Spotlight: Mari Sawai

Mari Sawai, a native of Japan, is a social entrepreneur in Thailand. Her organization, Wedu, invests in young university-bound women in Asia, providing them with mentorship, funding and other support in order to access higher education. Mari and her team do this with the belief that investment in education leads to a society’s long-term economic and social development.

During her week in the Global Ambassadors Program, Mari worked with her mentor, Virginia Littlejohn, president and CEO of Quantum Leaps Inc., on a strategy to grow her business. Mari has cited Virginia as a leader who “pushes the needle,” and they remain in touch today. Having spent decades working in the women’s entrepreneurship sphere, Virginia was able to help Mari outline concrete steps for Wedu’s expansion.

Mari and Virginia together at GAP Singapore. 

Mari began implementing her new strategy immediately, establishing an advisory board for Wedu in Thailand, and securing GAP Singapore Global Ambassador Kate James as an advisory board member. Mari has also sought the advice of another GAP Global Ambassador, Susan McPherson, on social media; and has engaged Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen, as Wedu’s first Global Ambassador.

One of the most important aspects of the Global Ambassadors Program is the emphasis on networks, and connections that can be made outside of the one-to-one mentoring relationships. From the very beginning of each program, we encourage the mentees to pay attention to the backgrounds and skill sets of all of the Global Ambassadors and mentees and to sit next to different people at lunch or on bus rides. They take advantage of opportunities to learn from and connect with as many people as possible. Mari is the perfect example of a GAP mentee who has found ways to engage with multiple members of her cohort.

Under Mari’s leadership, Wedu is flourishing. They have increased their number of beneficiaries from 10 to more than 60, and are providing their mentees — “rising stars” as they call them— with critical support to earn an advanced degree. Additionally, Wedu has contributed to the conversation on mentorship in their community by serving as flag bearer at the 2013 and 2014 Global Mentoring Walks in Bangkok.

A number of media outlets have highlighted Wedu’s work, including The New York Times. Wedu has won several business plan competitions; and announced at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative its commitment to support 1,000 female rising stars in Asia over the next four years.