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Lan Le: Legacy Giving

Lan Le with then San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and District Attorney Kamala Harris in 2006

Lan and Nga Le are members of the Haydn Williams Legacy Society. The Asia Foundation established the Haydn Williams Legacy Society to recognize generous donors like the Les, who have given or made plans to give funds from their estate to expand income-generating funds that provide long-lasting support for the Foundation’s programs. Together, these critical funds serve as The Asia Foundation’s Endowment Fund, established through the leadership and generosity of select trustees, volunteers, donors, and staff.

Lan Le received a Congressional Fellowship from The Asia Foundation in 1966. At that time, he was living in Paris, studying for a doctoral degree. The Fellowship allowed him to spend six months in the office of Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, and six months working with California Representative George Brown, who was strongly opposed to the war in Vietnam. The fellowship also provided funds for Lan to travel within the US. While touring various parts of the country, he visited The Asia Foundation headquarters in San Francisco.

Upon completing his fellowship in the US, Lan returned to Vietnam, where he worked as a research associate in the office of the President of the Republic. He then joined the Foreign Service, declining overseas assignments because he wanted to live in Vietnam. He also worked as a part-time lecturer at the University of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, where he taught Political Science, specializing in political systems in Western democracies. A few days before the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Lan and his family were evacuated on a U.S. military airplane to Guam. Ending up in San Francisco, Lan and his wife found work with the public schools where they helped meet a dire and urgent need created by the sudden influx of Vietnamese refugee children.

Lan and his wife Nga have been making generous annual contributions to support The Asia Foundation’s Girls Scholarship Program in Vietnam since the 1990s. With great foresight and kindness, they have also established a Living Trust to provide a generous bequest to The Asia Foundation to continue this critical work long into the future.

John Robinson, director of Leadership Gifts at The Asia Foundation, recently spoke with Lan about the Le’s generous decision to include The Asia Foundation in their estate plans.

JR: What was your first gift to The Asia Foundation and what inspired you to make that gift?

LL: My wife and I settled in San Francisco, where we taught in the public school system. At one point in the 1990s, I called The Asia Foundation and told them that I would like to support scholarships in Vietnam to help young girls who might not otherwise be able to pursue a high school education.

JR: What Asia Foundation programs resonate most with you?

LL: Of course, I love the girls’ scholarship program in Vietnam, and we have been inspired to expand opportunities for these girls. I also admire the programs that support women entrepreneurs who are starting and managing their own businesses.

JR: Why do you think it is important to support women entrepreneurs?

LL: I think that in many parts of Asia, including Vietnam, women are not treated as they deserve. Having lived in France and the United States as an adult, I’ve seen many women making major contributions to businesses and universities, as well as government and religious organizations. Without empowered women, we cannot become a resilient society.

JR: What brings you joy in life?

LL: Getting along with other people. Obtaining more knowledge through reading about history, politics, society, and how people think.

JR: What are you currently reading?

LL: Nothing Is Impossible, by Ted Osius (Trustee and former Ambassador to Vietnam). It is a wonderful book about the history of the connections between Vietnam and the US, focusing on many of the positive developments since the end of the war in 1975.

JR: What inspired you to create a Legacy Gift to the Asia Foundation in your estate planning?

LL: My wife and I have been giving regularly to The Asia Foundation to support girls’ scholarships in Vietnam. We realized that we could give a larger gift from our estate, without limiting our ability to continue to support these programs during our lifetime. This way, we feel a connection to the scholars we support, knowing that future girl scholars in Vietnam will continue to have these opportunities to expand their horizons.

JR: What do you wish everyone knew about The Asia Foundation?

LL: I wish that everyone could know the amazing number of programs that The Asia Foundation provides across Asia. There are so many stories of lives being enriched by these programs. I hope to share these stories with as many people as possible.

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