Advancing Women in Asia: A Conversation with Lotus Circle Advisor Lin Jamison
May 11, 2016
Today, The Asia Foundation honored First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani and Carnegie Corporation of New York at the sixth Lotus Leadership Awards Gala in New York City for their efforts to advance the rights and opportunities of women and girls. In advance of the evening gala, In Asia editor spoke with Lotus Circle Advisor Lin Jamison who joined the Lotus Circle in 2012, with the goal of expanding the group’s presence in New York City’s young professional crowd. In 2013, she established the Young Lotus Circle, which hosts regular social and fundraising events to benefit the women’s empowerment program. Lin was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. in 1989.
What first drew you to The Asia Foundation and the Lotus Circle?
My first exposure to the Lotus Circle was four years ago when I met Lotus Circle founding member Masako Shinn – I believe it was my birthday party of all things. She looked around the room, which was mostly made up of 20-somethings, and decided that everyone there needed to both know about and be a part of the Lotus Circle.
In New York City, we have so many forces competing for our attention that it is really hard to filter out the worthy causes from those that are less substantive in nature. What drew me to the Lotus Circle was when she started describing the specific projects that the Foundation works on across 18 offices in Asia. The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle takes every donation and funnels it directly to the Foundation’s programs in the field where you can see immediately how it is making an impact on the ground in Asia. All the Foundation’s field offices report directly back to the Foundation, which gives the Lotus Circle a direct pipeline of seeing how our dollars are making an impact on the lives of people in Asia.
I was born in China and moved to New York in 1989. As an Asian female who lives in the U.S., I’m lucky to have had the opportunity and choice to decide what school I wanted to attend, to decide what job I wanted to take after school, and to decide exactly when I wanted to be married, if I wanted to be married, whether I wanted kids, however many kids I wanted. And so on. These choices are things that we take for granted and that are not always afforded to women in Asia, who have to fight for every choice and every opportunity that they get.
There are still so many challenges and inequalities that women there face. And while the stories that I hear from Asia are sometimes disheartening and troublesome, we all feel an urge to reach back and help out in ways that we can. The Asia Foundation allows us to do so. It identifies these projects where we can make the maximum amount of impact. This is something that really called me to the Lotus Circle and being able to give some of these women more opportunities in their lives as we have here.
Is there a particular project that inspires you most?
There are many, but the Yangon Bakery project in Myanmar, a country ravaged by political turmoil and economic hardship over the years, might be the most inspiring. This is a 10-month training program for young women that provides business and life skills in the context of Myanmar’s burgeoning economy. I’ve never been to Myanmar, but after learning about the work and watching a video about the project, I could almost smell the delicious breads they are baking. It is such a powerful visual to see women take something that wasn’t there before, develop it, and then expand it to two locations. They collected both the skill set and the resources from the Foundation to be able to build a new social enterprise that seems self-sustaining, profitable, and, most importantly, replicable in other areas and other parts of the region.
For me as a Lotus Advisor, what is so powerful about this example is that you can see how every dollar that you donate to The Asia Foundation has gone to specific and well-managed projects. We didn’t just write these women a check; the Foundation gave them life skills that can be invested in and sustained. They learned skills like how to invest in capital equipment, how to transform simple household skills into business ideas, how to balance their own income statements, and how to replicate their project on a bigger scale.
Also, in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, despite never having been to Nepal myself, I felt compelled to do something. And before I could even get my ideas together, an e-mail arrived in my inbox from The Asia Foundation specifying how our funds were being spent to help the survivors of the earthquake. And in that moment I just felt a burden lifted off of my shoulders in some ways because here was an organization that was taking my donation to make a tremendous and real-time impact in an area of need.
What do you see as the most important aspect of empowering women?
I think the economic aspect is so important for women. Women have been managing household money for generations, really since the beginning of history. So, it is not the skill set that is lacking; it is the potential to take that skill set into the professional sphere where they are making money for their entire family. Managing and growing ones’ own finances is incredibly empowering.
In the case of Myanmar, you can just imagine this group of women who have been doing in the privacy of their households. They bake bread every morning. They feed their families with it. They are already nourishing, to some degree, and with the extra bread now they are able to bring it to the bakery. They have capital goods, they have the skill set to learn how to balance a financial statement, and they are now able to have a business enterprise in Myanmar.
As a young person, and as a recent new mother, I think a lot about the world that we live in and the world that I would want to pass down to future generations. This is a world that I think is improving, thanks to the work of The Asia Foundation, and will be a better place by the time we are passing it down to the next generation.
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