‘Were you born here?’ What my migration story can teach philanthropy


Diya Khanna


Were you born here?’


The answer placed me outside the perimeters.

I was marked not as a Canadian but an immigrant. I wanted to share so much more, that my history zigzagged from place to place and my family’s migration had resulted in hybrid identities. Who I was went beyond my brown skin. My mother grew up in Italy and Iran. My father studied business in the United States. They crossed paths in Lebanon, got married in India and moved to Singapore, where my sister and I were born.

In my early years in Canada, I grew up in an environment of weak multiculturalism, cultural difference defined through the celebration of ethnic foods and festivals. It wasn’t until later that I experienced a deeper multiculturalism, a cultural identity recognized institutionally and politically. The social barriers I faced had an impact on my path to come.

I filled a space between Canadian and immigrant and realized the value of experience.  I studied journalism and developed an understanding of the media as a social institution, and the significant role I could play in public perception. I transitioned into the field of philanthropy and joined educational projects in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, India and Cambodia. I found my way to Germany, where I was once again faced with the challenges of a migrant status. This time though, I knew I had something valuable to offer, a double lens informed by my diverse experiences. In these times, when we are looking toward integration as a way to break down walls and re-build safe and cohesive communities, we can only benefit from fresh perspectives.

What does this mean for philanthropy’s contribution to integrating migrant populations?

Embracing diversity is our opportunity to approach social issues with effective solutions in mind. Embracing diversity is not just unavoidable but also strategic. It follows that philanthropy itself should build a culture which is truly inclusive and exemplary.

First, we should be open to discussing the reality of our field and its participants. Who are the players and what do they bring to the table? Can we widen our perspectives? A commitment to documenting our data on diversity will create a culture of transparency and pave the way to candid conversations. The information we gather coupled with diversity policies will clarify our intentions and ascertain how well we represent our client base.

Second, philanthropy needs to place more importance on the value of lived experience.  There are many of us who have transitioned into the field of philanthropy because discrimination has affected us on a personal level. The perspective one gains from their background and experiences can shed light on the needs of other migrants. Together, we are a group that can offer tremendous input and value.

Third, we need to create spaces and access points for underrepresented groups in leadership positions in philanthropy, enabling them to share the values which are most important to their communities. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau subscribes to this way of thinking and stuck to his promise of appointing a gender-balanced cabinet with the addition of female senators from minority backgrounds. This tactic can be mirrored by our field with the commitment to recruit more diverse candidates, inviting wider perspectives in philanthropy.

Together, these actions can ensure that we are implementing solutions which take into account the range of ideas, thoughts and perspectives needed to address the social issues of our time.

Diversity is both liberating and empowering. It allows people to reconstruct their identity, utilize their experience, culture and history and most importantly develop new narratives toward social change and progress. Together, diversity in philanthropy can make a lasting impact on our generation and generations to come.

Diya Khanna is a Canadian journalist living in Berlin with a focus on diversity, integration and migration

Email diya.khanna@gmail.com

Tagged in: Immigration

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