The Asia Foundation

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The Asia Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization professing a commitment to the "development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region." The Foundation supports Asian initiatives to improve governance, law, and civil society; women's empowerment; economic reform and development; sustainable development and the environment; and international relations. Founded in 1954,[1] The Foundation claims nearly 60 years of experience in Asia and works with private and public partners in the areas of leadership and institutional development, exchanges, and policy research. Starting January 1, 2011, David Arnold serves as president of the Foundation.[1] The Foundation is governed by an eminent and well-known group of private sector trustees.

Sources of funding for the organization have included the Central Intelligence Agency,[2][3] 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.


The Asia Foundation has its roots in 1951 with the creation of the Committee for Free Asia. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Committee for Free Asia 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 composed 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).[4]

Global presence[edit]

the Asia Foundation addresses issues on both a country and regional level through a network of 18 offices around the world.[1] Besides its headquarters in San Francisco and an office in Washington, D.C., it has a presence in the following Asian nations:

Program Areas[edit]

Governance, law, and civil society[edit]

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.

Law programs of the Foundation are geared towards empowering the civil society by providing them with peace of mind that they are entitled to a certain set of legal rights. Both from a bottom up and top down approach the Asia Foundation is committed to protecting legal right of the marginalized and vulnerable groups throughout Asia. They are involved in providing direct legal aid to the poor as well as reforming dysfunctional laws and policies. Last year, in Afghanistan, they worked with religious scholar and Imam to create a booklet of women's rights as prescribed by the Quran so that Afghan women are aware and educated about their legal rights through the lens of religion.

  • 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[edit]

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.

Development and aid effectiveness[edit]

Development and aid effectiveness is a way through which the Asia Foundation brings together both their long standing and emerging donors and experts of development to have an exchange of ideas on how to best resolve key challenges in development; examples of this include the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid and Effectiveness and Asian Approaches to Development Cooperation. In these seminars and forums the Asia Foundation successful creates an open dialogue among the participants resulting in collaborative and cooperative approach to dealing with issues of development in Asia. A crucial element of this program is that it is brings together government official, policy makers, philanthropists all to one table—an approach missing from most NGOs who operate solely on implementing programs that their organizations initiate and support. Nina Merchant describes the role of Rigorous Impact analysis in the Foundations

Economic Development[edit]

The Asia Foundation has a decades-long history of supporting broad-based economic growth across Asia through both public and private channels. The Foundation’s Economic Development programs support Asian initiatives to enhance economic governance to accelerate and sustain inclusive economic growth and broaden economic opportunities through design and implementation in three core program areas: 1) improving the business environment for private sector growth, 2) advancing regional economic cooperation, and 3) supporting entrepreneurship development.

The Foundation works with local partners to design and implement program activities focusing on promoting investment and private enterprises, inclusive and equitable growth, empowering entrepreneurs and fostering intra and inter-regional trade by removing non-tariff barriers and strengthening domestic demand. From the sub-national level to regionally across borders, the Foundation is building coalitions for change that result in better business environments, job creation, and lasting change for individuals, families and communities.

Economic Development Impacts:

  • The Asia Foundation has developed a powerful set of research tools, like the Economic Governance Indices (EGIs), Business Climate Barometers, and Regulatory Impact Assessments, which measure the quality of local business environments and the costs associated with poor policies. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of business environments, local business owners and public officials are better able to identify and address specific areas for improvement. To date, the Foundation has developed EGIs in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
  • The Asia Foundation has facilitated multi-stakeholder public-private coalitions to address issues hindering economic and business growth, such as business forums to secure access to credit for entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, dialogues to simplify business licensing processes and reductions in local taxes and informal fees in Cambodia, and a regional forum to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) for regional integration in South-East Asia.

International relations[edit]

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[edit]

A building used to store English books donated by the Asia Foundation at the National Library of Vietnam

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.

Books for Asia in Timor Leste[edit]

"Books for Asia" is one of the many initiatives that have been put forth by TAF. Under this program, one million brand-new books are put into the hands of students, educators, and local and national leaders in 18 countries annually. The Asia Foundation recognizes that books change lives and help shape young people's imaginations, critical thinking skills, and their understanding of the world. Therefore, they are recognized as powerful tools to combat poverty and inspire positive, long-lasting change.

The main objective of the program is to provide access to information through reading materials, and cultivating a culture of reading and literature and linking people together in today's world. Under TAF, resources are made available for the people in Timor-Leste to enhance their mastery of English language; sharpen vocational and research skills, build knowledge in the business, legal and sciences professions. This enables people in Timor-Leste, regardless of their age, to equip themselves with more knowledge and skills through reading. This project also seeks to infuse children with an early love for reading, which is critical to increasing literacy rates.

Since TAF's founding in 1954, 45 million books, software programs and other educational materials have been donated to tens of thousands of learning institutions. Each year, the Asia Foundation in Timor-Leste receives brand new, high quality books donated by prominent publishers in the U.S. These books are catalogued and distributed to the recipients in Timor-Leste based on requests as well as through book drives.

The Mobile Library Program also consistently extends the Books for Asia program and its outreach to a bigger community in Timor-Leste. Extensions of the program are achieved through routine visits to schools, libraries and universities in Timor-Leste. These materials will eventually improve the quality of educational institutions currently available in Timor-Leste. Apart from the Books for Asia program, the Foundation also supports initiatives that spur literacy, promote understanding of democratic principles and strengthen civic participation. For example, the Foundation supported events jointly organized by Alieu Training and Resource Center (A resource center in the rural area of Timor-Leste) and the Ministry of Education that encourages children to continue schooling by recognizing the children's accomplishments in their education. In 2007, the resource center conducted a speech contest for school children in the Aileu District; and in 2008 and 2009, reading contests for school children was held for the children in Aileu District

Today, the Asia Foundation's Books for Asia program in Timor-Leste has distributed 9,942 books to more than 40 public, school, university and local NGO libraries as well as government agencies. More than 3,000 of the books are allocated toward book fairs to help increase awareness about the important role of reading.


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.


In promoting broader democratic goals the Foundation actively takes a role in Elections processes throughout Asia. This project's impact is critical at a juncture in time where most of Asia countries are either transitioning into or are in the early phases of democratization. Through programs like monitoring of poles, surveying and assessing citizen attitudes and implantation of programs that intervene to prevent potential problems the Foundations, to its best capacity, ensures that elections in these developing countries are held under fair and free conditions. In Afghanistan the Foundations effort during the past elections were key in assuring a basic level of legitimacy in the process. The Asia foundation also facilitated the formation of Free and Fair Election Network[5] in Pakistan to observe the 2008 general election and mobilize voters to enhance citizens’ participation in electoral processes.


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, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China 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.

Regional cooperation[edit]

Regional cooperation incorporates within the Asia Foundations efforts of resolving sub-national conflicts. The issues are most prevalent in the bordering regions of the courtiers where most of the marginalized groups reside. Conflicts in these areas are of all kinds, i.e., ethnic, religious, security and more. Hence their focuses on nurturing regional cooperation on critical issues in Southeast, Northeast and South Asia. Diplomatic exchange programs, counter-trafficking, and cross border water sharing programs are just some of the few ways through which the Foundation encourages regional cooperation between nations in Asia. Progress is made through identification and training of emerging leaders who go one to take leadership position and actively work on securing and changing the political, social and economic dynamics of Asia as a whole. Douglas Bereuter, president of the Asia Foundation, moderated a key plenary session on "Fostering Food Security Through Regional Cooperation and Integration." The session, sponsored by the Asia Foundation, focused on the coordinating and facilitation roles of the key regional associations—namely the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).

Conflict and Fragile Conditions[edit]

Through their programs of Conflict and Fragile Conditions the Asia Foundation actively seeks to develop peace building initiatives and administers security and conflict mitigation. The program is unique in that it provides aid and support to the most fragile and vulnerable areas of Asia. These conflict affected areas are a key challenge for the developing regions because neither the local of the national government is able to function and control the region effectively. Parties affected in these regions are those marginalized and isolated populations who are unsatisfied with the level of service they receive from their governments. Asia foundation role in these cases becomes of analyzing and establishing critical issues and suggesting and implanting strategic programs to resolve them. The foundations work in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Nepal and Southern Thailand are prime example of their efforts in sustaining peace and development in conflict driven fragile regions.

Information and communication technology[edit]

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.


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.


  1. ^ a b c Duxbury, Sarah (June 7, 2010) "Asia Foundation names new president."San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved Jan. 1, 2011.
  2. ^ Department of State (June 22, 1966) "132. Memorandum From the Central Intelligence Agency to the 303 Committee." U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2013
  3. ^ Turner, Wallace (March 22, 1967) "ASIA FOUNDATION GOT C.I.A. FUNDS- Trustees Deny Influence-- Bar Future Hidden Aid."The New York Times. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2013.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Free and Fair Election Network". Free and Fair Election Network. 

External links[edit]