3 Filipinos make it to Asia 21 Young Leaders Program

/ 05:14 AM September 24, 2018

Three Filipinos—a technopreneur, a patron of the arts and an award-winning photojournalist—landed on the 2018 Asia 21 Young Leaders Program, a roster of accomplished young professionals and leaders making positive impact on both local and global levels.

Asia 21 Class of 2018 includes Paul Rivera, the Filipino-American co-founder and CEO of Kalibrr, a fast-growing recruitment technology startup; Xyza Bacani, a Filipino street photographer documenting migration and the intersection of labor and human rights; and Jam Acuzar, founder and director of Bellas Artes Projects.


“The three Filipinos among our Asia 21 Leaders were chosen specifically because we feel that they represent what makes a young leader from the Philippines great. Paul Rivera is a leader who knows how and what to give back to the country, a Filipino-American who returned home to address concerns of underemployment through Kalibrr,” said Suyin Liu-Lee, executive director of Asia Society Philippines Foundation Inc.

“Xyza Bacani leads by showing the world who we are, giving a face and voice to our modern day heroes—OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)—both through her photography and her background as a child of an overseas worker. And Jam Acuzar is a model for sharing our culture with the world, by collaborating with foreign artists and designers to show how we are part of this world’s artistic culture in our own distinctive way,” Liu-Lee added.


This year, Asia Society selected 31 leaders in their respective fields, adding to a pool of more than 900 influential professionals under the age of 40 from 40 nations who represent the new generation of leaders in government, business, arts, media and the nonprofit sector.

“These young change-makers are already reshaping the most dynamic region on earth,” said Asia Society president and chief executive Josette Sheeran. “They are a remarkable and truly diverse group—and Asia 21 provides a platform for these young leaders as they tackle the most vexing challenges in the region, one connection at a time.”

Members of the 2018 class will convene in Manila for the 13th Annual Young Leaders Summit from Nov. 14 to 16 to explore new and creative strategies to translate the network’s expertise into concrete actions. This summit will also be the inaugural event to usher in the 20th anniversary of the Asia Society Philippines Center, the only center in the Southeast Asian region out of 14 offices around the world.

The 31 members of Asia 21 Class of 2018 include trailblazing women, such as: Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, deputy finance minister of Mongolia; Manizha Wafeq, president of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce in Afghanistan; and Hana Hayashi, a game-changing behavioral scientist from Japan.

Since the first Asia21 Summit in 2006, the Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative has encouraged collaborations among the members of the network to help respond to disasters, fight for girls’ education and mobilize youth, contribute to regional diplomatic efforts and much more. Local Asia 21 chapters have sprouted in some of the toughest parts of Asia, where people are eager for the connections and counsel the Asia 21 network has provided.

“Leadership means accomplishing a collective mission that is bigger than one’s self, and that requires buy-in, sacrifice and investment from everyone involved. Leadership is getting the group to accomplish that goal even if we all don’t get what we want and even if we don’t all agree,” Rivera said.

Manila-based Kalibrr works with the region’s top 1,000 employers to solve the problem of recruitment and underemployment in the region. Prior to Kalibrr, Rivera was the co-founder and president of Open Access, a technology-focused business process outsourcing firm in Makati that grew to 1,000 employees in the five years that he ran the business.


Rivera, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political economy from UC Berkeley, is an active investor in startups such as Maria Health and MyKuya. He started his career at Mercantila, an e-commerce startup that was eventually acquired by Google, and used to work at Google prior to coming back to the Philippines.

“Leadership to me means being able to communicate a vision, empowering those on your team, being able to pass along your knowledge, and learning from those that work in your organization,” Acuzar said.

Bellas Artes Projects is a nonprofit arts foundation based in the Philippines, where Acuzar develops and oversees the foundation’s artist residency program, community projects and exhibitions in Manila and Bataan. She has worked with prominent local and international artists such as Pawel Althamer, Paul Pfeiffer, Rana Begum and Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, and completed a site-specific installation in Bataan with Swiss artist Not Vital. She also leads Bellas Artes Outpost, a noncollecting, noncommercial exhibition space opened in 2016 that invites the public to engage in art, architecture and other creative fields through its programming and art library. She also works in business development for her family’s real estate firm, New San Jose Builders Inc.

Acuzar is also with the board of Manuel L. Quezon University. She was part of the Asia Art Archive’s Collector’s Circle, and recently joined the advisory group of the Taipei Dangdai Art Fair. Acuzar obtained her bachelor’s in art history from the American University of Paris and a certificate of art and business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

For Hong Kong-based Bacani, “leadership is doing what is right, even when there is no one looking. Leadership encourages us to dream, to maximize our potential and to prove that all dreams are valid.”

Bacani uses her work to raise awareness about underreported stories. Having worked as a second-generation domestic worker in Hong Kong for almost a decade, she is particularly interested in the intersection of labor migration and human rights.

She is a grantee of the WYNG Media Award Commission, the Pulitzer Center and the Open Society Moving Walls 2017. She is one of BBC’s 100 Women of the World 2015, 30 Under 30 Women Photographers 2016, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016 and a Fujifilm ambassador.

She was one of the Magnum Foundation’s Photography and Social Justice fellows for 2015 and has done exhibitions worldwide.

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