Insights and Analysis

Luce Scholars Program: Opening Future Leaders’ Eyes to Asia for Over Four Decades

October 4, 2017

By Missie Rennie

The Luce Scholars Program promotes and broadens an awareness of Asia among young future leaders. Launched in 1974, the program targets highly qualified young Americans—under the age of 29—across a variety of professional fields such as international relations, journalism, the arts, law, environmental studies, medicine, science, and public health. The Asia Foundation has administered the program in Asia since its inception more than four decades ago.

When photographer and journalist Ted Alcorn first arrived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as a Luce Scholar invited to document an Asia Foundation project that promotes tolerance and civic values in secondary schools, what he discovered was not what he expected.

His assignment in 2011 took him to rural Indonesian Islamic schools where he would meet with teachers and students engaged in the peace promoting project. He was prepared for a sheltered, conservative religious environment, likely cut off from the secular world. He recalls instead going into the school dorms and witnessing a strong spirit of openness and acceptance, and then looking up and seeing football flags from team Barcelona, Chelsea, and Manchester United prominently displayed on the walls. “They aren’t living in a bubble, they are young kids living in a globalized world—just like all of us.”

Challenging expectations and expanding understanding of Asia among young, future leaders like Alcorn is at the heart of the Luce Scholars Program. As the program’s founder, Henry R. Luce, creator and publisher of Time-Life Magazine, put it when he launched the magazine: “To see life. To see the world. To watch the faces of the poor, and the gestures of the proud. To see strange things. … To see and be amazed.” That is the essence of the Luce Scholars Program.

When I had the privilege of being selected a Luce Scholar in 1975, and was sent to the Philippines, it fundamentally changed my life in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I worked on the ground as a television correspondent in the Philippines, seeing these amazing things that Henry Luce had predicted. It opened doors to ways of seeing the world and forever informed my work, my life, and my family’s life, which is heavily influenced by my profound early experience in Asia.

Since 1974, the Luce Scholars Program has placed hundreds of young Americans in organizations and institutions across Asia—a range that reflects the dynamism and rich diversity of Asia, and is as broad as the scope of talents and interests of the Scholars themselves. Luce Scholar candidates are now nominated by over 70 leading U.S. colleges and universities. In its 40-plus years, over 700 Luce Scholar alumni have gone on to demonstrate extraordinary leadership in their endeavors, including becoming the world’s first female fetal heart surgeon, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post, CEO of Special Olympics International, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, a New Yorker staff writer, editor at The Wall Street Journal, and a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State, among many other accomplishments.

On October 12, The Asia Foundation and the Lotus Circle will honor the Henry Luce Foundation at the seventh annual Lotus Leadership Awards Gala in New York at the Pierre Hotel. During the evening, Margaret Boles Fitzgerald, chair of the Board of Directors, and Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation, will accept an award for their outstanding commitment to leadership development and supporting women as visible and active leaders. I am thrilled to be presenting this award as one of the founding advisors of The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle, a group of committed philanthropists and business leaders working together to empower women and girls across Asia.

As part of our 60th anniversary celebration, The Asia Foundation invited former Luce Scholar Ted Alcorn to San Francisco in 2014 for a fireside chat with Monocle and New Yorker correspondent Alastair Gee at the World Affairs Council to discuss Alcorn’s photography in China, where he was placed as a Luce Scholar with a local environmental NGO, Global Village of Beijing. In this video, he shares his experience living for extended periods at the NGO’s remote project-sites, documenting in photographs and video the interconnected yet starkly different lifestyles experienced by rural and urban populations.

From Beijing, Alcorn moved to New York City to work in the Office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, conducting analysis on public policy issues affecting New York City with statewide and national implications, including firearm policy and immigration reform. Alcorn most recently worked at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he supervised research for the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country.

In 1999, I had the good fortune of becoming a trustee of The Asia Foundation. I am also on the Selection Committee for the Luce Scholars Program. It’s a pleasure and an honor to have been so closely affiliated with both the Henry Luce Foundation and The Asia Foundation since 1975.

Read more about the Luce Scholars Program and the Lotus Circle.

Missie Rennie was trustee of The Asia Foundation from 1999 to 2015, and appointed Trustee Emerita in June 2015. After her experience in the Philippines as a Luce Scholar, she continued a successful career in journalism, becoming executive producer of CBS News Sunday Morning and CBS Weekend News. She was awarded eight Emmys and the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. Read her full bio here. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


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