Spencer Ton, Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship

2012 Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values Keynote Speaker


Spencer-Ton-150x150.jpegIn the role of Assistant Director of the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Spencer Ton is responsible for the management of the Center’s student and sustainability initiatives which include the Ambassador Corps Fellowship Program, Integrated Development Group, Certificate Program in Social Entrepreneurship, and global development projects, among many others at the University of the Pacific


What is your role in the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship? What types of responsibilities do you have?

As assistant director, I oversee our professional staff, marketing, budget, and the management of the Center’s student and sustainability initiatives, which include the Ambassador Corps Fellowship Program, Integrated Development Group, Certificate Program in Social Entrepreneurship, and global development projects, among many others.

Describe some of your major travels and how these experiences influence your work.

My role has afforded me the opportunity to travel across 5 continents and 20+ countries.  My ability to connect with our social enterprise partners around the globe creates value for our partners as I am able to leverage our academic and financial resources towards their work while creating enterprising and experiential learning opportunities for our students.

Tell our readers about your background.

I was previously a lecturer of English and International Relations at the College of Foreign Languages in Hue, Vietnam, and have worked for a wide range of public organizations including the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s office and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet. The various experiences I’ve had both local and abroad have provided me with an solid framework for approaching some of the world’s most pressing social issues. Particularly, I have found poverty to become a root cause of many problems.  I have been fascinated in studying the complex nature of poverty and identifying various solutions that address abject poverty.

In what types of other organizations are your involved? How do these many kinds of involvement influence your work?

I currently serve on the executive team for the Friends of Hue Foundation (FHF) in Hue, Vietnam, where my team and I are working on financing middle market enterprises as a model for sustainable development. Currently, I am also building a new joint venture and social enterprise called Saigon Laundry.  Saigon Laundry is a for-profit, east meets west luxury fashion house that addresses ethical production standards, human rights, and economic development in Vietnam. I also serve on the board of iOnPoverty, an online platform designed to offer millennial’s insight and actionable steps towards social entrepreneurism.

Why did you decide to go into the field of social entrepreneurship?

I stumbled into the field by mistake.  I had planned on enrolling into law school directly after finishing my undergraduate studies.  However, what was meant to be a summer volunteer program turned into a lifelong passion for developing viable economic solutions for the bottom of the pyramid. I subsequently turned down my offers of admission into law school and actively sought after work that would give poor people an hand up as opposed to a hand out.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far as assistant director in the Global Center?

Innovation and change happens very slowly in academia and higher education, but rather than fighting bureaucracy or traditional methodologies, find ways for partnership and collaboration, and you will succeed beyond expectation.

What advice to you have for students planning for a career in social entrepreneurship?  Are there courses or programs that you wished you had studied or had taken part in?  If you could start again, how would you change your career preparation?

Take business classes!  The real world is be guided by market forces and if you want to make an impact in the world, you should understand fundamentals of business.

Some critics  think that students should stick to work that relates only to their academic education.  In other words, it is the not the business of higher education, to teach students to be good citizens, virtuous people, or caring souls. How would you respond to this criticism of programs such as yours?

As educators, it is our responsibility and moral obligation to provide students with a framework and the opportunities in which they can become good citizens. Students are core to our existence, and with that said it is critical that we are providing them with the skill sets and knowledge so that they can make just and informed decisions in the world.  Whether or not they make just decisions is up to them, but at the very least we have provided them with a framework.

What do you like best about your work?

The ability to work closely with students, travel, and create value for brilliant young people and entrepreneurs around the world.

What is the downside? And how do you best cope with problems that arise?

This job requires long hours, and so there’s certainly a sacrifice to be made when you want to be a social entrepreneur.  Burnout is common.