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What’s the South Asian ‘meta-narrative’?

September 18, 2009

Sorry for the lack of posts this week – we’ve all been busy with the start of school and fall activities!  More to come soon…

In the meantime, Venu and I have been thinking for awhile about the importance of narrative to philanthropy – of having an overarching story to tell about the South Asian American community, our values, and what compels our giving and service.  Other ethnic groups have so-called “meta-narratives” – like the Jewish American or African American communities – that are uniquely grounded in tragic and collective histories.  And these shared stories then inform their giving, in initiatives like Slingshot or the Black Heritage Foundation.

Do we, South Asians in North America, have a shared story?  Is such a narrative necessary to tie us together and towards philanthropy?

Sepia Mutiny pointed us to the Kahani Movement a couple of months ago, a project by Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his brother Suneel to collect the immigrant stories of South Asian Americans  and create a documentary archive of these stories for future generations to know their ancestors and shared history.  Stories are in writing, on video, in photos, and more.  Looking at the posts there, there are some common threads – the recent immigrant experience, the sense of uncertainty at the start of the journey, episodes of discimination – even violence, and an overwhelming sense of difference.

It seems that there is no shared philanthropic vision for our community at this point, so we should ask the question:  How should a set of South Asian shared experiences inform our philanthropy?

I’ve written before about our community’s focus on education as a compelling area of giving, then there is a whole category of giving abroad back to our countries of origin.  These are probably rooted in our shared stories about making it in a new world and wanting to give back to where we came from.  How does giving in our new homes and communities figure into our story?

It seems like stories are on everyone’s minds right now – PhilanTopic had a great guest post this week about the importance of storytelling to nonprofit organizations, for fundraising and marketing but also for organizational continuity and training.

What do you think is our collective story?  How does/should it affect your giving and service?

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