Board of Trustees to tap Asian leaders for membership

The University’s top governing body will look to fill seats with prominent Asian leaders this year, an attempt to match the makeup of trustees with an increasingly international student population.

Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell said the new members would have to be some of the most committed because they’ll have to travel to campus four times each year. The foreign trustees would help GW understand the cultural and legal challenges of expanding into the region as GW continues growing in China, experts say.

“As we look for diversity on the Board, we want to make sure that the Board represents the community that we serve,” Carbonell said, adding that gender and race are not the only ways boards can be considered diverse.

GW’s 37-member board already boasts two international members, both from the United Kingdom.

The University has seen an influx in students from Asia in recent years and 70 percent of international alumni now live in the region. Administrators are also planning to increase the number of undergraduate international students by 15 percent and graduates by 30 percent over the next decade.

Looking to expand its presence in China over the last three years, GW launched exchange programs through the School of Business and opened a Confucius Institute on campus. Administrators have also floated the possibility of opening a campus in China.

A trustee from Asia would have to be ready to take on an extra time and monetary commitment because of long, expensive travel, said Merrill Schwartz, vice president for the Association of Governing Boards Consulting.

“It adds extra stress in terms of time and expense for travel for an international member,” said Schwartz, the organization’s former director of research. “There has to be a personal connection. It’s not just anybody because they’re from an international country.”

That extra commitment could translate into big donations, Schwartz said, because the trustees would likely take the Board’s call for donations most seriously.

Carbonell said GW strongly considers philanthropic commitment when looking for new members and the expectation is that “GW has to be one of your philanthropic priorities.”

The University’s fundraising arm has also targeted Asia this semester, hoping to attract big gifts in countries like China and South Korea – where the majority of Asian alumni live.

But connecting with Asian donors can be more difficult because of distance and the less-established culture of philanthropy there.

B.J. Davisson, GW’s associate vice president for principal gifts and planned giving, said Asian trustees could give GW the edge in courting overseas donors because “they can lead by example.”

But they also help bring their friends into the fold, which would help GW connect with new donors in uncharted regions of the Eastern hemisphere, he said.

“Because of GW’s increasing and expanding presence abroad, having trustees on our board from other countries can be particularly helpful in building new relationships and partnerships,” Davisson said.

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