Interview: Ashoka Fellow Jane Leu Brings Social Sector Expertise to the Philippines

Jane Leu. (Twyla David)

Jane Leu is an internationally-recognized figure in the social sector. In 1999, she launched her career in social entrepreneurship when she founded Upwardly Global, a San Francisco-based non-profit group dedicated to solving job matching issues in the labor market between highly skilled immigrants and Fortune 500 companies across the nation. In 2005, Leu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship — a prestigious honor for creative and entrepreneurial visionaries of social change.

Leu has since moved on to become the CEO of Smarter Good, a Manila-based global social enterprise that "makes it easier for social sector leaders to solve problems and change the world by taking key functions like finance, accounting, prospect research and grant proposal writing off their to-do lists."

Over the years, Leu's work has been recognized by various organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership program, the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, the Draper Richards Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and more. Leu earned her bachelor's from Tufts University and master's from Columbia University's School of International Public Affairs.

Leu will join Asia Society Philippines on Wednesday, August 14 to talk about the principles and challenges of social innovation. For reservation inquiries or further information, please email 

Tell us more about the work that Smarter Good has been involved in the past. What kind of impact have Smarter Good's services had on various social enterprises, non-government organizations, and nonprofit organizations?

Smarter Good is a ground-breaking start-up dedicated to improving worldwide social sector efficiency. In fact, we just celebrated our first-year anniversary! We've mainly focused on proposal management, strategy and research at this stage but we are growing quickly and plan to add more service lines that will serve and support nonprofits and social sector organizations around the world.

One of the funders of social entrepreneurs calls Smarter Good "game-changing" for the emerging organizations we have as clients. We put systems in place, particularly for their foundation fundraising and outreach that accelerates their growth and improves their ability to plan their resources, year over year. We speed them up the learning curve and utilize the information and knowledge we have to help them make better choices about which foundations to pursue, and when to close doors to open others. Unlike the many services available to nonprofits, we are doers, not consultants. Smarter Good just gets the work done for our client organizations.

Because of the depth of our support, our partners and client organizations have been able to expand to new regions, open new locations, pursue new product and program lines, advance and scale their work, and keep their general operations funded and their hard-working staff paid!

Smarter Good is based out of the Manila metro area. What factors made you decide to operate out of the Philippines?

From my vantage point I saw that the Philippines has a strong university system with its top, respected schools producing equally top-caliber graduates. The country's high level of English-language skills was also a contributing factor. The Philippines displays so much potential but experiences high out-migration rates and a lack of local jobs for changemakers and aspiring social entrepreneurs. As in the U.S., Filipino social enterprises and entrepreneur-led organizations are always short on talent, and I felt that we could be a good training ground and increase the overall talent force for social enterprise in the Philippines and globally. I had also been told that Filipinos are very mission-driven, and that many people would gravitate toward a career with purpose where they get to use their skills to solve global problems. And my very first office in San Francisco, 15 years ago, was in the Philippine Consulate building. So it’s fair to say that the Philippines has been part of my consciousness for a long, long time.

In what ways does social entrepreneurship in the United States differ from that of Southeast Asia in terms of target issues, challenges, and strategic planning?

My knowledge of social entrepreneurship in the Philippines is quite nascent, and I am learning every day about how it works here and in Southeast Asia more broadly. I see more similarities than differences, with ambitious people trying to tackle problems in creative, sustainable and systemic ways. The Southeast Asian region, as a whole, has less access to philanthropy and is getting creative about funding enterprises entirely from revenue, as compared to the popular blended philanthropy-plus-earned-revenue funding model in the U.S. I’m excited that Filipino success in achieving revenue-driven models will push the whole field forward.

There is a growing ecosystem in Southeast Asia to support social enterprises, but I still think its harder to find support here than in the U.S. Social enterprises in the U.S. really have an embarrassment of riches these days in the many forms of support they can receive with regard to human, social and financial capital. The target issues in the Philippines seem to be focused on national issues, whereas many U.S.-based social entrepreneurs are working on both national and global issues, again, probably because they are responding to a hierarchy of needs and the U.S. is fortunate in having less need than other places. That being said, our Filipino team works on global issues and brings a great deal of insight and perspective to that work and I would encourage more Filipino social entrepreneurs to take a global outlook on the problems they are trying to solve.

You are a successful Ashoka fellow and adviser to nonprofit enterprises. What is the most important piece of advice you would impart to aspiring young social entrepreneurs across the world?

Just do it. There will never be a better time to get started than now. If you don't tackle this social problem, who will? I am counting on young social entrepreneurs to come up with solutions that will leave us in awe, and that will change the world for the better in ways we could not even imagine today, dedicating themselves to helping solve the world's most difficult problems. I encourage them to find meaning in their life's work and journey, to use their talents and make bold moves, to take a stand, to push boundaries and persevere through the risks and challenges. My advice for them is to work hard to be good leaders, and to develop other leaders, to dig deep and build from within the passion to be the change the world needs.

About the Author

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Asia Blog contributor Paul Chung is a senior at Swarthmore College studying Economics and Chinese. He loves anything related to East Asia, news and media, arts and culture, and travel.