Tondo Foundation is Moving to Asia

Francesco Caruso
Jul 3 · 4 min read

On June 19, 2019, the Board of Directors of the Tondo Foundation unanimously decided to dissolve the Tondo Foundation and transfer its assets and programs to an Asia based successor. The plans for the liquidation of our financial assets are pending approval from the Washington State Attorney General. While such approval will determine the timing and conditions of our dissolution, this short reflection focuses on the rationale for our decision.

Tondo Foundation was created in 2016 to build on the 13 years of philanthropic work of Dr. Richard P. Haugland (Dick). Dick and I had been working together for 10 years when he suddenly was diagnosed with a terrible illness and we spent his last months of life planning on how to be ensuring that his plans and dreams would continue.

Dick and I had both been living in Asia for many years at that time and the focus of the largest majority of his philanthropic efforts had focused on South and South-East Asia and it was always clear this region of the world would continue to be the center of our work.

One of the reasons we decided to establish Tondo Foundation in Seattle was to explore the possibility to extend the range of support we can provide to social purpose organizations through an impact investing arm. We felt that this required proximity to service providers, including our investment advisors, lawyers and accountants, as well as other foundations.

While our operations and impact investing arm were based in Seattle, all our philanthropic efforts were in Asia and this is where our program focused team grew and where all the Foundation’s directors are based. The key addition to this team has been Nicky Wilkinson, who has found — I hope — a fertile ground in our foundation for her vision of “systemic philanthropy”.

Through my work in this region of the world I have come to be very wary of the “fly in” approach that many international foundations (and INGOs) take and while some advocate for such models to be more efficient I argue that to build real partnerships based on mutual respect, understanding and trust with local social purpose organizations, a constant regional presence and deep contextual knowledge — at a programmatic level as well as at a governance one — is absolutely necessary. This has been the main reason behind our decision not to fund international non-profits with governance/ultimate decision-making authority in the US or EU.

Building on this belief, our previous work and our learnings to date we have now formalized our philanthropic approach as a placed-based strategy, where we feel we can be most effective when we become part of a local system (as we are doing with the Tondo Community Initiative and our work in Manila) and as our sister foundation Starfish has been doing in Thailand for years.

Our place- based approach, paired with the fact that the impact investing program in its current form has been cancelled for a variety of reasons best explained by Ryan in his blog are the fundamental reasons for the Board’s decision to dissolve the foundation and transfer our entire operations and governance to Asia.

We want to be part of the contexts we work in. We want to avoid the fly-in model at all costs and we want to continue strengthening the partnerships we develop with the organizations we support. We believe we can do that best by being a regional philanthropic organization, by playing an engaged role to solve complex social problems, and by deploying our financial resources efficiently.

As a founder and Dick’s closest friend, I am proud of what Tondo Foundation has accomplished during its short existence and very grateful to every member of the team who has contributed to expanding Dick’s legacy and helped exploring the feasibility of new programs and ideas going forwards. The honesty shown by Sandhya and Ryan in assessing the feasibility of our impact investing strategies is an incredible testament to how people can put the interest of the organization above their own.

Their learnings and work as well as that of Michelle, who continues to help ensure the high-quality level of our operations and compliance, are an integral part of what we are transferring to Asia and shall inform our plans and strategies for many years to come.

While focused on Asia, Dick did not forget his links to the Pacific Northwest, where he had spent so many years of his professional life, and through his funds with the Oregon Community Foundation several philanthropic and social programs in Eugene, OR continue to be supported.

Similarly, as we prepare to dissolve Tondo Foundation’s U.S. entity and leave Seattle, we are proud of being able to support the genesis of Community Credit Lab through incubating the early phases of research and design of this initiative. Driven by Sandhya and Ryan, Community Credit Lab will explore ways to support partners in demolishing barriers to economic equity for communities in King County. There is much in this program that is part of Tondo Foundation’s DNA: understanding a complex system, identifying the “best” role to play to address a complex problem and striving to build partnerships and cooperation with other stakeholders. We can’t think of a better legacy for our foundation.

Francesco Caruso

Written by

Founder and Executive Chairman of the Tondo Foundation and Starfish Education Foundation.