Firetree Trust

Francesco Caruso
Aug 15, 2019 · 4 min read

Eight years ago, on a hot April day, Dick and I sat along the river in Siem Reap, after a long day of work with a partner. Sipping a beer we were thinking about what name we could give to an operating foundation that could manage grants to Asian partners for the Richard P. Haugland Foundation. All around us there were kids playing and dozens of firetrees in blossom. Firetrees, also known as Flame trees, are typical all-around Southeast Asia and often grow in school courtyards and along roads and rivers. The trees were beautiful and it was easy for us to choose Firetree as the name for the foundation.

When Dick got sick in 2016 we planned a restructuring of the Richard P. Haugland Foundation that would focus on two equally important priorities: ensuring that the education work done in Thailand with the Starfish Foundation would continue and be financially secure through the Starfish Education Foundation and that our ability to support social purpose organizations in Southeast Asia would become even stronger with the development of a larger team within the Tondo Foundation.

As I look back to the last two years, I believe the work we have done has had an impact that exceeds my expectations. Starfish has evolved into a truly amazing education organization that partners up with dozens of public schools, several departments of Education and with the most forward-thinking sectors of the Ministry of Education, along with academic institutions, other foundations and the Thai community of educators at large. The one day I did not spend with Dick while he was in hospital in Chiang Mai was when Prae was with him. I purposely wanted the two of them to spend as much time together as possible, while Prae was making the big decision to come back to Starfish. I was aware she had bold ideas and I knew she would want to make sure Dick was supportive of the direction she wanted Starfish to take in the future. When I returned Dick told me that he was very excited by Prae’s vision. I am absolutely positive he would not believe his eyes if he could see what Prae and the whole team have achieved so far combining knowledge, patience, vision and grit.

As, under Nicky’s leadership, Tondo Foundation has taken an explicit place based approach to its work and we have made our best effort to humbly become part of the exciting community of education and youth focused organizations in Metro Manila, I have come to realize that the (involuntary albeit obvious) separation between Tondo Foundation and Starfish Education Foundation had had as a consequence the fact that both my colleagues and our partners and interlocutors would not be aware of the full scope of the work we are able to do thanks to the assets that Dick left to the Foundations. I would often find myself as the only one who would see the “full picture”. That’s a waste and also a danger.

In our many meetings in Manila we also quickly realized that the name Tondo Foundation, chosen by Dick and I while he was in hospital to symbolize our commitment to the community in Tondo and similar ones in Asia, was becoming problematic as too often our interlocutors would be confused about the difference between Tondo Foundation (a philanthropic funder based in the US) and Tondo Community Initiative (a Filipino NGO working with the community in Tondo). One “Tondo” had to go and it was clear which organization would have to change its name.

As we decided to relocate to Asia I started thinking about ensuring that we could tear down these silos and correctly communicate — internally as well as externally — the entirety of the work we do through our philanthropic work as well as our Starfish program and increasingly through Tondo Community Initiative.

Bringing the two foundations together under the same Trust structure here in Asia became instrumental to a name change as well as a wider restructuring of teams and information and know-how sharing.

In thinking of a new name, I went back to that day with Dick in Siem Reap. That had been a great day and I am fond of that memory. Nicky, Prae, Jess, Jo, Chiara and Mark accepted my idea and that’s how Firetree Trust was born.

Firetree Trust will combine all we do as partnership funders, education innovation advocates and through other initiatives such as Tondo Community Initiative and our connecting and sharing work. I will make it my mission to ensure it clearly reflects all the good that Dick’s generosity and my colleagues hard work will achieve.

The members of the team all share the same mindset and values and I am thrilled to have such talented colleagues leading and coordinating our various programs. I have already witnessed how powerful it is the internal sharing of best practices, ideas and also challenges. And just today I could witness the exciting discussion between Prae and a new potential partner in the Philippines.

As Tondo Foundation comes to an end I do not forget the absolutely fundamental role Ryan played in setting it up and ensuring the viability of its operations. I will be forever grateful for his life choice of moving to Seattle to literally make this all happen and succeed and I know that just as there will always be a part of Tondo Foundation in Firetree Trust (our logo is a clear statement to that), I know the same will be true for the new endeavor he’s launched together with Sandhya: Community Credit Lab.

Needless to say, next spring I shall be back in Siem Reap to have a beer along the same river. There will be firetrees and, as always, Dick will be there too.

www.firetree.org

Firetree Trust

Reflections, approaches and updates from Firetree Trust. We support work that creates long-term positive change in communities ​in Southeast Asia.

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