Philanthropy can help catalyze change and support opportunities to do more for and within the AANHPI community and other marginalized communities


Philanthropy can help catalyze change and support opportunities to do more for and within the AANHPI community and other marginalized communities

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) recently kicked off a series of regional economic summits with a goal of connecting AANHPI communities directly with leaders and resources at the federal, regional, and local levels. Housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where it was first created under the Clinton Administration, WHIAANHPI was reinstated and reinvigorated by the Biden Administration to mitigate COVID-19 related anti-Asian bias, advance health equity, and ensure AANHPI communities could equitably recover from the pandemic.

As the newly appointed Director of Creative Communities, I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the summit with regional funders from Comcast and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. Conversation focused on priorities in AANHPI communities and examples of public-private partnerships that have strengthened capacities to improve lives and added resources for community success. Moderated by Romana Lee-Akiyama of the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, the Q&A style panel generated a lot of meaningful dialogue and resulted in several connections to the William Penn Foundation’s work.

  1. AANHPI and other under-resourced, underrepresented communities of color are better equipped for positive change when solutions and systems are developed collaboratively and rooted within an ecosystem for community power.
  2. Recognition of the broad diversity within AANHPI communities presents greater opportunity for awareness and cultural understanding.
  3. Cross-sector networks are increasingly needed to address complexities of racial equity and economic inclusion, and to create meaningful opportunities and impacts.

Collaboration is Key

Within the Foundation’s grantmaking, we’ve been able to support Greater Philadelphia’s diverse AANHPI communities by supporting the work of organizations like the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), Asian Arts Initiative, Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC), Indochinese-American Council, and VietLead.

Through the Creative Communities program, we work to fund inclusive, diverse, and high-quality arts, culture, and public space initiatives and projects so people across the region can foster strong communities and come together in social solidarity, critical thinking, healing, and joy. A notable example of the power of cross-sector engagement and collaboration is PCDC’s inclusive approach to organizing, planning, and engagement aimed at building community power to engage in major public space/development issues impacting Chinatown neighborhoods and communities.

Creative Communities funding for a planning and engagement process allowed PCDC to elevate Chinatown community voices in decision-making processes concerning area development projects such as 800 Vine Street Parcel, Vine Street Expressway, Franklin Square, and the Rail Park. Partners including Asian Americans United, Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School, Asian Arts Initiative, Friends of the Rail Park, and Historic Philadelphia have joined in conversation—thus ensuring the people and businesses that make Chinatown so vibrant can continue to advocate for area development that reflects the community’s cultural values and economic interests. Most importantly, these efforts demonstrate the fortitude and resilience of community power.

AANHPI Communities are not a Monolith

According to the Greater Philadelphia Asian American Chamber of Commerce, approximately 7.8% of Philadelphia’s 1.6 million people identify as Asian. This includes representation from 25 Asian ethnic groups and languages, multi-generational families and individuals, mixed socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and so much more. Despite the vast Asian diaspora across our nation, AANHPI communities are often perceived as a monolithic “model minority” and defies the fact that AANHPI communities are widely diverse socioeconomically and culturally. The monolith stereotype invites the potential for racial hate, discrimination, and cookie-cutter solutions to more complex problems.

A 2013 report from Asian Americans Advancing Justice highlighted just how different the experiences and needs of various AANHPI communities can be within Philadelphia. The report found that one in four Asian Americans in the city live in poverty. Approximately two-thirds of our Asian American population is foreign-born, which is proportionally higher than any other racial group. Acknowledging the diversity of Asian American ethnic groups is an opportunity to discover greater cultural awareness and build understanding—and to determine more equitable pathways to positive futures.

Cross Sector Networks Spark Change for Racial Equity and Economic Inclusion

Collaboration among government, for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy is essential to empowering marginalized communities and making lasting impact. At the William Penn Foundation (WPF), philanthropy is used as a vehicle to spark transformation, change, and innovation. We as philanthropists can help catalyze change and support opportunities to do more for and within the AANHPI community and other marginalized communities.

The Ford Foundation saw that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the nation’s arts and culture sector, especially organizations led by and serving communities of color. To combat this, they launched America’s Cultural Treasures, a two-pronged national and regional initiative providing critical funding opportunities for artists and cultural practitioners of color that have made enduring contributions to their cities and residents, despite historically limited resources.

As part of the regional component of this initiative, WPF worked with local philanthropy including the Barra Foundation, Neubauer Family Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage to support Philadelphia’s Cultural Treasures. Through the initiative’s $6.1 million in multi-year general operating support grants, Asian Arts Initiative (AAI) and South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) were two of the 16 BIPOC arts organizations recognized for their creative excellence and impact on Philadelphia’s cultural landscape and were awarded funding aimed at strengthening their capacity and recovery efforts.

The crux of this initiative, both regionally and nationally, was to help move the racial equity and economic inclusion needle for minoritized groups within the arts and culture sector impacted by the pandemic. To date, nationally the America’s Cultural Treasures initiative has infused over $276 million into BIPOC arts and culture organizations from the collective investments of more than 40 foundations and major donors across eight cities, highlighting the impacts that can be made when funders and other stakeholders have equity and inclusion at top of mind.


The Philadelphia WHIAANHPI summit came just one week after the Monterey Park mass shooting and Half Moon Bay killings. These heinous massacres serve as a sharp reminder that we need to come together to strengthen AANHPI and other under-resourced and underrepresented communities to achieve a brighter, more equitable future. This is a critical new day that demands partnerships and cross-sector collaborations with foundations, local, regional, and federal agencies, and importantly with leaders and voices that reflect our communities.

Within the White House press release announcing this initiative, Isabella Casillas Guzman with the Small Business Administration said something that moved me: “Generations of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have enhanced our nation through countless contributions in business, science, technology, the arts, and more. The economic summit series continues important work to close opportunity gaps to ensure [AANHPI’s] great ideas and skills can create generational economic prosperity and talent to build a better America.”

The William Penn Foundation has made a range of investments in the AANHPI communities across the city over the years, but we understand there is more learning, investment, and growth to be done. As an Asian American woman working in philanthropy, I am committed to doing more to understand the breadth of Greater Philadelphia’s AANHPI communities and to support an ecosystem where our communities can equitably benefit from the joy and transformative power of arts and culture experiences and public space.

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