Building Sisterhood Through Philanthropy
November 22, 2016
This past August, the Foundation hosted a panel discussion focused on philanthropy across cultures in our community. Throughout the year we will continue the conversation with a Q&As from our panelists. Our first interview is with Dr. Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Visionary Founding Chair of Roshni, Lost Sarees National Women’s Giving Circle.
Tell us briefly about your current philanthropic involvement as a donor?
As Founding Chair of Roshni, a National Women’s Giving Circle for women through Lost Sarees, we invest in issues that support South Asian women and families through collective giving, serving and leading across the United States. Roshni, in Hindi, means light, brilliance and brightness. Established in 2015, my vision for Roshni was to create space for authentic, compassionate, influential, strong, and courageous women to celebrate our South Asian heritage, bravely share our stories and amplify our voices as we express our love for others through philanthropy. Building sisterhood is important to me.
How does identity and/or culture play into your giving?
Identity and culture greatly influences my giving and the issues I am passionate about. Less than 1% of all philanthropic dollars go to support the Asian American community, so we play an important role to influence change. Roshni helps raise attention on issues that South Asian families face and highlights amazing people leading nonprofits championing needed change. Our giving has addressed difficult issues such as mental health stigma/suicide, domestic violence, youth leadership and supporting South Asian children in adoptive families.
While growing up, what experiences taught you lifelong lessons about generosity?
I have always been taught to give back, it’s a part of the fabric of who I am. In different stages of my life journey, people along the way have been generous and compassionate towards me; and so it is part of my responsibility to reach back and give back as well.
What would you say to the younger generation to inspire and/or educate them on the importance of giving?
Engaging younger women in our giving circle was so important because we wanted to create a space for young women to see how powerful they are, individually and collectively. So my message would be: you don’t have to wait until you are older to give back, start now. Be a part of a movement to create positive change in your community.
What community interests and concerns shape how you give, personally and collectively?
South Asian women are incredibly strong, courageous and resilient despite some facing some situations growing up that hurt our spirits or shatter our hopes and dreams as women (like abuse, discrimination, etc.). It’s important for women like me to use their voice and see themselves as powerful agents of change.
What’s one insight you can offer to others outside your identify/culture/community?
The South Asian community is beautifully diverse – from the people, places, languages, etc. No two stories or journeys will be alike. Although we share a common ancestry or heritage, our lived experiences are very different. Take the time to listen with an open heart. Who we are (our identities) and the places we are from matter deeply.
Stephanie holds a doctorate in social work from the University of South Carolina as a Council on Social Work Minority Clinical Fellow (2012) and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Minnesota as a Child Welfare Scholar (1999). She is also a graduate of the Spring Midlands Diversity Leaders Initiative through the Riley Institute at Furman University and is a Riley Fellow (2015). As a first generation immigrant, Dr. Cooper-Lewter was adopted as a toddler from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity orphanage in India to the United States and became a naturalized citizen at age ten. She is a published author and enjoys spending time with family and friends, along with traveling, speaking, private practice and life coaching for women.