When Empathy Meets Philanthropy
As chief investment officer of the Capital Group from 1992 and 2016, Mr. Nguyen-Phuong oversaw the investment of more than $5 billion in more than 80 companies across Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. Now retired, he has supported Ashoka, and is a donor through an Ashoka endowment fund set up in his family's name, the Nguyen-Phuong Family Endowment, to support entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Nguyen-Phuong believes that philanthropy and empathy are the proverbial peas in a pod. "Philanthropy is like love, but it's a much abused word," he said.
"It goes hand-in-hand with empathy; or else you are simply helping yourself - you do it to feel better. If you have empathy for someone, you suffer with the person, and out of compassion comes real giving. It's not simply an act of giving. To give with the hand is easy; to give with the heart is tougher."
He adds: "The poor will be with us forever, but we need to do something sustainable as we do not have enough resources ... Social entrepreneurs try to do as much systemic work as possible."
Nguyen-Phuong aims to spend time in retirement to mentor social entrepreneurs. He has begun to do that with some Ashoka Fellows, and with entrepreneurs under the Endeavor umbrella. Among the Ashoka Fellows that he supports through his endowment is Matrika Devkota, who had set out to break the stigma and the "incurable" label attached to mental illness, by giving them a voice through self-advocacy.
Devkota set up Koshish in Nepal, a mental health organization whose management is led by the beneficiaries themselves. Koshish has created a decentralized model for care by using existing government structures such as awareness programs and peer support models, and building capabilities within local primary health centers to provide holistic care for the mentally ill.
Koshish's efforts have succeeded in rescuing and reintegrating 300 people with chronic mental illness with a 90 percent success rate. Through outpatient services in two districts, they have provided holistic care to another 600 patients.
Another beneficiary is Johnson Oei of Malaysia, who was recently elected an Ashoka Fellow in a Singapore event. Oei founded EPIC Collective (Extraordinary People Impacting Community), whose flagship project is a non-profit initiative called EPIC Homes. This is a system that empowers ordinary people to build sustainable homes for families in as quickly as three days.
Inspired by Lego and Ikea, he developed his idea with the help of friends and over 40 architects, engineers and designers, which culminated in a modular building system. With this system and a volunteer framework, EPIC has built more than 100 homes while working with more than 5,000 volunteers from more than 50 countries and 40 organizations, including Prudential, GE, Energizer and Nestle.