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A Farewell Message From Outgoing Asia Society President Vishakha Desai [Video]




It seems like yesterday that I joined the Asia Society 22 years ago on September 1, 1990. While the Asian economies of smaller countries were taking off, the idea of China or India as major economic giants had not yet entered the consciousness of most people. Asian art was primarily defined by the pre-modern traditions of beautiful Buddhist sculptures, wonderful miniature paintings or sumptuous Japanese screens. Most American students were woefully ignorant about Asia and inter-Asia connections were barely evident. Asia Society was one of the very few places where Asians and Americans could come together to discuss ideas of mutual interest.

These past two decades have been a time of dramatic transformation in the world, and the most important story has been the rise of Asia. I am proud that Asia Society has not only kept up with the changes but often has led the way in articulating new ideas and providing nuanced insight into old traditions. Our leadership in the presentations of contemporary Asian art and signature traditional art shows (e.g. Arts of Ancient Vietnam) is unparalleled.

From being the pioneers of traditional performing arts, we have now established a great reputation for cutting edge performances by Asian and Asian American artists. Our education work has increased four-fold in the last eight years alone, and our Chinese language work in schools is recognized nationally. We are collaborating closely with U.S. government officials on key policy areas such as Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Asia Society is seen as a significant player in important policy issues.

Through our corporate conferences we have managed to bring business leaders from all parts of Asia to create a larger regional network. We have recognized that with the rise of major Asian players in the global arena, we also need to take into account new forms of leadership with culturally specific characteristics. Our Asia 21 Young Leaders and Women Leaders of New Asia initiatives focus on strengthening the regional Asia-Pacific network of emerging and established leaders.

These programs have helped establish the leadership position of Asia Society in the key program areas with six offices in Asia and five in the United States and with the inauguration of two terrific buildings in Hong Kong and Houston, Asia Society is now poised to play an ever more important role in strengthening partnerships on both sides of the Pacific.

Personally, Asia Society's growth has also made it possible for me to expand my horizons. I have learned about the impact of global education on the students in inner-city schools and I have had the opportunity to meet world leaders. Most importantly, I have been privileged to enhance and implement the fundamentally unique mission of the Asia Society to nurture a three-dimensional engagement among Asians and Americans by connecting cultural nuances with current issues and economic development.

I will take what I have learned at this great institution and apply it to a broader global platform in the next chapter of my life. I am pleased to announce that I will join Columbia University as Special Advisor for Global Affairs in the office of the President, Lee Bolinger, and as Professor of Practice in Global Culture and Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs. My work with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation as Senior Advisor for Global Programs will continue as well. Before I devote myself fully to these new opportunities, I do hope to complete my book on India.

I am pleased that Tom Nagorski, Senior Managing Editor of International News at ABC will join Asia Society as the Executive Vice President effective October 1, 2012. At the request of the Asia Society Board, I will serve as a resource to the institution during this transition period. So, even though I will cease to be the CEO of Asia Society, I promise to stay connected!

I have loved every minute (almost!) of every hour of my work here at Asia Society. This is due as much to all of you, our valued stakeholders, as to my colleagues at Asia Society whose commitment has inspired me throughout my 22-year tenure. Thank you for your support and commitment to the mission of this wonderful institution.