Annual Report 2017
Message from the Chairman and President
Asia as a region fully exemplifies the changes occurring across the globe—rapid urbanization, environmental challenges, population movements, dramatic shifts in the job market, exploding use of technology, the empowerment of previously marginalized groups, and impatience with ineffective leadership and institutions.
Dramatic reforms in Myanmar, for example, have activated a powerful but uneasy transition from half a century of military rule. Our landmark year-long study, The Contested Areas of Myanmar, examined the relationship between conflict, aid and development, and created the first-ever comprehensive database of conflict and violence indicators in the country, a step toward building a system of government that is recognized as legitimate by people of all ethnic nationalities.
A key dimension of the country’s reform is gender equality and inclusion of women in all facets of life, including government, entrepreneurship, and peacebuilding. Earlier this year, at our annual Lotus Leadership Awards, we honored the Colorful Girls, our grassroots partner in Myanmar empowering adolescent girls of all ethnicities (or colors) to become leaders to transform their own lives.
We heard from teenager Zar Chi Win, who created a campaign to combat harassment of women and girls on public buses. Zar Chi even talked to local bus conductors to enlist their support in protecting women on their way to school and work: “If we girls do not take action, we cannot expect long-term change in our country.” Change, as it is often said, must start somewhere. At The Asia Foundation, we like to say change starts here.
Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands, with 700 languages spoken across the archipelago. Access to books and information is difficult, especially in remote and underserved areas, but this past year we successfully launched a free digital library that is rapidly growing in popularity and now features hundreds of books by Indonesian authors and others.
Rising inequality, gender violence, bloody conflicts, and rapid urbanization require the need for highly creative, inspired, and transformative next-generation Asian leadership. Our new and ongoing Asia Foundation Development Fellows build on our history of supporting emerging Asian leaders like Jalila Haider, a young human rights attorney, who despite daily threats to her own safety, is successfully defending women’s rights in Pakistan and is the first female attorney in her Hazara community, an ethnic minority group in Balochistan.
From building resiliency against extremist movements among young people in conflict-riddled Malaysia to bringing together Chinese first responders with U.S. Forest Service counterparts to introduce a standardized approach to emergency response in disaster zones, change starts here. And change starts with individuals like you.
This year, we will launch a private fundraising effort unlike any in the history of the Foundation. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear more about this effort on asiafoundation.org and in our various social channels.
The catalyzing role our donors play is remarkable. The Colorful Girls, for example, received funding from Chong-Moon Lee’s generous multi-year gift to combat trafficking in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. And the Lotus Circle—a dedicated group of philanthropists supporting The Asia Foundation’s work to empower women and girls—is made up of donors like Lucy Lee. Lucy, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who settled in Australia and then returned to China as entrepreneurs, is an investor in early-stage companies and is passionately expanding the Lotus Circle in the Bay Area, the gateway to the Asia-Pacific and our global headquarters. We are grateful to Lucy for inviting new individuals to venture with her into the life of our programs for women and girls.
The massive digital library in Indonesia mentioned in this letter—that was made possible only with the generous support from our Indonesia-based trustee Jared Frost, who has sponsored Foundation projects throughout Asia since the early 1980s and believes in our commitment to create a love of reading in young people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or income, and to turn those readers into leaders.
And Jalila Haider’s ability to participate in our Asia Foundation Development Fellows program that provided her with an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen her leadership skills and advance her desire to address critical issues is made possible by supporters like Brooks Entwistle, a senior executive based in Asia at companies including Goldman Sachs, Everstone Capital, and Uber. Brooks, also a trustee, understands the power of excellence in leadership, and is literally moving to the frontlines with us and our Fellows as we tackle critical development issues threatening the lives and well-being of nearly half our planet.
The Asia Foundation has always invested in leaders in Asia, from those at the peak of their careers to those just embarking on their journey. This is a time of transformation in Asia, and we hope you will join our efforts to help societies flourish by bringing together the local leaders, visionaries, communities, and governments who are positively shaping the future of the region. Fulfilling their desire for change, economic opportunity, and social justice is only possible with you.