle co-founder and advisor Lin Nie Jamison.

“The Women’s Empowerment Program connects our resources with women in Asia to improve their lives. Just by being here this evening you have set in motion virtuous cycles,” she told the packed room.

For example, in India, where domestic violence has become a source of national outrage, Lotus Circle funds were used to support SafetiPin, a mobile app which allows users to conduct “safety audits” in their cities and shine a virtual spotlight on unsafe areas for women. In Bangladesh, Lotus Circle funds are supporting women entrepreneurs to establish and grow their businesses by developing e-commerce websites that increase their access to information, innovative technologies, and external markets. And in Vietnam, Lotus Circle funding has allowed more than 200 girls in the Mekong Delta region to overcome substantial barriers to continue their education.

Lotus Circle funds were used to support SafetiPin, a mobile app which allows users to conduct “safety audits” in their cities and shine a virtual spotlight on unsafe areas for women. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Lotus Circle funds were used to support SafetiPin, a mobile app which allows users to conduct “safety audits” in their cities and shine a virtual spotlight on unsafe areas for women. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

The Asia Foundation’s trustee emerita and long-time Lotus Circle advisor Gina Lin Chu also spoke at the Soirée. It is through Gina’s vision and commitment that The Asia Foundation’s gender smart initiative, which invests in opportunities for staff to obtain specialized skills in gender integration and women’s empowerment, is made possible.

Through this initiative, our Women’s Empowerment team facilitates collaborative gender trainings to build our staff capacity to promote gender equality across all Asia Foundation programs. To date we have conducted trainings in six countries, most recently in Bangladesh in March. The trainings have an impact in three ways. First, it builds a gender lens among staff and a new understanding of how gender norms affect us all in many aspects of our lives. By identifying a few staff in each field office with expertise in gender to be part of a “gender committee,” to co-facilitate the training together, we focus on transferring knowing and skills and building local capacity. Second, it impacts our office environment, as the training facilitates discussions about our institutional commitment to gender equality and our organizational gender policy, which affects how we work together. Third, by using a gender analysis framework to critically analyze our programs and develop gender action plans, we ensure our programs identify the specific needs of women, men, boys, and girls and promote gender equality holistically.

That evening, the enormous support and commitment to investing in women and girls across Asia was palpable. The passion of Lin Nie Jamison, Gina Lin Chu, and members of the Young Lotus Circle in the public, private, and non-profit sectors is deeply inspiring, and makes the work we do at The Asia Foundation possible. Looking ahead, on May 11 The Asia Foundation will host its sixth annual Lotus Leadership Awards Gala and will honor First Lady of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people for her steadfast commitment to advancing women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan. Carnegie Corporation will be also be honored for its partnership with The Asia Foundation to improve access to university and advanced level education for Afghan women. Vartan Gregorian will accept the Lotus Leadership Award for Carnegie. Watch this space for a one-on-one interview with Gregorian in the weeks ahead.

Read more about the Lotus Leadership Awards Gala and join us to Tell Her She Can.

Elizabeth Silva is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].


For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Mailing Address:
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223