Columbia GS Student Receives 2023-24 Social Justice Mini-Grant

Irene Ailin Wang ‘25GS, an accomplished artist and committed advocate for gender equity, is the third consecutive GS student to be awarded a Mini-Grant.

March 13, 2024

For the third consecutive year, a Columbia GS student has been awarded a Columbia Social Justice Mini-Grant (formerly known as the Racial Justice Mini-Grant). Granted annually to around a dozen student-led projects, the Mini-Grants support initiatives that foster equity and community engagement at Columbia. Amongst the 2023-24 cohort, which is made up of 12 Columbia affiliates, Irene Ailin Wang ‘25GS is one of only three undergraduate recipients. 

Wang’s Mini-Grant project, “Asian Gender Equality: See the Injustice, Say the Injustice,” will be an on-campus panel on April 17 featuring Columbia alumnae financier and art philanthropist Annie Liang-Zhou '13SIPA and artist and educator Amanda Phingbodhipakkya '10CC. The project, which blends expertise in art and commerce, all with an eye towards expanding gender equity, is in many ways a natural continuation of Wang’s unique path to GS and the interests she is pursuing as a Columbia student. 

Wang’s first career was in venture capital. “Finance, especially in Asia, is quite a male-dominated industry,” shared Wang, noting that despite her success in the field, including becoming a managing partner at a firm in Singapore, she still had to contend with gendered prejudice from colleagues. “I worked hard and I succeeded in a way I’m very proud of, but my accomplishments were always criticized by men in the industry,” she said. “They would wonder, how at your age can you do this? Maybe your father helped you, or your husband helped you, or your brother? No matter what, they assume there is a male figure leading the way. But the truth is not like that.”

“No matter what, they assume there is a male figure leading the way. But the truth is not like that.”

Ultimately, Wang was drawn away from finance following transformative personal experiences. During the pandemic, she gave birth to two children. In the aftermath, Wang struggled with postpartum depression, and in her recovery journey, found one of the most potent tools to be returning to a childhood passion: painting. As she became more invested in her creativity, and more determined to execute a permanent pivot from finance to art, Wang saw education as the perfect catalyst for her transition. She tested the waters as a visiting scholar at Yale University before coming to Columbia GS where she is majoring in art history-visual arts and concentrating in women’s and gender studies. 

“When I first entered Columbia, I was determined to be an artist for my entire life,” said Wang. However, as she gained more distance from her finance career, and interacted with her nontraditional GS peers, Wang’s plans evolved into something more multidisciplinary, drawing from her past, current, and future expertise. Even as she continues to invest in her artistic growth as an exhibited artist (including participating in the 2023-2024 GS Arts & Research Collective), Wang is increasingly drawn to a blend of art, finance, and community advocacy. “Art can do so many things, including helping people promote their equal rights,” she said, continuing, “And being an artist can be quite a lonely career. That’s why I’m drawn to the mission of doing things with the arts to grow with my peers and community members.”

The most tangible manifestation yet of Wang’s ambitions is the Waave Foundation. Physically based on the Upper East Side, Wang founded the Waave Foundation as a community space and catalyst for visibility focused on uplifting women and non-binary artists. “The arts are a universal language,” said Wang. “I want to use this universal language to carry our mission forward, to foster feminism and other future movements.”

“I want a lot of people to see what marginalized voices in the arts, non-binary artists and women artists, what we can do together.”

Wang sees this Mini-Grant as a welcome chance to bring the spirit of her off-campus advocacy to her Columbia community, and chose to focus specifically on Asian gender equity given the lack of focused content on the issue. “I appreciate the opportunity this grant provides as a call to action,” she shared. “Even right after I won the grant, I had people reaching out to me over email and LinkedIn to say congratulations and that they’re also interested in this topic. We’re already starting a conversation, which is the whole goal.” Wang expressed her hope that the panel will only be the start, with tentative plans to create regular events or group meetings on campus to bring together Columbia community members engaged in art, commerce, and advocacy. 

As for Wang’s long term goals, she now foresees a future career in artistically informed venture philanthropy, bringing her past and present selves together to pursue equity. “My friends always say ‘you are always trying to prove yourself’,” said Wang with a laugh, noting that this drive was fostered during her years in finance. “I think maybe that’s my core spirit. So, now I want a lot of people to see what marginalized voices in the arts, non-binary artists and women artists, what we can do together.”

Learn more and register for “Asian Gender Equality: See the Injustice, Say the Injustice,” happening Wed., April 17, 6 - 8 p.m., Room 754 Schermerhorn Hall Extension!

*Updated March 18, 2024 with additional event and panelist information.