Annual Report 2016
Addressing the critical issues facing Asia
Message from the Chairman and President
The Asia Foundation has long been recognized for its ability to convene changemakers—individuals, organizations, and policymakers who are shaping Asia’s future—and to be the catalyst for creative solutions to the most critical challenges facing Asia. Leading up to the recent U.S. presidential election, the Foundation convened leading foreign policy experts from across Asia to share their input on the role the U.S. should play in maintaining regional security, supporting trade and economic growth, and addressing nontraditional security threats such as human trafficking, climate change, cyber-security, and natural disasters. Our resulting report—Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia—contains concise recommendations for policymakers, and was widely disseminated in Washington, New York, and throughout Asia. An over-arching message is that sustained U.S. engagement and leadership is not only welcomed by most Asian countries, it is essential to advance U.S. interests in the region.
The Asia Foundation works across all levels, top to bottom, from governments, institutions and at the grassroots. This year, to assist Myanmar’s nascent democratic transition, we piloted a new mobile app that for the first time allows municipal staff to review and input data in real time, dramatically improving efficiency and transparency. In Afghanistan, where we conduct the most comprehensive public opinion survey across the country, we are building foreign affairs capacity to ensure officials can effectively manage international relations with neighboring countries. And in China, where the Foundation is helping implement the country’s landmark Anti-Domestic Violence Law, we organized a community task force of social workers, counselors, pro-bono lawyers, and women’s federation staff to provide counseling and legal assistance to abused children.
Across Asia the Foundation empowers rising development entrepreneurs to pursue needed reforms in their areas of expertise. In 2016, the third class of Asia Foundation Development Fellows—emerging leaders selected annually from more than 800 applicants—completed a rigorous professional advancement program designed and administered by the Foundation. By investing in these young Asian changemakers and their fields—as varied as law enforcement, women’s rights, and disaster management—we are investing in a more stable, peaceful, and inclusive Asia. By strengthening their leadership skills, and expanding their professional horizons, the Foundation is making a strategic bet on their ability to make an even greater contribution to their communities.
The Foundation welcomed two previous “graduates” of our fellowship programs as term trustees this year: Marcia Czarina Corazon del Mundo Medina-Guce, a 2014 Asia Foundation Development Fellow, who now leads initiatives in open data and open government in the Philippines; and Diana D. Won, a 2015-2016 Asia Foundation Luce Scholar in Seoul, Korea, who worked for Merry Year Social Company, a social innovation firm working across sectors to advise social impact portfolios for companies and partnering with government to train social entrepreneurs.
The Foundation’s ability to play a constructive role in Asia’s development depends heavily on the high caliber of our dedicated staff living and working in the 18 countries where we are based. To prepare for the decades ahead, our staff carried out an intensive strategic planning exercise, TAF2020, to ensure the Foundation is equipped to effectively address the most urgent issues facing Asia.
One of the important initiatives coming out of TAF2020 is the formation of Emerging Issues Teams (or EITs), nimble, time-bound, problem-focused teams from across the Foundation that emulate what successful tech firms in the Bay Area have pioneered for years, and draw upon an incubator-style structure that will keep us on the leading edge of change in the region. A major issue, rapid urbanization, and therefore urban governance, surfaced as the first priority to focus on. More than half of the world’s megacities are in Asia, including many on the list of 100 cities with the greatest exposure to natural disasters, but most of the big cities in Asia didn’t set out 20 years ago to have a population of 20-30 million people. They are the hubs of economic growth, and cities provide opportunities to participate in the growing global economy that simply aren’t there in remote, rural villages. But there is a whole set of issues related to urbanization, including effective city planning, environmental concerns, and disaster risk mitigation, as well as dealing with municipal finance and managing city budgets with citizen input.
The second issue to surface is the fate of Advanced Middle Income Countries. The places in Asia that have achieved advanced status began with Japan, followed by Korea, Singapore, and others. Malaysia, Thailand, and in just a few years’ time at current trajectories, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Mongolia will reach AMIC status, and with that rise comes enormous consequences. Most of the world’s poor are in middle-income countries, not in poor countries. The benefits of economic growth have not been evenly distributed, as evidenced by the widening gap between rich and poor across Asia. These top-tier rapid action EITs will focus solely on a critical issue and chart the way forward for the Foundation.
Clearly, our work is more important today than ever. Thank you for supporting The Asia Foundation.