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The Asia Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization professing a commitment to "development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region." It has contributed tens of millions of dollars to Asian organizations for use in programs in Asia focused on improving governance, law, and civil society; women’s empowerment; economic reform and development; and international relations. The Foundation claims more than 50 years of experience in Asia and works with private and public partners in the areas of leadership and institutional development, exchanges, and policy research. Doug Bereuter serves as president of the foundation.The Foundation is governed by an eminent and well-known group of private sector trustees.

Sources of funding for the organization have included the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Program, official development assistance agencies of Australia, Canada, Netherlands and the United Kingdom, an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress, and contributions from private corporations and foundations.

Contents

Global presence

The Asia Foundation addresses issues on both a country and regional level through a network of 19 offices around the world. Besides its headquarters in San Francisco and an office in Washington, D.C., it has offices in the following Asian nations:

2006 Highlighted Programs

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Elections

For decades, The Asia Foundation has supported programs to promote free and fair elections and an informed electorate in more than a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region. From election monitoring and voter education, to media campaigns and voter surveys,the Foundation has been involved in critical elections throughout Asia, including Afghanistan and Indonesia. Such programs require materials, information, and knowledge specific to each country. The Foundation has an in-depth understanding of local dynamics within individual countries, even at local levels, and cooperates with the strongest, best-qualified local organizations in carrying out these programs. In 2006, The Asia Foundation provided election support in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Indonesia. In 2007 it is supporting elections in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia and Afghanistan.

Tsunami Response

In the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami disaster, The Asia Foundation responded quickly to help meet immediate needs, such as supporting the establishment of a radio network to provide information to displaced persons in Aceh. But it is in long-term recovery and reconstruction of affected communities where the Foundation is making its most significant contributions. For example, the Foundation is helping small businesses re-open in Sri Lanka, and providing legal assistance in Thailand for those who have lost important documents such as identification papers and land titles. To help ensure that tsunami-related funds are used appropriately and effectively, the Foundation is also providing support to local NGOs for ongoing monitoring of reconstruction efforts.

Counter-Trafficking

With offices in numerous trafficking source and destination countries, The Asia Foundation is uniquely positioned to create regional initiatives to reduce trafficking in women and children and aid its victims. This distinctive advantage enables the Foundation to design and implement programs to more effectively address the trafficking problem from many angles. One approach includes a pioneering network-building program that brings together police, prosecutors, government officials, and local women’s NGOs to address every phase of the trafficking problem, from prevention to prosecution. The Foundation has also developed a multi-country, multi-lingual counter-trafficking website for cross-border collaboration.

Program Areas

Governance, Law, and Civil Society

The Asia Foundation's largest program area – Governance, Law, and Civil Society – develops and supports initiatives that build more effective and responsive governance in Asia. The Foundation cooperates with a broad network of partners in government, civil society, and the private sector to improve governing institutions in order to help accelerate economic and social change, reduce corruption, manage conflict, and increase citizen participation. In the design of governance and democracy programs, our highly qualified, in-country staff work closely with local partners to assess local needs and conditions through survey research and to design and implement innovative, high-impact, and cost-effective programs. The following are just a few of the many projects and accomplishments from 2005.

  • Governance Reform and Conflict Management:
    The Foundation established an “early warning” program with local groups in the conflict-ridden eastern Sri Lanka to mobilize rapid community and government responses before tensions escalate into violence. In another example, the Foundation supported a long-standing partner in Cambodia, the Center for Advanced Study, to implement the first national survey of newly elected Commune Councils. The survey is helping to direct donor assistance for improving local governance reform and dispute resolution.
  • Law and Justice:
    The Foundation's support to Zhengzhou Law School, in Henan Province, China, for example, was critical for establishment of the country’s first legal aid center focused exclusively on administrative cases filed by citizens. In Thailand, Foundation partners assisted thousands of tsunami victims with legal problems related to land titling and lost legal documents.
  • Elections and Legislative Development:
    Building on decades of work to assist Afghanistan's development, The Asia Foundation was the largest international provider of technical assistance to the Afghan government, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), and civil society groups. The Foundation supported voter education programs and international and local observers for the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Women's Empowerment

The Asia Foundation’s network of Asian staff identify partners and design strategic programs to empower women and address priority issues such as violence against women, trafficking in persons, education, vocational training, micro-credit, and legal rights. Throughout Asia, the Foundation's programs work within the local context and at the national level where possible, to advance women’s roles and participation in society.

  • In 2005, the Foundation’s senior program officer in Japan was instrumental in the formation of the country’s first anti-trafficking network, composed of lawyers, service providers, Diet members, and scholars.
  • In Nepal, Foundation staff cooperated with local partners to reduce violence against women and to provide micro-credit for victims.
  • In Bangladesh, the Foundation supported the first-ever specialty legal service clinic focusing on the rights of women garment workers.
  • Working with the Chinese government and NGO partners, the Foundation initiated a legal education and legal aid program for migrant women workers. This model is now being used in the development of the government’s national labor education system. The Foundation also supports a girls’ scholarship program that has become a model for educating Cambodia’s poorest girls.

Economic Reform and Development

The Asia Foundation works with local partners to promote broad-based economic growth across Asia. Program activities focus on reducing regulatory barriers at both national and local levels that impede growth in order to create more competitive markets that foster entrepreneurship, attract investment, and generate jobs that raise people out of poverty.

  • After the December 2004 tsunami, immediate relief efforts provided food and shelter, but communities also needed to restart businesses to supply important goods and create employment. Through relationships with local business associations, the Foundation’s local staff disbursed the equivalent of disaster insurance payments to small businesses affected by the tsunami.
  • The Foundation hosted a regional conference for representatives from government, business, and labor to discuss common challenges brought on by the elimination, under the World Trade Organization, of most textile and garment quotas on January 1, 2005 and to consider alternative strategies. This change in international trade rules is having a significant impact on many countries in Asia, affecting their interaction with the global marketplace and impacting domestic industries. The workshop led to a project to help the domestic garment and textile industries in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka become more efficient and more competitive.

International Relations

For more than half a century, The Asia Foundation has acted as a trusted, independent bridge between the United States and Asia. The Foundation’s extensive, long-term local history, relationships, and programs provide extraordinary access to a wide range of Asian leaders. It has given a unique perspective from which to observe the dynamics within Asian societies and their implications on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. The Foundation’s country representatives and International Relations program staff are increasingly called upon by international and domestic policymakers for their expertise on domestic developments in Asia and on U.S.-Asia relations.

  • In 2005 the Foundation awarded a fellowship to an Indian diplomat to conduct research in Washington, D.C. on energy security trends in Asia; brought a delegation of newly elected Korean legislators to meet counterparts and visit constituency offices in select U.S. cities; organized exchanges to foster dialogue between emerging leaders from the United States and Southeast Asia; and held conferences that examined U.S. bilateral relations with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Mongolia.

Books for Asia

Since 1954, Books for Asia has donated more than 40 million books to libraries in dozens of Asian countries, impacting the lives of millions of Asians. In 2006 alone, Books for Asia donated 920,000 books and educational materials valued at $30 million to schools and educational institutions in 15 countries. Books for Asia’s donations help inspire Asia’s students, citizens, and future leaders by enhancing English-language capacity, sharpening vocational and research skills, improving their knowledge about America, and giving the gift of enhanced literacy to children. The Asia Foundation's experienced local staff throughout Asia allows the Books for Asia program to work with librarians and educators to identify needs and appropriate materials, and to distribute requested books quickly and efficiently.

  • In 2005, Books for Asia’s donations had a special focus on communities affected by the Asian tsunami in December 2004. Donations from publisher Scholastic, Inc., and a timely endorsement by the Association of American Publishers, helped Books for Asia respond to the urgent need for books in schools and libraries in Sri Lanka and Thailand that were devastated by the disaster. As these communities rebuild, Books for Asia will continue to provide access to children’s books, with a total of more than 300,000 reaching affected schools by the end of 2006.

Exchanges

For more than 50 years, The Asia Foundation has provided opportunities for thousands of individuals and organizations in Asia to exchange views with counterparts in other regions of the world. The Foundation’s ability to offer professional study programs and fellowship opportunities has long been a hallmark of its contribution to mutual understanding, improved communication, and capacity-building throughout Asia. Examples from 2005 include a U.S. observation program for a group of Korean journalists, who gained exposure to the role of media interaction with government, and the consultancy of an American political scientist to help strengthen the American Studies curriculum at Vietnam National University. The Foundation's ongoing Freeman Fellows program promotes greater dialogue between emerging leaders from America and Southeast Asia through study tours focused on current issues in public policy from both societies.

  • The Foundation's Asian Perspectives Series and Emerging Issues Series brought Asian civil society leaders and policymakers to Washington, D.C. to discuss vital issues across the region.
  • The Foundation’s Ellsworth Bunker Asian Ambassadors Series, also organized by the Foundation's Washington office, brought together ambassadors from Asia and select U.S. government, business, policy, and media leaders.
  • The Asia Foundation also continued its 30-year partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation to administer an internship program for young Americans with leadership potential. Since 1974, The Asia Foundation has developed and overseen placements for more than 500 Luce Scholars in East and Southeast Asia, including 15 scholars in 2005.

Environment

To help protect Asia’s vital ecological systems, and support the more effective management of Asia's natural resources, The Asia Foundation brings together diverse institutions, sectors, and perspectives to address a wide range of environmental issues at the local level. Programs aim to improve governance, increase citizen participation in environmental management and decision-making, and strengthen Asia’s capacity to help stabilize and restore their natural ecosystems.

  • In India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, the Foundation is helping municipalities and local water authorities provide water and sanitation through a seven-year, USAID-funded, Environmental Cooperation–Asia (ECO–Asia) program.

Information and Communication Technology

Through the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT), The Asia Foundation addresses long-standing problems of development in Asia and contributes to governance reform, economic growth, and social development. Recent programs include:

  • Increasing transparency in the law-making process in Mongolia through a web site providing public information on draft laws and opportunities for public participation.
  • In the Philippines, a Foundation-led program strengthened legal institutions and facilitated legal reform via an eLearning program for judges.
  • In Nepal, the Foundation worked to promote transparency and reduce corruption in the regulatory environment for eProcurement in order to increase small and medium enterprises' opportunities for government supply contracts.

Philanthropy

In 2006, The Asia Foundation provided more than $53 million in program support and distributed 920,000 books and educational materials valued at $30 million throughout Asia.

Origins

The Asia Foundation began in 1951 as the Committee for Free Asia, which, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), was “an ostensibly private body . . . sanctioned by the National Security Council and, with the knowledge of congressional oversight committees, supported with covert indirect CIA funding” (CRS 1983). The Committee was comprised primarily of California businessmen who hoped to combat the expansive efforts of the Kremlin and push back the new communist regimes in China and North Korea through Radio Free Asia.

In 1954, when it became apparent that a more long-term strategy to promote democratic development was needed, the Committee reorganized itself into a public charity called The Asia Foundation. The CIA remained the primary source of funds, but the anticommunist rhetoric diminished and the programming began to focus on indigenous needs in Asia and initiatives on education, civil society, and international exchanges.

In 1967, the U.S. media revealed that the CIA was covertly funding a number of organizations, including The Asia Foundation, and all CIA funding ended. A commission authorized by President Johnson and led by Secretary of State Rusk determined that The Asia Foundation should be preserved. The Foundation began to restructure its programming, shifting away from its earlier goals of “building democratic institutions and encouraging the development of democratic leadership” toward an emphasis on Asian development as a whole (CRS 1983).[1]

Notes

  1. ^ Kimberly Gould Ashizawa. “The Evolving Role of American Foundations in Japan: An Institutional Perspective.” Philanthropy and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations. Ed. Yamamoto Tadashi, Iriye Akira, and Iokibe Makoto. New York: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2006. 116-122.

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