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Asian Foundations

Relative to Western institutions, Asian foundations are a comparatively new social phenomenon. A two-year study by Joan Fawcett of the Aspen Institute was conducted to research the social aims, revenue sources, funding activities and grant allocation of charitable foundations located in six East Asian countries, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, and North and South Korea. In their organization, structure and day-to-day operations, some functioned more as tax shelters for the wealthy, while others were more philanthropic. Though great variation was found between the groups studied, some general statements can be made about these groups.

Foundations in several of the region's societies function as instruments of state policy, most notably in China, not a surprising finding due to the Communist Party's control over all aspects of society. In Japan and Korea, foundations serve more to implement corporate policy, and organizations in these two nations tend to be closely linked to business interests.

However, in the more individualistic societies of Taiwan and Hong Kong, foundations are established to further personal rather than public policy and often reflect the funding preferences of the benefactors who fund them.

The paper also identified philanthropic grant making priorities of the foundations studied. Initially, they dealt mainly with the social, economic and political devastation caused by the Second World War and local wars such as the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. They currently deal with issues of economic dislocation and social upheaval. Approximately sixty percent of the world's population is Asian, and while there are many Asian millionaires, two-thirds of the world's "absolute poor" are concentrated in Asia.

Many of these developing nations are struggling to establish a foothold in the new globalized world economy where a nation's wealth is increasingly dependent upon exports. Asian economies are growing at an unparelleled rate, leading to the emergence of "civil society" movements to counter the effects of globalization on peasants and unskilled workers. Due to the desire by governments in the region to reduce the size and scope of social responsibilities and costs, organized philanthropy is being officially encouraged. Most Asian nations, from China with its ostensibly communist government to Japan with its wealthy mega-corporations, have poor social safety nets. This has led to the professionalization of philanthropy and the growth of private organizations.

Not all Asia-oriented foundations are based in Asia. One large non-profit, non-governmental organization based in San Francisco, the Asia Foundation, provides millions of dollars annually for social and educational programs in Asian countries. Its stated aim is the development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region. They function as an umbrella organization, providing grants to local groups in the Asia Pacific that fall within the areas of women's participation, fair elections and human rights, international relations, environmental protection, economic reform and development.

The Asia Foundation also administers the Luce Scholars program, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. This scholarship provides an opportunity for young Americans to spend a year in Asia studying in the fields of law, medicine, international relations, performing arts, and other subjects.

Submitted by:

Frank Vanderlugt

Frank Vanderlugt is interested in Asian foundations.Asian Foundations


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