2 min read

Yes, 1 person CAN change the world. Here's proof.

Charlie Woo of CAUSE

by Joy Chen

Ever wonder if ONE PERSON really can change the world?

Then meet Charlie Woo.

Both his legs have been paralyzed since, as a baby in Hong Kong, he was struck with polio.

But Charlie is unstoppable. 

In the ‘70s, he realized his dream of studying physics at UCLA.
Then, he left school to help his family start a toy business.

Charlie grew the business into a major toy manufacturer and importer. And he bought entire blocks in what was then a dead zone of East L.A., and helped scores of other Chinese immigrants set up toy companies to compete with his own. Charlie gambled that he could lure America’s major retailers there for one-stop shopping.

His bet paid off. The area, now known as Toytown, today is home to 1000s of toy and electronics businesses.

Charlie Woo is the King of Toytown. 
That’s not all.

For 40 years, Charlie Woo also been perhaps L.A.’s single most influential business leader. A key advisor to every L.A. mayor, and a Chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

In our world, few people amass the level of success and power that Charlie has. 

Of those who do, even fewer are those who turn around to focus most their energy on lifting up others. 

Once upon a time, when I was a 31-year-old nobody, Charlie used his political clout to recommend me to then-Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn.

Charlie got me appointed Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles.

Scores of other leaders have stories like that, of how Charlie played a pivotal role to make them who they are now.

Forever seared in my memory is the trip Charlie and I took years ago to Washington DC, to lobby Congress for more workforce funding for Los Angeles. I was Deputy Mayor and Charlie was Chairman of the L.A. Workforce Development Board.

It was a grueling trip for anyone, but especially for Charlie, who does not have the use of his legs. Laboriously, he used his crutches to pull himself up and down stairs and all along the long marble hallways of the House and Senate office buildings. Charlie’s business suit and tie were soaked through with sweat, but Charlie never complained.

He just gives and gives. 

In 1993, Charlie founded CAUSE USA, the Center for Asians United for Self Empowerment. It’s a community-based non-profit which advances the political and civic empowerment of Asian Pacific Americans through nonpartisan voter outreach, training and leadership development.

That Asian Pacific Americans are a growing force across city halls and state capitols and the U.S. Congress is due in no small part to Charlie Woo and CAUSE. 

On this worldwide #GivingTuesday, I’m donating to causeusa.org and hope that you’ll considering donating as well.

For Charlie Woo, my mentor and friend and inspiration. 

And for current and future generations, so that members of our community can combat exclusion and achieve greater #equity and #inclusion in American society. 🌈


I'm glad to be in conversation and community with you! Please follow or connect with me on LinkedIn here.

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Joy Chen (陈愉) is CEO of JOYOUS, a human capital consulting firm which uses AI and advanced analytics to help companies operationalize inclusion. She previously served as Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. Learn more at getjoyous.net.

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