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ForumNation Podcast Episode 3 Transcript- Patricia Eng

In the third episode of our ForumNation podcast, David Biemesderfer interviews Patricia. She spoke about the disturbing rise of hate and violence against AAPI communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how philanthropy can respond; how Asian Americans are often portrayed as the “model minority” while fear and racism are always simmering just below the surface; and how she views the current moment as being a potential “reset button” for philanthropy to think differently and bigger.

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Dave Beimesderfer (00:03):

ForumNation is a podcast of United Philanthropy Forum, the largest network serving philanthropy in America on ForumNation. We interview amazing philanthropy leaders that we want more people to know about. You'll hear about their personal stories of transformation, their life inflection points, their surprising leadership moments. You learn insights about what's behind the title. Those less than perfect moments, those overcoming the odds moments, those moments where you reach down and find something within you that you didn't know was there. I'm your host, Dave Biemesderfer.

Dave Beimesderfer (00:43):

Patricia Eng has had an extensive career that has included key leadership positions in the public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. Since September, 2019 she served as president and CEO of Asian-Americans Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, also known as APIP, which is a national membership and philanthropic advocacy organization dedicated to expanding and mobilizing resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to build a more just and equitable society. She previously served as chief service officer of New York City service under mayor Bill de Blasio. Her past work also includes serving as vice president of strategic partnerships and programs at the New York Women's Foundation where she was the founder and executive director of the New York Asian Women's Center, which was the first organization on the East Coast to address violence against immigrant Asian women. Pat, welcome to ForumNation.

Patricia Eng (01:43):

Well, thank you so much for having me, Dave.

Dave Beimesderfer (01:46):

So glad to have you here on our first ForumNation virtual podcast. As I just mentioned, you've had a wide ranging career working in public, private and philanthropic spaces. So what prompted you to accept the position, as presidency of APIP?

Patricia Eng (02:06):

Yeah, well first of all, again, thank you for having me. I am a big fan of yours, and I felt very welcomed into the network, so thank you so much. APIP - I have been involved in prior to becoming the CEO of APIP. I ha, I've was a chapter co-chair a number of years ago, so I certainly was familiar with APIP back in the day when I was a program officer and vice president of programs at the Ms. Foundation for Women and became familiar with, actually, I even became familiar with APIP before that as a nonprofit, you know, running a nonprofit. So APIP has been in my radar for a long time. But what prompted me to really consider and take this position at this moment was that APIP, before I came on, created a newly minted racial equity statement. And the organization and its chapters were so eager and ready to think about, APIP's role in the larger context of racial equity in philanthropy a and that is something that's quite intriguing to me.

Dave Beimesderfer (03:29):

Well, thanks. We're glad to have you here. And you came into this leadership role at an interesting time in our country - not really what you probably expected when you took the job. So just in general, how has that been for you to suddenly, along with all of us, facing a global economic crisis.

Patricia Eng (03:58):

Yes, it's very interesting because, while it is just quite the moment that none of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes, it really galvanized, I think exactly the kind of issue that APIP was looking to really address. It is about the role of AAPI actually not just in philanthropy, but in the U S in general. I think that it has been so telling because I think that a lot of AAPI's in philanthropy struggle with how we show up in our foundations with our full identities, in the context of racial equity. So many foundations are having deep, wonderful conversations amongst their own staff around racial equity, and for AAPIs in that spectrum, and it's often framed in a Black, Brown, black, white paradigm, um, and AAPI's and I would say Native Americans as well are somehow sometimes invisible in those conversations. And so this moment around COVID-19 and the anti-Asian climate that it has fomented along the way really raises up that visibility of anti-Asian hostility. I would say that has been there since really the founding of this country and since the first Asians to come. I think primarily Chinese were among the earliest to come. We know that Chinese Americans were the first to be excluded from this country through legislation, through the Chinese Exclusion Act. So there's a long history of that certainly predates this moment. There is a long history of Asians as being sort of somehow exotic or foreign and I don't want to play on those. I don't even want to say those words because it really continues to feed into that exoticism you know, and I'm not even going to talk about model minority, although there I go saying saying that. But that is exactly the kind of meme, the kind of narrative I think that, you know, has been hurtful in the AAPI community. And I think that we are recognizing for the first time, for a lot of people recognizing, "oh my gosh, where did this come from?" Well, it came from, it has it's roots and it just... look how quickly that was able to come to the surface? So all of that to say, you know, that it's been there and it has surfaced. I think that, you know, those of us in philanthropy, sometimes we feel like we're immune to, an external hostile environment. You know, sometimes we talk about philanthropy being an ivory tower, but certainly we have seen that Asian Americans, AAPIs in philanthropy have not had escaped, right? Have not escaped the anti-Asian hostility that's out there and bringing it back into our workplaces. If we don't acknowledge that even in our own foundations, if we don't have conversations about that, that has been hurtful. And I've heard that, from so many of my colleagues all across the country

Dave Beimesderfer (08:10):

There's a group named Stop AAPI Hate, which noted that just since the end of March has been more than 1100 physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans that haven't been documented. Certainly there are many more not documented. What are you hearing from your own networks and the people you engage with?

Patricia Eng (08:32):

Those documented incidents are certainly the kinds of stories that I have heard from our colleagues in philanthropy as well, inside and outside of philanthropy. I think it's, shocking and dismaying for so many and it is again, the sense of, really alongside all of the um, hurts and fears that we are all experiencing with this virus there is an additional element for And so that's been I think is really hard. And I think that there is a sense too that, I think that folks are really recognizing that as you know, Dave, um, uh, a APIP, uh, helped to draft and had an open call open letter to philanthropy, which you also had signed on to. So thank you. And many of our colleagues, um, um, have also signed on and we're super grateful, you know, um, for that.

Patricia Eng (09:53):

But I, think that we want to recognize that our experience as AAPIs and the racism that we're experiencing in this moment is not isolated to just AAPIs. We know that every community of color, every person of color, has probably experienced many of the kinds of situations that we're talking about here. We have already seen in the news the conversations and the realization that African-Americans are both being infected and dying at such astronomical rates. And that has everything to do with racism and the history and how ingrained it is in this country. So these are not separate kinds of patterns. They're different, right? They're experienced differently. But it's part of the same strand that I think we want to really recognize. I think that around the anti-Asian violence, it has surprised not just Asian Americans, but other people. They said, "Oh my gosh", you know, "I didn't know that Asians were discriminated against?"

Patricia Eng (11:21):

And it feels like some people might think of it as a momentary blip on the screen, a momentary lapse rather than a historic pattern that has resurfaced, right? And I think that sometimes people also think that this hostility is individually expressed rather than systemically entrenched, right? And so I think that there is the sense that it is somehow different. And so I'm really just trying to bring back the fullness of that. It's the fullness of the experience around racism in this country that doesn't go away. And so when we talk about racial equity, we really have to be inclusive of everybody, because we won't have a full racial equity strategy and we won't get to where we want to go around that if we don't fully see everybody in that scenario. I hope that makes sense.

Speaker 2 (12:24):

Oh yeah. Thank you for that Pat.

Patricia Eng (12:27):

And I also want to say that when we talk about AAPIs, we are talking about that umbrella encompasses so many different people, and I mean at least 50 different languages and at least, as you know, eight different ethnicities. We have South Asians, we have East Asians, we have very wealthy Asians. We have Asians who are really amongst the poorest in this country. So that continuum and that umbrella encompasses such a diverse group, and yet at the same time, this kind of racism surfaces predominantly against Chinese, folks can't distinguish between... like they just see a face, and it looks like an Asian face and they automatically assume that you're Chinese right? You know, when, in fact, I think, you know, the website that you were mentioning, Stop AAPI Hate has, when you look at the statistics, most of the folks who have experienced, these kinds of incidents are actually not Chinese?

Dave Beimesderfer (13:49):

So in that open letter, that call to action that took philanthropy that AAPIP led, the development of that, you just mentioned, you called for some actions that founders can take. And I'm going to get to that. But, but I, first would like you to talk about some examples you've seen, that we need to see more of. The funders who have been stepping up in the spirit of that.

Patricia Eng (14:15):

Yeah, well I would raise up the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. I think it was the first, perhaps even the only foundation that came up explicitly with a rapid response. You know, a specific rapid response strategy. I think it's called Racism is a Virus, Too. I think that was the name of it. And actually they've already received numerous requests for support from all over the country, even though they're a regional funder, right? So they were the first to really express and acknowledge and to really try to address what was happening around anti-Asian hostility and racism. I think that they were particularly concerned because the early examples all were of young children experiencing these kinds of aggressions from their classmates and from school officials. So that is what I think really sparked them to pay attention.

Patricia Eng (15:26):

I would say that, here's another example. Interesting example - the Levi Strauss foundation. Their company created space for their staff to talk about their experiences and the impact that this situation was having on themselves, their families, and at work. They've also supported efforts like Stop AAPI Hate, that you were mentioning. So that's a foundation that explicitly made space in their foundation to have that kind of conversation. California Wellness also included grants in their rapid response that address the anti-Asian climate alongside other needs. While this is not specifically about the anti-Asian climate that is there, I just have to do a shout out for the fabulous undocu-funds that are cropping up and starting.

Patricia Eng (16:39):

I guess that started a few years back by, I think it was VISA, with support from California. Wellness and now, so many other efforts it seems as you know, are coming up to help the undocumented, many of whom were also AAPIs, right? I think that most people, the narrative in this country is that, I think most people don't know that, AAPIs are actually among the largest racial group with the most undocumented folks in this country. But that's not the narrative that you hear.

Dave Beimesderfer (17:23):

So those have been some great examples you've shared Pat. Can you share some other actions that you would hope all funders would take if they care about this issue now and, or longer term?

Patricia Eng (17:37):

Okay. Well, first is I, I think it's hopefully opened the door around awareness that again, I'm hoping that people understand that it is not just the momentary blip on the screen, and that it's an opportunity to really engage with AAPI communities differently. I know that most foundations don't have a heck of a lot of AAPI organizations in their portfolios. Perhaps in certain geographic regions more so than others, right, because of populations. For example, California or New York may have more foundations that you know that have more grants going to AAPI communities. But we know that AAPI communities are all over this country that we know, and actually the website that you were mentioning, the incidents came from I think as many as about 39, close to 40 States.

Patricia Eng (18:54):

So that's all over the country. So I want to just be sure that folks really get that. It's not just along the coast. I think that in particular it's even those smaller communities in the middle of the country for example that maybe perhaps are suffering in silence, right? So I think that this is really, I'm hoping that it's a moment just takes, um, really some easy stuff. I think in the open letter we offered a couple of simple, you know, ways for folks to step up. And again, one is just have a conversation, you know, um, amongst your staff, um, to be sure that this is something that um, is taken seriously. Um, I think it's a moment also to do an analysis around grants, you know, um, to not just AAPI but also again, native communities that traditionally are also missing from a lot of, uh, portfolios.

Patricia Eng (19:58):

I know that because the Forum is a forum specifically for philanthropic serving organizations, like APIP, I think that regardless of whether or not we are issue based, geographic based, identity based, I'm hoping that folks would also include, these kinds of talking points and analysis into the work that they're doing. And I'm really grateful for many who have certainly stepped up to sign that letter and to say, what else can we do? I think another thing is stop thinking about identity based groups as special interest. For the longevity, for my entire career, certainly in philanthropy, and even when I was running a nonprofit trying to raise money from foundations, I would get, replies that wow, that's important work. But we try to fund organizations that reached everyone.

Patricia Eng (21:04):

And so really not recognizing that the groups that reach everyone are in fact not reaching everyone. So these are not special interest groups. And I think that maybe this moment is also helping us recognize that there is no such thing as special interest that we're all in this together, right? You know that one thing leads to another. And what hurts one group hurts us all. So I'm hoping that it's a new opportunity to think differently and to see the fullness and to see the gaps and to find ways to really bring into your fold other communities that perhaps might be smaller in your neck of the woods, but nevertheless, is an important part of your overall community.

Patricia Eng (22:05):

I think that we all know the things that we already know are the things that we should really still be paying attention to. So things like prioritizing women, gender nonconforming, and men of color for senior staff, executive and trustee positions, right? But then don't just put them there, support them, support them when they get there, right? In the seven months that I have been at APIP, and talking with leaders, AAPI leaders and others all over the country, AAPI leaders who are at the forefront in their own foundations. Talk about it, actually it's not just AAPI it's that people of color I think in general, in philanthropic leadership positions are sometimes really reluctant to advance grants or identity-based strategies for fear of being seen as self-serving, right? And so I feel like, wow, are we still there in this moment?

Patricia Eng (23:12):

Why is that, you know, do we add in philanthropy place folks in these positions to check off the box or to add value that may be based in lived experience, right? So these are just some things that would be useful for folks to keep in mind. That the face is not enough. We have to support the staff at all leadership levels to really be able to fully bring that full value to their foundations, to philanthropy overall.

Dave Beimesderfer (23:53):

You know, I was reading an interview you did recently for the Chronicle of philanthropy where you describe the moment that we're in as a potential reset button for philanthropy to think differently, to think bigger. I'd love you to share more about your thoughts for the field.

Patricia Eng (24:18):

I think as we all shelter in place, if we can, right, knowing that there are so many others who aren't, who don't have that luxury, we know that this is a pivotal moment in this country, in the world. Not only is this a pandemic like no other that we have never experienced before, but we are headed to, I mean we're already in such an economic downturn which feels like that's too light. You know of a categorization and we know in every kind of pandemic and in every kind of, um, crisis moment that the most vulnerable are always the hardest hit. And so how can we then really get out of this in a way that is the full reset that I think this moment is calling for.

Patricia Eng (25:33):

It's not just wait until we can get out of this, it is so systemic. I just can't help thinking about it as I listened to the news. And it's so hard to absorb it, you know, but, when we hear about issues, perennial issues that I think philanthropy and legislators perhaps have been grappling with, around clean water, paid sick days, voting rights, all of these things are born from the lived expertise of vulnerable communities. And yet they don't really have the full light of day. We don't really give them full weight. And so it creates moments like this. This is the product of not paying attention to those kinds of issues to really not dealing with the systemic issues that we know are embedded in racism really.

Patricia Eng (26:40):

And so is this the reason? Is there something different that we can do? Not just put up the money temporarily, but is there a way for us to even think differently about what that money can actually do? Is there a way to think that we can do more than money? I think philanthropy is certainly more than money. And so how can we put our influence and smarts in different ways, to be more creative. And I also say that I certainly think that people are being creative. I certainly think that people are really - that there is an outpouring in philanthropy that we have not seen, you know, and that is amazing. And yet so much more still is needed and can be done.

Patricia Eng (27:37):

So when I think of this pandemic and economic crisis, not just as the snooze button, right. You know, it was like, so now we're at home and, and we're comfortable in pajamas or we don't have to set the alarm. Um, so this is no time to snooze. This is not a collective slumber around ineequity, right. That we're going to then sort of automatically come out of. It's a reset, button - it's our wake up call. And so I think it's life-altering. Can we meet this system wide, worldwide turning point in the way that needs to? And I don't pretend to have answers for that, but I do think that it means that we have to really begin to start with the right questions and to take them to their logical conclusion, not stop them.

Patricia Eng (28:40):

We know the questions. We've asked ourselves the questions before we've come up with some answers, but is this a moment to think even bigger than that? And I don't know what that looks like, but it just feels like we're at the precipice of lots of, uh, in this country,, a situation that I think we might have a really hard time coming back from, you know? We pride ourselves in this country as being as a world leader. We pride ourselves as being the most righteous democracy. These are things that we still have to pay attention to in this pandemic and economic crisis. And I think that all of those things are together in this moment that are colossal and at the center of it will be equity.

Patricia Eng (29:47):

We know it. And so what else can we be doing that is even more than we have been doing? Can we think differently? Can we think more bottom up in our strategies? Can we really involve the people who have the lived experience and expertise? And I call it expertise because I think that we don't always recognize it as such, but I know and we have seen time and again that when we are well-meaning, sometimes well-meaning can be the wrong strategy. And I am not at all implying that philanthropy has the wrong strategy, but I do think that it is a moment to really dig deeper and to hold ourselves even more accountable for these outcomes because the alternative is unfathomable. And as a person of color, I think having experienced this throughout my lifetime, right? And being in this sector, and all the work that I've done over the course of my lifetime comes to this moment. It's a reckoning for all of us.

Dave Beimesderfer (31:13):

And the thing I hear too about the reset button is now that in a creative way, the inequities that have always been there, been exposed again in a more profoundly deeper way that you cannot see. And it's prompted some funders, and it's great to see, to do some changes in practices and to be adaptive and innovative - and more of that can be done. But then not to say that, not to think of it necessarily as something temporary. We should be, maybe these practices should be permanently done this way or, it's not like we can say, "Oh well everything's better." Those inequities aren't there anymore, we'll go back to the old way of doing things.

Patricia Eng (31:59):

That's right. And many of the practices that we know in every crisis that philanthropy does is right. But why do they have to be temporary? Why is it that we can't do more general operating support all the time, rather than just in a moment of crisis. Why is it that we can't fund those groups who are the most vulnerable with larger grants? It's kind of reminds me a little bit of what's happening at there with the, with the PPP funds, right? How, how the, chains of the restaurant chains that hotel chains are actually, ajump ahead, right. For those that are for whom I think the funding was really intended? And so in some ways too, philanthropy can also think about that, you know, in some ways too, there are some similarities in philanthropy that I think that we could also take a look at.

Patricia Eng (32:54):

And so what if we were to flip that on its head? You know, I know that that's not as easy as all of that. But we certainly know that that 5% payout is something for us to really think more deeply about. Not just again in times of moments like this, but certainly to bring that to a higher, percentage and also to think, I know that every foundation is different in what it can or cannot do around policy. Um, but I know everyone knows that it's systemic in philanthropy. We all know that the issues that we're grappling with are systemic and yet our strategies don't all address the systemic. It's true that there always is the immediate hurt that we have to address.

Patricia Eng (33:51):

But you can do both, you know? And I would just urge us all in philanthropy to really think more systemically. This moment is just, whether or not we like it, that is what this moment is calling for. It's just right in front of us. And if we don't do more to think systemically and to access systemically we will have missed that boat.

Dave Beimesderfer (34:18):

Well, Patricia, thank you so much. It's been a real joy to sit down with you for a bit.

Patricia Eng (34:26):

Well, thank you so much Dave, and, and I wish everybody who is listening to this podcast I really am grateful to everybody who is out there doing the hard work for ll of us. I thank everybody in philanthropy for all of the hard work that you all are doing as well. And I am so super grateful to be in community with all of you.

Dave Beimesderfer (34:56):

Thank you.

Patricia Eng (34:59):

Alright, take care. Bye bye.

Dave Beimesderfer (35:07):

ForumNation is a podcast of United Philanthropy Forum, the largest network serving philanthropy in America. ForumNation is produced by Buoyant Partners and producer Eric Riguad. Many thanks to the entire United Philanthropy Forum team, especially Courtney Moore, Brandon Iracks-Edelin and Ivana Bikombe. Subscribe to ForumNation on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. To learn more, go to That's