Insights to Philanthropy: The Next Generation

Hey world,

On Wednesday, I was asked to speak about "Insights on Philanthropy: The Next Generation", the voice of millennial women in philanthropy, at GW's 6th Annual Women and Philanthropy Forum




Over 100 women attended the forum, and I delivered my speech to a nearly-filled room as the last guest speaker of the day.



The speech was well-received, with a partially standing ovation (definition: people were not crouching and clapping, but maybe 1/3 of the room stood to clap)! Numerous individuals came up to thank me for the inspiring words, including the President of GW, keynote speaker Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and others. 

It was such an honor to be asked to speak, and because I wasn't able to record my actual speech (though pictures are coming!), and I know there was a lot of interest in what I had to say, I decided to share my script online. 

But first, HELLO.
 This is the debut of my 'new' blog. As you will see, I've actually been using this blog for some time, but today is the first day I've shared the URL with others. I suggest you check out a few of the earlier posts after this one, including my first post, as well as this one and this one to catch up. 

This blog will be a reflection of my journey to live the life I desire; documenting the highs and the lows, the complexities and the simple joys. Walk the unpaved path with me. 

Alright, back to business. Without further ado, here's the transcript of my speech!


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Insights on Philanthropy: The Next Generation


First of all, I would like to say thank you to Dr. Mary Ellsberg for the warm introduction, a thank you to the rest of the wonderful and inspiring speakers that have imparted their wisdom and experiences with us today, thank you to Ms. Karen White and Ms. Victoria Hartman for inviting me to be a part of this forum…I am deeply humbled and excited to be here. And finally, a big thank you to everyone else in attendance, I appreciate you sticking around to hear what I have to say about The Next Generation: Insights to Philanthropy.

Like many others in my generation, and the generations that came before, I was introduced to philanthropy and giving at a young age. Because I was born and raised in Southeast Asia, disparities between my life and the lives of others were noticeably apparent. However, from a young age, I was also introduced to the possibility, and necessity, of improvement and change; my parents incorporated giving into my life from the very beginning – never discounting how meaningful small gifts could be.  

All of the clothes and toys I outgrew were donated to our maid’s extended family in the Philippines who were not able to afford as many clothes as I was. When I misbehaved, my parents would have me collect money by completing extra chores around the house to then donate it to the local SPCA. Holidays were one of my favorite times of the year, not only because of my family’s celebrations, but because I got to raid our cupboards for boxed and canned goods to donate to the less fortunate. In sixth grade, I was part of a school trip that went to Bintan, Indonesia to set up the computer lab we donated to a small government school. It was my first exposure to classrooms that didn’t have desks or chairs, pretty posters or technology. But despite their many lacks, we were encouraged by the opportunity we had created – for students just like us to learn how to type and use the internet, just like we were learning during our own computer lab classes. We might not have been able to do everything, but we could do something.

During this same part of my childhood, I committed time and energy brainstorming how I might be able to throw my name into the international ring so I could be elected Mother Earth. I was oddly intimately familiar with the United Nations and all of its work and missions around the world, (I once convinced the FAO to send posters for my entire school about eating healthy), but I knew that we needed to go a step further. And I wanted to take that step and lead the charge.

I was consumed with sadness knowing that there were people dying of disease and dirty water, that men, women and children were hungry, that sharks were being hunted for their fins and left for dead, that the Amazon was being cut down at astonishing rates; that smog and pollution from slash and burn farming methods was causing asthma and illness in others, that acid rain was a real thing and not just something you read about in books, and that genocide was not a one-time event during World War II, but an issue communities around the world continued to battle. I was also extremely affected by the plight of endangered species. In fact, I started one of what was probably the earliest chain emails from my AOL account – doggiewuver@aol.com -- when I was 8 or 9 telling everyone in my contacts all about the ‘lovable animals of Madagascar’, the Aye-Aye, that were being murdered by local Malagasy because they supposedly brought bad luck – and how devastated I was. After laying out all of the facts, I ended my chain letter by saying “this isn’t one of those emails where you’ll die if you don’t forward this…but an aye-aye will”. Talk about pulling at heart strings!

By the time I was 12, I was so overwhelmed by causes that mattered, and things that needed to be done to improve the lives of people, animals and our planet, that I no longer knew where to allocate my time or efforts.

Unfortunately, right before 8th grade, I unexpectedly moved back to the United States to become a caregiver alongside my mother for my grandfather, who came out of remission in 2003 and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For the next two years, I thought of little else. After he passed, I was too overcome with emotion to devote myself to any cause that made me sad (which was all of them) – and my giving took a long hiatus. I pivoted into mentoring and leadership roles, and in that, I was able to allow a different part of myself to grow.

It wasn’t until I got to GW that I felt ready to start giving again. I was first introduced to GW students’ passion for philanthropy while I was going through formal recruitment, and I ultimately chose a sorority who’s philanthropic focus was something I was also passionate about. And I started seeking my definition of philanthropy: I found that giving time and talent became as important, if not more important, than giving money.

I spent the Saturdays during my freshman year working with children who were behind in math and reading. I interned on Capitol Hill; and provided a listening ear to those frustrated with their representatives. I stayed up all night and Relayed for Life; dedicating 12 hours to remembrance of battle, and celebration of years lived. My sophomore year, I organized the largest team GW had ever seen for Relay, with over 100 of my sorority sisters coming together in support. I gave campus tours and information sessions to prospective students; I went to pancake breakfasts and bake sales and signed petitions.

I was asked to be part of the Senior Class Gift committee, and joined a team of dedicated soon-to-be-graduates that convinced a record-breaking 50% of our peers to give back to GW, raising a grand total of over $92,000 that year. It was a rewarding experience – for someone who truly bleeds ‘buff and blue’, it was always interesting to chat with fellow Colonials about their passions, and show them how GW was an integral part of facilitating them, or allowing them to grow.   

One of the best things about going to GW was that the university really pushed you to start thinking about the things that mattered to you during your four years on campus.  It didn’t matter if it was politics or biology; saving killer whales or growing organic vegetables; running marathons to raise funds for HIV/AIDS, sending thank you cards to the troops, or sharing a photo on Facebook that donated $1. What mattered was that you began to narrow down the things you were willing to donate time, money and talent to – and that you began to actively take part in initiatives that would allow you to give. GW pushed you to seek, and find, your passion – and to live and embody it. They supported student groups and campus events; they encouraged study abroad trips and thoughtful theses; they connected you with internships and job opportunities; they engrained that service, and volunteering, could be easily incorporated to anyone’s life.

By the end of my college experience, I narrowed down my passions to the following: literacy and access to books and education, cancer research, East Africa, and organizations and institutions that been an important part of my learning journey, such as GWU and my sorority Pi Beta Phi. It didn’t mean that I cared any less about the aye ayes or acid rain or dirty water, I just felt that I was better positioned to do more about other pressing topics.

Upon graduation, I moved to Tanzania as a volunteer secondary school English teacher with the non-profit WorldTeach. I brought with me over 50 pounds of school supplies to donate to my school, and I spent the year helping 270 students improve their English, imagine success, and encourage them to defy the odds. While I was in Tanzania, I started The Nyota Fund after being inspired by my students' dedication to come to school even when they couldn't afford school fees, hiding in the bushes and enduring daily beatings just to extend their time in the classroom before they had to admit defeat. And that's even with a annual cost of $50 USD to send a student to school. That's right. $50 a year.  After consulting with community elders, school leaders, and elected officials within the district, I started a scholarship fund, The Nyota Fund, to assist talented students in my school district to stay in school. In Kagera region, less than 7% of elementary school graduates make it to secondary school. Around the same percentage are even able to graduate secondary school and move on to higher education. It is the mission of The Nyota Fund to remove the financial barriers, and allow students who can succeed the chance to. It was during this process of starting my own organization that I came to realize what being philanthropic was all about.

To me, being a leader and being philanthropic are almost synonymous. To me, they both mean to be a catalyst and a facilitator; to be the person who draws out from others what is already there. Being a leader is not one who seeks to take credit; being a philanthropist is not one who is interested in the title. It is simply someone who has something to offer; to help ensure the aspirations, dreams and wishes of others are able to come into fruition.

In today’s world, and for my generation, philanthropy and giving can seem quite overwhelming. The internet berates us with uplifting or depressing statistics constantly and inundates us with campaigns and fundraisers, each doing something as wonderful as the next. It’s hard to decide, in a split moment, whether you want to buy a blanket that will then donate 4 blankets to cold Nepalese widowers or donate a soccer ball and protein bars to children in Ecuador or purchase a solar light for a family of 10 in Tanzania. And because you’re inundated constantly and can’t participate 99% of the time, it’s almost just as easy not to participate at all.   

People ask me all the time how I do it. How I donate to other people’s campaigns. How I run my own. How I lived without water or a toilet or electricity or a stove. How I disrupted the “usual growing up timeline” to devote a year of my life to teaching others. “I’m so impressed by you” they say, “I could never be you, I could never do it”.

I’m here today to share my story, because I believe that anyone can do it.

I am able to donate to a wide number of campaigns, because I deliberately chose to stop buying juices, sodas, and iced teas when I’m at restaurants. The only coffees or teas I consume are now made at home. If I purchase something, most of the time I try to support small business, and I only eat out twice a week max. I live on less than $100 a week in NYC, and with the money I would have spent on one-time consumptions, I re-appropriate to giving to more meaningful efforts. I have found satisfaction in having less, and giving more.

I also am able to consistently give because I almost never donate more than $15 to any one campaign. Small gifts are just as important as large gifts – just as I never pass a penny on the sidewalk without picking it up, I never discredit the power of a small donation. In fact, this March, I encouraged the 1st-6th grade students from my hometown to bring in coins and dollar bills for school fees. Together, they raised over $1,100 in less than one week and sent half of my Nyota scholars to school for an entire year. There’s a Tanzanian proverb that says, “Little by little, a little becomes a lot”. So I give, little by little.  

My insights to philanthropy are still young. But if I had to impart my knowledge to you succinctly, as a 24-year old woman, this is what I would share:

-       Find what you are passionate about. Allow your passions to be subject to your change. Allow yourself to be changed by your passions.  

-       Put yourself in a position to give, and give selflessly. It’s never too late to make a difference – to cut out Diet Coke and donate $30 a month to a cause you love instead. In order to give selflessly, you must also be content to live selflessly – do not be afraid to open yourself up to change.

-       $10 is just as important as $10,000. Never belittle what you can offer. In the United States, the people who give the most are actually those who have the least. Humility is a blessing.

-       As I said earlier, time and talent are as important, if not more important, than money. Know what your gifts are, and extend them to those in need of assistance.

-       Always remember why you’re passionate in the first place. It should never be about being a “leader” or a “philanthropist”. You should never give, just to check a box off your list. Commit yourself to be a facilitator; to be a catalyst for difference. Be in tune with what people and communities desire. Mobilize your passions to ignite the fire of giving in others.

-       If you are a founder like me, do not be afraid to stay small. Today, pressure is on to run a nonprofit like a start-up, to expand and grow at the speed of light, to affect millions and revolutionize the planet. Instead, I urge you to think small, to stay local, and remain rooted in your vision and your mission. Change can come just as quickly and effectively if everyone set to task on small corners of the globe, and worked meaningfully to bring improvements. Change is change – at any scale.

-       Finally, remain inspired. Believe, with your whole heart, in the power of possibility – and donate your time, talent and money, to turn possibility into reality.

Thank you.

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Well, there you have it. 

To be considered a representative of millennial givers by my alma mater is truly amazing. To be able to speak in front of a large, caring audience of women (and some men!) was a great experience, and I hope my words resonated with many. 

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a continued engagement with forums and speeches, as well as an blog audience of more than one!

xoxo,
M







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