‘Lean’ foundation to bridge giving gap for UK Asian diaspora

Formed as recently as November 2004, and due to be officially launched later this year, the Asian Foundation for Philanthropy (AFP) is offering an impressive list of services – among them, the provision of tax-effective models for giving, advice on where to give, volunteering opportunities for young British Asians, and programmes to raise awareness of development issues among the Asian diaspora in the UK. Yet it has just two staff members. How can this be?

The answer seems to be a very pared-down form of partnership in which AFP perfectly fills a gap between the Asian diaspora community, on the one hand, and agencies such as Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), which have so far not made significant inroads into the Asian community, on the other. Working with AFP, they may now be able to do so.

AFP will not replicate any of the services that are currently being offered by other organizations but will work with service providers, in the UK and internationally. So it will be AFP that discusses with members of the Asian diaspora community the possibilities of setting up a charitable trust but CAF that will be subcontracted to set up and manage the trust. It will be AFP that makes contact with young Asians and tailors volunteering opportunities to suit them, but VSO that provides training and briefing for them.

Why is this needed?

The economic contribution of British Asians far outweighs actual population size – they make up 4 per cent of the population and contribute about 10 per cent of GDP. The combined wealth of the 300 richest Asians is over £9 billion and Asian businesses have an annual turnover of over £16 billion. There are a growing number of Asians in the UK who want to donate part of their money and time to promoting social causes in their home societies. However, they have no single reference point for charitable giving and they need help in making the right decisions. Existing organizations in the UK do offer relevant services, but these do not normally filter through to the UK’s minority communities, and are often not culturally sensitive or bespoke. Not many people within the Asian community, for instance, realize that there are cost-effective and tax-effective mechanisms for setting up trusts and foundations.

The services on offer

AFP will provide a range of tax-effective financial products and services including setting up and managing charitable trusts and foundations. It will provide advice on where the need for social investment is greatest and where it will have the most impact. It will also identify volunteering opportunities for young Asians to connect with their homeland, providing a range of short, medium and long-term volunteering and mentoring opportunities.

In addition to these services, it will also undertake research and disseminate information on philanthropy and charitable giving among Asians in Britain and in Asia, and run programmes to build awareness of development issues among the Asian diaspora in Britain.

The story to date

Although still so new, AFP has already been very successful. It has set up a trust fund for £300,000, and helped donors source small grassroots-level organizations to work with in the tsunami-hit areas of south India. It has been commissioned by the UK Department of International Development to undertake a study on diaspora engagement for sustainable change. It is in the final stages of discussions with VSO to undertake a pilot programme to research volunteering patterns and needs within the Asian community with the aim of sending out ten volunteers in July next year, and it is in discussions with CAF to undertake similar research into that community’s giving patterns.

On the community side, it has held extensive discussions with community leaders, lawyers and bankers, youth groups and philanthropists. It has also organized four well-attended events in London and one in Leicester to promote the concept of sustained giving within the community.

On the face of it, then, AFP’s aims seem a tall order for a two-woman operation. However, if you pitch that operation perfectly to meet a specific need – in this case, acting as go-between the UK Asian diaspora and the means of charitable giving – and don’t try to do what others are already doing, it may be that you can do more than you would have believed with less than you would have imagined possible.

Bina Rani and Bala Thakrar are the founders and organizers of the Asian Foundation for Philanthropy. They can be contacted at bina.rani@affp.org.uk or Bala.Thakrar@affp.org.uk

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