By Dana R.H. Doan
Prior to starting the Ph.D. program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy last fall, I recall feeling anxious about leaving Vietnam and the nonprofit sector to start my academic journey.
One year later, and my first summer back in Vietnam was filled with a stimulating mix of readings, research, and engagement with practice. One of the high points of my summer was an opportunity to join a practitioner panel on community philanthropy and community foundations at the 2018 ARNOVA-Asia Conference and to engage with representatives of private foundations based in Hong Kong in a roundtable discussion on recent trends in community philanthropy and its relevance to the Hong Kong context.
The private event was organized by RS Group and ZeShan Foundation, who invited me and two other guests to share our community philanthropy research and experience, each in different parts of the world. I was delighted that my mentor, Dr. Mark Sidel, Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin and former Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Visiting Chair on Community Foundations at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (2016-2017), was one of the invited speakers. And it was a pleasure to meet and learn from Dr. Terence Yuen, Founder and Executive Director of the Hong Kong Institute of Social Impact Analysts who had served as Allocations Manager for the Community Chest of Hong Kong from 1997 to 2000.
At the roundtable and panel discussions, my role was to frame the discussion by presenting an operational definition of community philanthropy, which I previously crafted for the Learning2Give website as part of a final project for my Fall 2017 course on “Nonprofits & the Voluntary Sector” (PHST-P521). I also shared my experiences guiding the development of a community philanthropy organization based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (LIN Center for Community Development), and how that organization monitored and evaluated its efforts.
Dr. Sidel and Dr. Yuen provided the broad international context and the local Hong Kong context, respectively. First, Professor Sidel, an international expert on community philanthropy and former foundation representative, shared his experience and impressions about recent trends and developments in community philanthropy and community foundations in different parts of the world.
Next, Dr. Yuen offered a bit of Hong Kong history and context, having conducted in-depth research on past efforts and the potential for informal and organized community philanthropy in Hong Kong.
During the ARNOVA panel, we also benefited from learning about the experiences of the HER Fund, represented by Ms. Mandy Cheung, which operates the only community fund in Hong Kong focused on gender issues. Additional context and moderation was contributed by Mr. Philo Alto, CEO of Asia Value Advisors, which is a consulting firm to donor institutions in Hong Kong.
As a doctoral student interested in community philanthropy and as the co-founder of a community philanthropy organization in Ho Chi Minh City, I appreciated engaging with both researchers and practitioners in discussions on theories and practices.
The theories and concepts are invaluable to guiding practitioner decisions; meanwhile, the practitioners’ experiences are essential to proving or improving upon those theories. As an aspiring pracademic, the interplay between theory and practice during these two discussions was encouraging.
And while I believe we came away from these discussions with an understanding that there is no ideal form nor blueprint for developing community philanthropy, we were all—as researchers, funders, and practitioners—able to identify shared values, or principles, which can guide our respective efforts to study and support community philanthropy initiatives in different parts of the world.
 For an elaboration of community philanthropy values and applied examples, please refer to Pond & Hodgson, “How Community Philanthropy Shifts Power: What Donors Can Do to Help Make That Happen” (GrantCraft, April 2018).