ADB Women Balancing Professional and Personal Lives: Cleo Kawawaki

Video | 18 July 2018

Meet Cleo Kawawaki, Deputy Director General of ADB’s Southeast Asia Department. Like many women at ADB, Cleo leads a fulfilling professional and personal life as she contributes to the bank’s development mission. Find out how she has risen to a key leadership position, keeping work, family, and fun in balance.


Manila, Philippines - Cleo Kawawaki, Deputy Director General for Southeast Asia of the Asian Development Bank says,

I used to be an investment banker and I used to come to ADB to try to convince them to do projects, deals, buy investment products. One day, the Office of Co-Financing Director said, “Well, why don’t you just come and work for us since you have ideas?”

Now Philippines I had really not worked in, or known too well, except for visiting ADB and a couple of other clients, so that was something that was going to be quite different.

It was really about the job, and where I wanted to end up in life

I was really more interested in leading the projects so I decided to move to a regional department.

I became the Public-Private Partnership Specialist in Southeast Asia.

I went to the finance sector where again we were doing finance in projects, but I had the great opportunity of moving to my first love, which is infrastructure in the Central-West department, and I moved there, and I was there for 12 years. After that, I became the Director of the Energy Division, I applied for the Deputy-Director General of Southeast Asia, Department, which is a department of about 300 people.

Seeing that your work actually materializes into a power plant or a transmission line that’s carrying electricity to villages that has never had electricity before. And visiting those villages where now they’re saying, “Oh now we have lights at our school! Now we can finally use those computers that were donated by so and so.” That sense of accomplishment to know that all the things that you went through, really meant to do something that’s good for the people.

If I was not in ADB, and not in Manila, I would have had to worry about how my family or my children are doing, or I wouldn’t be able to have the circumstances to have the whole family living in one place, or I wouldn’t be able to have the circumstances to have the whole family living in one place.

I’ve never had to worry about them because my mother and my cousin is here with me.

Having a large family, it’s hard for us to move around too much, so we enjoy living in our house and the garden. We have a yoga class every Saturday for our family and friends and we’ve been doing that for almost ten years.

I’ve gotten so many opportunities to try new things and, go to places that I  had never imagined I would be going to, and that was all because ADB gave me the chance to do these things.

I’m Cleo Kawawaki, Deputy Director General for Southeast Asia Department at the Asian Development Bank.