The Saffron Circle

Funding social change in Greater Boston's Asian American community

TBF News Fall 2019

It may surprise some readers to learn that the number one country of origin for foreign-born residents in Greater Boston is China. And, while Chinese immigrants make up the greatest portion of our region’s Asian-American community, there are 12 other Asian ethnic groups in this large, growing and tremendously diverse population. The common stereotype may be that Asian Americans are doing well economically but in fact, a high percentage are living in poverty.

Members of the Saffron Circle steering committee, from left: Peter Tam, Sara Tian, Cindy Lung, Vivian Foung, Christine Nguyen, Kenneth Fan and Martin Son

It was in response to this reality—and informed by a report from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) that identified critical needs and severe funding gaps for Asian Americans nationally—that a group of local Asian Americans came together to form a giving circle in Boston. Members donate their own money to a pooled fund and then come together to decide on grants.

Called the Saffron Circle, the Boston group established itself as a fund at the Boston Foundation in 2006. It was one of the first in the country at the time; today are more than 50 Asian American giving circles nationwide.

Stephen Chan

The Boston Foundation’s Vice President for Strategy and Operations Stephen Chan was one of the founders. “Early on, we decided not to limit funding to one specific issue because we wanted to be nimble in our funding decisions and focus on innovative ideas and projects,” says Chan, who now chairs the board of AAPIP.

Christine Nguyen

Christine Nguyen, who co-chairs the Fund’s Grants Committee, says that  recent grants have been made to Quincy Asian Resources, Inc. to encourage civic engagement in that city, where the Asian American population has grown dramatically over the last 20 years. Another grant went to Massachusetts Asian and Pacific Islanders for its Asian Pride Program. “Some of our members want to understand more about philanthropy and how it works,” says Nguyen. “Others simply want to honor their families by contributing to our community.”

Chan and other early founders have passed the torch to new members, such as Nguyen, but he is pleased that one of the original goals have been met. “We wanted to help to build a culture of philanthropy among Greater Boston’s Asian Americans,” he says, “and it’s wonderful to see new members of Saffron Circle so engaged and inspired by this work.”