The Center for Asian Pacific American Women (The Center) is a national, non-profit, non-advocacy organization dedicated to the enhancement and enrichment of leadership skills for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women through education, mentorship, and networking. The Center strives to nurture trusteeship within our communities by expanding leadership capacity, fostering awareness of AAPI issues, creating a supportive network of AAPI women leaders, and strengthening community.
Looking back at corporate America in the mid to late ’90s, there were very few AAPI women in prominent leadership positions. Stereotypes about AAPI women, race and sex discrimination, the lack of leadership and professional development opportunities, and AAPI women's own beliefs about leadership qualities all served to create significant barriers to providing a place for AAPI women at leadership tables.
To address this dearth of AAPI leadership in corporate America, 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 overarching goal of APAWLI was to develop, prepare, and support AAPI women for leadership roles in the United States. Since 1996, APAWLI’s signature program has been its training institute, which each year selected a group of outstanding women to embark on an intensive three-week leadership development training course and complete a community impact project that would positively change the lives of at least 25 people.
In addition, APAWLI commissioned a research study, “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 underwent an organizational rebranding. After extensive discussions and surveys with past fellows, community stakeholders, and its Board of Directors, the organization decided to expand its scope and programming to include not only its signature leadership institute, but also one-day regional conferences and national leadership summits as a way to reach the broader community and impact more AAPI women across sectors and across the United States. Its new name - The Center for Asian Pacific American Women – reflects this expanded scope.
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.