The Center for Asian Pacific American Women (The Center) is a national, non-profit, non-advocacy organization dedicated to enhancing and enriching leadership skills for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island (AANHPI) leaders.

Our mission is to address the challenges facing us and to nurture trusteeship within our communities by expanding leadership capacity, fostering awareness of AANHPI issues, creating a supportive network of AANHPI leaders, and strengthening community. 

When one looked at corporate America back in the mid to late ’90s, there appeared to be no women of Asian American or Pacific Island background in leadership positions. That is not to say there were none, it just meant that they did not stand out. There were stereotypes about Asian American women to overcome and perhaps more significantly, the women’s own beliefs about lacking leadership qualities, that needed to be broken down.

In 1996, Martha Lee together with 18 other successful Asian American women, who called themselves the Warrior Sisters, founded the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI).

The aim was to develop more Asian American and Pacific Islander women for leadership roles in the United States. Since 1996, APAWLI’s signature program has been the Fellowship Program, which each year selected a group of outstanding women to take the three-week leadership training course and finish up by having each one develop a leadership impact project that would positively change the lives of at least 25 people.

In addition, APAWLI commissioned research studies “Leadership Challenges and Opportunities: An Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Lens” and worked with the Gallup Organization on a report on leadership strengths that Asian American and Pacific Islander women bring to their work and communities “Closing the Gap”.

In 2006, APAWLI reviewed the initial goal of bringing 100 APA women through our Fellowship goal. After surveying the community, while the board of directors acknowledged the need to continue APAWLI, they also recognized the need to extend the outreach of our programs. They changed the name of the organization to – The Center for Asian Pacific American Women – to reflect this expanded scope.

As part of the new scope, one-day Regional Whole Person Leadership programs are offered as communities identify need and demand in their areas. In addition, our multi-day biennial Leadership Summits, women come together to discuss issues, learn new skills, connect with each other and celebrate their successes.

The Center is run by a small but dedicated group of staff. Its strength lies with its volunteers, alumni and working board who are committed to building leadership capacity across sectors, generations and cultures.