Celebrating AANHPI Women Leaders: Interview with Alice Fong

By Anh Vo, Chief Culture Officer and Thandi Cai, Marketing Associate

In honor of AANHPI Heritage Month, Chief Culture Officer Anh Vo dives into what it means to be a woman leader of Asian descent in the nonprofit space with CEO of the Center for Ethical Leadership Alice Fong.

These AANHPI women leaders share with us their motivations, visions for the future, and how they navigate the world of philanthropy and beyond, using their experiences as Asian women leaders. We hope this interview inspires and empowers others to claim their unique truth and join the conversation as we celebrate the diverse voices of AANHPI Heritage Month.

The video below combines the interviews of two Asian women leaders. The transcript following is the conversation with Anh Vo and Alice Fong. You can read the transcript between Anh Vo and Jennifer Li Dotson here.


How has your racial and gender identity played in your development as a leader?

Alice: My dad played and continues to play a huge role in my development. He taught me Chinese folklore which emphasized humility, speaking up and compassion for others. He also taught me to be honest with myself, to trust myself and believe in myself. This has really given me a different lens, and it has helped me look at how I show up in spaces. I bring his wisdom with me when I am doing presentations, workshops or I am consulting with people, I always bring my dad’s spirit and wisdom. He taught me that being vulnerable is important for authenticity and people appreciate it when you admit you don’t know everything. Striving for perfection can cause pressure and oppression to ourselves and others.

Anh: Yes, and it can be distancing. It definitely creates a distance between ourselves and others.

Alice: Absolutely! He spoke on the challenges of being a Chinese woman in our society and the inequities of the world. These truths were never meant to be barriers, but rather to provide me with information to make better decisions and broaden my perspective. He also encouraged me to seek diverse perspectives, which has helped me create better programming and work better with my colleagues. It’s important to remind ourselves that these diverse perspectives add value. With a values-based approach, I can be my authentic self and cultivate honest partnerships. I’m grateful for my dad’s thoughtfulness, intentionality, care and compassion in shaping me and my cultural heritage in my development which created the foundation of who I am.

Anh: I see it and hear it in how you show up as a leader. For our next question…

What are the shifts in philanthropy that you want to see in the future?

Alice: That is a great question. The shifts in philanthropy that I would like to see in the future are related to having a more “we” worldview, which means being intentional about collaborating with both like-minded people and those with different perspectives. This approach will create a stronger and more sustainable society, where policies, programs and legislation can be created with agreement from a diverse range of people. I also believe in the importance of being open to different perspectives and ideas, as everyone holds a piece of the puzzle and can add value to the situation. When we think about it in that light, then we can advance the common good. At the Center for Ethical Leadership, we call it collisions of possibilities.

In this process, we value different perspectives, especially those of marginalized and vulnerable populations. Philanthropy should move away from a charity and savior complex and honor diverse ways of doing things to create a better future for everyone. If we as leaders work together, rather than individuals seeking solutions on their own, it will lead to a better outcome.

Anh: Yes. You’re not only inviting voices, but also accountability and responsibility for the work being done. I love that perspective, how it shows up in your work and how you touch others with that.

What are the shifts do you want to see in Asian women leadership?

Alice: I have to say that there are parts of my life where I was ignored and not seen. I wasn’t invited to the table. And when I was invited to the table my input wasn’t even taken seriously. I’d like to see a shift in the behavior of ignoring and not valuing the input of female Asian leaders. This requires both personal work and creating spaces within the community to make sustainable change. Doing personal work involves facing one’s fears and traumas, liberating oneself by adjusting how experiences affect oneself, and channeling anger into positive energy. Claiming one’s voice and receiving help to approach challenges with clarity and compassion.

Anh: It can be hard to find our voice and share our voice in an impactful way.

Alice: Yes. My dad always taught that it was important to claim my voice and speak up. Speak up for yourself, ask for more. What harm could there be? The worst result is that they say no. It is hard, it takes practice. So, having the courage to speak up is something that I strive to work on and to really claim my voice and use it for the good of all.

The Center for Ethical Leadership believes that voice encompasses behavior, actions and decisions. We are all on a journey and we can call on our elders, friends and networks to support us. I have talked to other Asian and women leaders who have helped me, including those I met through Zoom during the pandemic. They have been my support system and helped me process things I didn’t know I needed to. So, I want to emphasize the importance of community support and personal hard work in creating sustainable change. Lastly, I’d like to encourage anyone listening to reach out for support if they need support.

Anh: Providing that hope for each other is amazing. There are Asian, female leaders around to connect with and we can be each other’s voice of hope and encouragement when we need it.

Alice: Yeah, absolutely! Oh, thank you.

Anh: Thank you for all the wisdom that you shared. You have changed me in this one hour that we’ve shared together.

Read our next interview Celebrating AANHPI Women Leaders: Interview with Jennifer Li Dotson.