Lily Qi: Lead­ing like a true Amer­i­can

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CAI CHUN­Y­ING in Wash­ing­ton charlenecai@chi­nadai­

A few days af­ter their state’s pri­mary elec­tions, Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can com­mu­nity lead­ers in Mary­land woke up to an email in their in­boxes.

It was from Lily Qi — direc­tor of spe­cial projects for the govern­ment of Mont­gomery County, an af­flu­ent sub­urb of Wash­ing­ton — thank­ing them for their sup­port in the re­elec­tion cam­paign of County Ex­ec­u­tive Ike Leggett, whose pri­mary vic­tory cleared the way for a third term.

“In a low turnout elec­tion like this one, ev­ery vote counts and the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity holds great sway in tip­ping the bal­ance,” Qi said in her note. Through­out the cam­paign, Qi had tire­lessly reached out to the Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can com­mu­nity, which ac­counts for 5 per­cent of county’s pop­u­la­tion of one mil­lion.

In her email, Qi, who also serves as chair of the Mary­land Gov­er­nor’s Com­mis­sion on Asian Amer­i­can Af­fairs, an­nounced the vic­to­ries of two Chi­nese-Amer­i­can state leg­is­la­tors — one del­e­gate and one se­na­tor as well.

“We’re grow­ing stronger as a com­mu­nity be­cause of peo­ple like you who care about things big­ger than your­self,” Qi signed off.

The memo of­fers a glimpse into the wide spec­trum of Qi’s pro­fes­sional and com­mu­nity ser­vice foot­prints and her own “car­ing about things big­ger” than her­self.

As a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee re­spon­si­ble for high-pri­or­ity ini­tia­tives re­lated to the county’s eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness and global part­ner­ships, Qi knows the re­elec­tion of the county ex­ec­u­tive en­sures she can con­tinue to do what she loves and ex­cels at.

Pre­vi­ously, Qi had been the vice pres­i­dent of Wash­ing­ton, DC Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship, over­see­ing the cap­i­tal city’s busi­ness at­trac­tion and re­ten­tion.

Qi’s cur­rent grand projects in­clude engi­neer­ing a new com­pre­hen­sive eco­nomic strat­egy for the county that in­te­grates ex­ist­ing busi­nesses, com­mu­nity and work­force devel­op­ment strate­gies and brand­ing the county as a vi­brant des­ti­na­tion — rather than a back­yard of DC — to at­tract younger gen­er­a­tions, busi­nesses and vis­i­tors.

“Ev­ery morn­ing I can’t wait to get to work be­cause I re­ally be­lieve in ev­ery­thing I do,” Qi said in an in­ter­view with China Daily. “I am help­ing the county ex­ec­u­tive re­po­si­tion the county for the fu­ture.”

For Qi, com­mu­nity ser­vice has no less im­pact or mean­ing. Be­fore be­com­ing the state’s point person to the fast-grow­ing AsianAmer­i­can com­mu­nity, Qi had been the county ex­ec­u­tive’s li­ai­son for Asian and Mid­dle Eastern Amer­i­cans and also served as pres­i­dent of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans’ Greater Wash­ing­ton, DC Chap­ter.

Calling her­self a “cul­tural bro­ker”, Qi helps lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and lead­ers un­der­stand the dy­nam­ics and op­por­tu­ni­ties of im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties that now make up one third of the county’s pop­u­la­tion, while help­ing these new com­mu­ni­ties par­tic­i­pate more fully in lo­cal af­fairs.

“Be­ing a cul­tural bro­ker can be tir­ing,” said Qi, whose evenings and week­ends are crammed with com­mu­nity meet­ings and events. Still, she tries to make her­self avail­able for var­i­ous causes.

“I get a lot of grat­i­fi­ca­tion from how much I give to — rather than take from — so­ci­ety,” she said. “I’ve made the choice, so I am will­ing to make the sac­ri­fice.

i‘ As mmigrants, you are ex­pected to pay your dues for a gen­er­a­tion so your chil­dren can be ‘True Amer­i­cans’. I guess I didn’t get that memo.” LILY QI CHAIR, MARY­LAND GOV­ER­NOR’S COM­MIS­SION ON ASIAN AMER­I­CAN AF­FAIRS

That’s the con­tract I’ve signed with so­ci­ety.”

Qi is of­ten able to make her pro­fes­sional and com­mu­nity ef­forts com­ple­ment each other, be­cause both ful­fill her pas­sion for so­cial causes, which was the main thing that led her into a pub­lic ser­vice ca­reer in the first place — she wanted to have a di­rect im­pact on poli­cies that af­fect peo­ple’s lives.

Rec­og­niz­ing the pos­i­tive im­pact that a new Life Science Cen­ter in Mont­gomery County could have on grow­ing the “in­no­va­tion econ­omy” and res­i­dents’ em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, Qi mo­bi­lized Asian com­mu­ni­ties to lobby county coun­cil mem­bers, who unan­i­mously ap­proved the plan, de­spite sev­eral mem­bers’ ear­lier op­po­si­tion.

No mat­ter what cause Qi ends up ad­vo­cat­ing, her sig­na­ture traits are con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to lead.

“Lead­er­ship is all about tak­ing ini­tia­tives,” said Qi, who serves on the boards of Sub­ur­ban Hos­pi­tal of Johns Hop­kins Medicine, VisArts and Lead­er­ship Mont­gomery. “Even if you do not have the ti­tle of a leader, you should take the ini­tia­tive to bring about pos­i­tive changes in­stead of just voic­ing com­plaints. Then you will soon be­come a leader and an agent of change.”

And Qi has been de­ter­mined, from very early on, to lead as a true Amer­i­can.

“Twenty-some years ago, I made a de­ci­sion that I wanted to fully im­merse my­self in this cul­ture as an Amer­i­can,” she said. “Once I made that de­ci­sion, ev­ery­thing else fol­lowed.”

“As im­mi­grants, you are ex­pected to pay your dues for a gen­er­a­tion so your chil­dren can be ‘True Amer­i­cans’. I guess I didn’t get that memo,” jokes Qi, who came to the US from Shang­hai in 1989 to pur­sue ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion. “This is the 21st cen­tury. We shouldn’t have to wait a gen­er­a­tion to ful­fill our Amer­i­can dream.”

In­stead of em­bark­ing on the kind of tra­di­tional and se­cure tech­ni­cal jobs that first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants of­ten take, Qi went af­ter po­si­tions usu­ally re­served for na­tive-borns and of­ten ended up be­ing the only Asian in her work place.

While serv­ing as the as­sis­tant direc­tor for mul­ti­cul­tural af­fairs at Amer­i­can Univer­sity in the late 1990s while work­ing on an MBA de­gree there, Qi also took it upon her­self to learn about Amer­i­can racial cul­tures, in­clud­ing what it meant to be Asian Amer­i­can, which an­chored her even bet­ter as an ac­tive mem­ber of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, she said.

“I have be­come an ex­pert on the cap­i­tal re­gion’s AsianAmer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, not be­cause I hap­pen to be Chi­nese, but be­cause I spend time read­ing, think­ing, writ­ing, and talk­ing about these is­sues,” said Qi, who writes a col­umn for AsianFor­tune, an English­language news­pa­per tar­get­ing the Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity of the greater DC area, and has be­come a unique voice as a fre­quent speaker and mod­er­a­tor on im­mi­grant in­te­gra­tion, Asian Amer­i­cans, global/lo­cal eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness and their con­ver­gence.

Dur­ing last May’s Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Her­itage Month, Qi was key­note speaker at a Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board cel­e­bra­tion, as she has been for the FCC and sev­eral mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions in the past. As she does with any pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion, Qi took the time to make sure her speech was “flaw­less”.

“No mat­ter what you do, you should do it the best you can be­cause you are the brand,” said Qi, laugh­ing at her­self for be­ing “a per­fec­tion­ist”.

This might ex­plain how Qi, a non-na­tive English speaker, when asked to teach a course in pub­lic speak­ing as a new grad­u­ate stu­dent at Ohio Univer­sity in 1991, would over­come her fear and excel. This might also ex­plain how Qi would later be­come spokes­woman for the Wash­ing­ton (DC) De­part­ment of In­sur­ance, Se­cu­ri­ties and Bank­ing, lead­ing a team of na­tive English speak­ers.

Proudly stand­ing at the in­ter­sec­tion of pol­i­tics, busi­ness and cul­ture as a con­nec­tor and in­flu­encer, Qi said she has reached a point in her life where job or ca­reer are se­condary to her de­sire to wake up ev­ery day with a cause to work for, what­ever her po­si­tion may be.

“The ques­tions I ask my­self the most are: What is my pas­sion? Where can I of­fer some unique value?”


Lily Qi is direc­tor of spe­cial projects for the govern­ment of Mont­gomery County, an af­flu­ent sub­urb of Wash­ing­ton.

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