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Women's leadership: mentoring Asia's rising stars

Women represent at least half of national populations around the world, yet they are poorly represented in leadership and management positions in most countries. With increasing emphasis on gender equality, ageing and now diminishing populations, it is increasingly important to take advantage of the talents of women for enhancement of the workforce. In particular, it is essential to take the best advantage of highly talented young women, who can attain top leadership positions in the public and private sectors in the future.

Thailand has a generally good record in this respect, but can still achieve much better equality in gender representation. One organisation, based in Thailand but active internationally, is "Wedu", devoted to women's education and leadership advancement.

For Human Resource Watch, we invited Vivian Lee, Chief Operations Officer of Wedu ( to explain the role and operations of the organisation. Vivian Lee is supported by Corporate Partnership Manager Tchissole Carvalho ( and Mario Ferro the CEO of Wedu.

Why was Wedu established and how is the organisation funded?

Wedu was established in 2012 to unlock the leadership potential of the next generation of women changemakers across Asia, so that one day in the near future, half of all leadership positions may be held by women, leading to more inclusive, equitable and progressive societies. At our core, we are a leadership development organisation that provides who we call our 'Rising Stars' with lifelong leadership development programs and opportunities, education financing solutions and the network of a supportive community in their journey to become changemakers in their communities. Today, we are primarily funded by philanthropic donations and grants but aim to be self-sustainable through program-related revenues from Corporate Partnerships (see below) and Future Income Sharing Agreements, an innovative way to fund higher education.

Who are Wedu's Rising Stars and how are they selected?

Wedu's Rising Stars are changemakers who take action -- they not only have a passion, commitment and vision to lead the change in their communities, but consistently demonstrate the ambition, courage and inspiration to see this change through. Rising Stars are selected based on these leadership dimensions through an application, interview and orientation process; additionally, they typically come from underprivileged backgrounds, possess conversational proficiency in English and are either planning to pursue or are already enrolled in university.

Currently, Wedu has 318 Rising Stars from over 18 different countries, with 59% from South Asia, 39% from Southeast Asia, and the remaining 2% from the rest of the continent. Through our network of Talent Spotters -- local educational institutions and NGO partners -- and growing community of Rising Stars, we hope to reach 1,000 Rising Stars by the end of 2018. But we don't plan to stop there, as we believe that every deserving young woman who dreams of leading the change should have the access to tools and resources to pursue her goals and make a difference in her community.

What are some of the challenges Wedu has faced?

Currently, 14.8% of our Rising Stars are considered inactive, so we are constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate on our programs in order to keep engagement, satisfaction and ultimately, impact, high. We have also faced difficulty recruiting Rising Stars in Thailand, which only make up 3 of our 318 changemakers; as the Wedu team's home base, we would love to expand our outreach to include more talented women from the country. Given our global community and approach to lifelong leadership development, we also rely heavily on existing and customised technologies in order to reach and connect with more women leaders, which can oftentimes be a resource constraint for many of our Rising Stars.

How does the mentoring process work, and what benefits does it provide?

Wedu's virtual Mentorship Program provides each Rising Star with a growing network of dedicated mentors who are there to guide her along various phases of her lifelong leadership journey and development. Wedu aims to match each Rising Star with a new mentor every eight months so that she may be exposed to different perspectives, learn from new experiences and build more meaningful connections with different mentors from around the world.

Each relationship with a mentor aims to provide the Rising Star with the guidance, confidence and support needed to achieve her individual goals and milestones, as well as continuously develop across Wedu's seven leadership dimensions. Together through a series of consistent, self-scheduled mentoring calls, the pair works on the Rising Star's specific goals and our leadership development curriculum, all with the dedicated support of Wedu's Leadership Development team.

How are mentors identified, selected and trained?

One way Wedu brings in talented mentors is by engaging with corporations in mutually beneficial partnerships, in which we serve their talent development and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) needs. We provide corporate employees with the opportunity to engage as mentors to our Rising Stars and work together to set up mentors for a successful experience by providing training, coaching and customer service throughout the engagement. Employees with at least 2 years of professional experience, a commitment to the role, a passion for women's leadership development and an open mind to diverse perspectives and learning are suitable to join their employer's mentoring program with Wedu.

Corporations may choose to engage their employees as mentors to achieve social impact that engages their own staff in an authentic, fulfilling and enriching experience. For this, we provide corporations with impact reporting for compliance purposes.

'Wedu Rise' provides for an added value experience, during which employees hone in on specific development objectives and work on valuable, transferable skills to become better leaders inside and outside of the workplace. We use a data-driven process to measure the progress of both the employees' personal development and the social impact achieved. To date, 90% of mentors in the program have reported improved listening and communication skills; 86% have reported improved coaching skills.

Wedu's corporate partnerships are designed with shared value and sustainability in mind. By tapping into the potential of corporations and their teams, Wedu is able to strengthen and further our mission.

How can interested parties get involved with Wedu?

No Rising Star is on this journey alone - similarly, Wedu recognizes that we cannot achieve our mission alone and welcome partners across varying capacities who are interested in joining us to invest in women leading the change.

There are many opportunities for companies, NGOs, educational institutions and individuals to become involved with Wedu, including CSR engagement, capacity-building sponsorship, scholarship funding and recruitment of potential Rising Stars and Mentors.

Christopher F. Bruton, over 46 years in Thailand, is Executive Director of Dataconsult Ltd, a local consultancy. He can be reached at Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides meetings, seminars and extensive documentation to update business on present and future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.