Who is Wayne Ho?
I'm Wayne Ho. I'm the president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council. CPC was founded in 1965 as a nonprofit organization aiming to promote economic self-sufficiency amongst the Chinese American community, and now fifty-two years later we've grown to become the largest Asian American social services nonprofit in the entire United States. So we serve everyone from children to young people, to adults, to seniors; and it's great that we have intergenerational programs where we want to make sure that all children are better educated and are safe. That young people are better prepared for college and career. That adults are healthy our house and have better job opportunities. And that seniors remain engaged in their neighborhoods as they age.
I would describe myself as an immigrant, as a Chinese American, as an Asian American, as a man, as a heterosexual, and as someone who had to learn English. Someone who still struggles with what Asian Americans struggle with. So I think that my experience is similar to think other Asian Americans in the United States – I'm not born here, English is my second language, I can never run for President, people see me and still think that it's great that I speak English or how long have I been here. But the flipside is I've had a lot of great opportunities to go to good public schools, good institutions of higher education; I've had great jobs in the nonprofit field in the government sector. And that's where I feel like my background as an immigrant, as a person of color, as an Asian American, has definitely influenced how I look at my job and how I look at my family.
Tell us about your career journey.
My career journey was really influenced by my college experience. I went to UC Berkeley in the 90’s, and going to Berkeley – you think about the 1960’s and all the protest movements, and all the students there that did the Free Speech Movement, fought for ethnic studies and did a lot of work around civil rights. And when you go to Berkeley you either opt in to the activist culture or you opt out and you do other things. And I opted in, because during those four years that I was at UC Berkeley a lot of bad laws were being passed in California – against immigrants, against women, against people of color, against those who did not know English, against LGBTQ populations. And because of that – and I thought it was a privilege for someone to go to UC Berkeley – I always felt we needed to bridge that gap between campus and community. So I got really involved in social activism, and from that then it influenced my career.
So my career has been in government, where I started out, at UC Berkeley and in the School District in San Francisco. And then coming here to New York City, I've been working in the nonprofit sector the entire time. But what's been core to me is always children and young people and their families across generations. And I remember when I heard a quote, the Native American saying that said, “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors we are borrowing it from our children,” and that really influenced how I look at the work that we do; it's a nice cliché to say that children are our future, but I think the reality is that we need to do everything we can to provide opportunities, to provide access, to promote equity for children and for young people. And I always felt the best way to do that was through the nonprofit sector.
And it's so key for nonprofits to work not only with other nonprofits, but we also have to work across sectors. So with government, with businesses, with the philanthropic community, with individuals in the neighborhood, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to provide that safety net for children and young people and their families; but also that we're doing everything we can to promote their upward mobility in American society. And I think it's a privilege to be able to work with the community and I think it's our responsibility to give back to the community.
What are your top accomplishments?
I think my top accomplishments are making sure that there are more resources for nonprofit communities, for the employees of nonprofits, and for the clients that are served by nonprofits. I learned a while back that budget policy is social policy; so we're a city where a state government, where the federal government, allocates their resources or financial resources and influences what happens on the ground. So if you say that you're the education mayor, then you need to put money towards education. If you're the governor that says you want to promote economic equity then you need to put money towards economic development programs, and jobs programs, and childcare programs, and other programs. So my biggest accomplishments have been moving financial resources at the city and state level towards nonprofits, their employees, and clients.
For example, when I was with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, we realized that the Asian American community was the fastest growing population in New York City. But unfortunately, less than a quarter of 1% of all government social service contract dollars went to Asian American nonprofits. So that meant that the fastest growing community had less child care programs, less legal services, less senior programs, less after-school programs, and the slew of Health and Human Services needed. So we started a campaign called the ‘Twelve Percent and Growing Coalition’ because we were twelve percent of the population here in New York; and I'm proud to say that through this campaign we've tripled the amount of government funding going towards Asian American communities. Which means then that these nonprofit organizations can grow, that they can hire more people from the community, and they can serve more people.
Similarly, when I was at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, we were able to get new funding to support day laborers – these are mostly an immigrant population that do day jobs. But we made sure to get more services to them and help them with their economic opportunities. Getting more resources to promote health opportunities and health access for those who were left out of the Affordable Care Act; getting more resources for immigrants and people of color who are left out and marginalized from the formal work system to start their own small businesses and start worker cooperatives; and I look forward to doing similar things with the Chinese-American Planning Council where I started leveraging my relationships with elected officials, with philanthropy and other individuals in the community, to make sure that we can grow what CPC does and better support our staff, while at the same time doing more services for the community.
But I think the key thing that I see as my top accomplishment in my career is bringing together diverse individuals to do better. The only way we've been able to have policy successes, the only way we'd be able to expand programs, is because I feel like I can identify strong talent and committed, passionate people who want to work together as a team – and that can be people from other organizations, people within my organization – and giving them the opportunity to work together so that we can get more resources, do better services and hopefully get better policies for the community. So I'm proudest of all the teams that I've built of all the allies that I've worked with, and I'm proud to say that many of them are friends, and we continue to work together regardless of which organizations we are at now.
How has your background influenced your success?
I don't want to sound like the stereotypical Chinese-American or Asian American, but I wanted to acknowledge that my family background, my cultural background, has influenced my career. So my family immigrated here so that we would have better opportunities for the family. I was fortunate to have both parents that went to college, went to grad school. And they always instilled in my brother and me that we have to do well in school, that we have to work hard, that we have to find good jobs – and for my parents, fortunately, good jobs was not always defined as the stereotypical Asian ones of, ‘go to business school or go to law school or go to med school.’ They promoted us to really follow our dreams and wanted to make sure that we always just worked hard and did well in whatever jobs we did.
And that's where as an Asian American, who's worked in a nonprofit sector and has worked in the education sector, I feel like that background has influenced which nonprofits in which jobs I've taken. I've always taken jobs where we want to support children of color and families of color. I want to support immigrant communities. I want to support other communities that are looked at as minorities and society – women, LGBTQ populations, and others – to make sure that they all have equal opportunities in society. So I always think back to what my parents taught me and I try to carry that into my professional career, which has opened a lot of doors for me in order to engage with other sectors and other leaders in the community and government, to make sure that we could do all that we can to shore up resources and invest back into our communities.
Tell us about a time the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles played an important part.
One example of how the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles play out is when I went to grad school. So I went to Harvard University, to the Kennedy School of Government; and I realized that going to Harvard was such a great opportunity, that there's so many people there from around the world around the country, who have done so many amazing things in government and nonprofit and philanthropy and business. And it's a great opportunity to be there. But at the same time I realized that there's a lot of people who have so much visibility, who are so well known – but oftentimes there's a lot of unsung heroes, not only in their communities, but at the same time there's unsung heroes at Harvard itself.
I remember in the last week that I was there – right before graduation – that we take all this time celebrating all these experts, and people on TV, and others who have done so much throughout the world. And they come to us to what's known as ‘The Forum’, where hundreds of people gather in the middle the Kennedy School – and it's broadcasted live – talking about their careers. So whether it's elected officials, whether they’re philanthropic leaders, national or international leaders, they all come there. But what I realized was that there were a lot of unsung heroes at the Kennedy School, and at Harvard.
So one of my strongest beliefs – and this is where ‘P’ for ‘priorities’ comes in – is making sure that any institution, whatever values we say externally, plays out internally. And through my leadership, ‘L’ for ‘lead’, I worked with ‘O’ for ‘others’; we worked together to make sure that the unsung heroes of Harvard were recognized similarly in The Forum. So those were the security guards, those were the kitchen staff, those were the facilities team, and those are the janitors. We worked together to get the student government, to get all the students that were there, to get the professors and the administration, to donate their own money; everyone tossed in five dollars each so that we set up The Forum, we got gift certificates, awards for these hundreds of employees that have worked at Harvard for years, many of which did not speak English, many of which were immigrants, almost all were people of color.
And we did a ceremony for them in the middle of The Forum during graduation week, where there are so many events – and we recognized them, and we had students clap for them, give them their awards, pay them their respect. And it was such an amazing, powerful thing that I've carried with me since, is this seeing the smiles on their faces, many of them had tears in their eyes; and that they all told me afterwards that no one has ever just thanked them for everything that they've done. And that every day they see the students coming in and out, they see the professors and administrators coming in and out, they see world leaders coming in and out of the building, but they never felt that they got the respect that they deserve. And it was just a remarkable experience, and I'm proud to say that that's something I hear today that they still carry on. That the students every year organize as part of their graduation week.
So I think that is one of my proudest moments – knowing that we can recognize the people that everybody else recognizes, but at the same time we should recognize everyone that contributes to an institution functioning well.
When has your background presented a challenge?
I've been fortunate to lead different nonprofit organizations in New York City. When I was the Executive Director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, it was during a time where, as the only Pan Asian children's advocacy organization of the entire United States, based here in New York City, I had a lot of age with other nonprofits to engage the philanthropic sector engage with a city and state government. And I was appointed to many advisory boards and many board of directors for these different entities; and I realized that I would join these because they were looking for representation from different communities and I oftentimes became a representative the Asian American community in these settings.
I remember one time on a non-profit board that I still sit on, a mission that I really believe in, that I was raising the point that if we are to achieve our mission better, then we need to be more inclusive and more diverse. We need to get more women on our board, we need to get more immigrants on our board, we need more communities of color on our board, and when we do our annual gala we can't just always honor the white men from the big businesses or financial services or the real estate industry. And it was interesting because the response from my fellow board members were, ‘oh, well you know a lot of people then in the Asian community so can you get me some honorees or get us some board members,’ and others said, ‘oh, well you know a lot of people who are people of color, so can you get them on our board and get them to be our honorees.’ And my response was, ‘it's not my responsibility as a person of color to be the only one that has a network in communities of color, immigrant communities. It's our entire collective responsibility to do that and this is the challenge that we face right now as people of color – that too often you want us to have all the answers. You want us to show you the way. You want us to tell you how to do it.’
But the reality is that everyone in this room, regardless of your background, has a responsibility to bring more diverse individuals to the table. And let's be honest – all of you around the table that work in real estate, work in finance, work in philanthropy – you know people of color, you know women of color, you know immigrant communities, so all of you should be thinking about this. It shouldn't only be myself or the other people of color in this room. And they actually responded well to that, and I'm happy that they responded well; and they've done a better job now of bringing in more diverse individuals to the board and recognizing more diverse individuals in their annual gala.
Who have been your biggest influences?
Many people have influenced my life and influenced my career. And that's from, I remember, a high school student that I was mentoring and what she told me, to Po-Ling – whom I have the opportunity to work with now – to everyone who has influenced how I think about things. But the biggest influence of my life is my wife. When I met her back in 2004, that was a time when I moved to New York; I was working hard, and I was working 24/7, and honestly I took myself a little too seriously and made everything about work. And after meeting my wife, she was one who reminded me that we do what we do in the community because we want to make change. And in order to make change we need to sustain ourselves. And in order to sustain ourselves we need to look at community work not as a sprint, but we need to look at it as a marathon.
And she's also the one that I have a family with. I never thought that I would have kids, but now I have two beautiful children – one's five, one is two years old – it's a lot of work, but at the same time my life has changed. And I realized that I work in the nonprofit sector, and I fight for the community, and I make sure there's better social services, because I do want the world to be a better place for my children; and that's how my wife is the biggest influence my life. She's helped me with my career, she's an amazing advisor, she keeps me grounded in how I lead organizations, and how to become respectful my staff, my board members of the community, and she's also the one that teaches me every day how to be a better partner and a better parent. And I can't thank my wife enough for how she's influenced not only my personal life, but how she's influenced my professional life.
What career Advice would you give to your younger self?
The advice I would give to my younger self is, ‘don’t take yourself too seriously.’ I’ve always believed in working hard. I also believe in playing hard. But I remember that because of my passion for community change, my passion for social justice, that I felt that it was a mandate that everyone I worked with – whether it was in government, whether it was in a nonprofit – that you need to work as hard as I do. Always be available on e-mail, be skilled as possible, learn as much as you can, always bring your best self to the table, minimize your vacation time; and I realized that, that is not bringing my best self to the table. That it’s very easy to get burnt out, that it’s very easy to lost sight of friends and family, that in many ways it’s not being a good leader and it’s not someone who can bring others to the table. And it’s honestly not inspiring other people when you hold people accountable to just the work and not recognizing who they are as a person, and how they as a person can still contribute to the cause. So, a lot of it is because of my wife and how she’s educated me about looking at community work as a marathon, not a sprint. And I’ve taken these learnings to how I can improve myself.
So I would tell my younger self to not take yourself so seriously, that you can do well on behalf of the community, but at the same time you should have some fun and that you should bring people together and that you should inspire others to work well together. But that doesn’t mean that you have to take yourself so seriously all the time.
Community and iD
I'm honored to be part of Inspiring Diversity, and I think there's such a great opportunity through this platform of how we can educate not only the general public about diverse leaders, but we can also use this at CPC. So all the videos, all the resources that are part of Inspiring Diversity, is something that we can do with our young people and show them that there are leaders not only in the Asian American community, but there's leaders of different backgrounds in different sectors who have done well; and they share their values, they share their principles, they share their own stories, and their own struggles that they had to overcome.
Oftentimes in the Chinese American community and the Asian American community, because we're a highly immigrant population, parents and grandparents are working so hard to make sure that they can make ends meet, the kids stay too often in their neighborhoods and don't have the opportunities to engage with other populations, that Inspiring Diversity is a tool. It is a strategy to work with young people, to work with adults, to work with grandparents and seniors, to let them know that there are others – not just Chinese but in the Asian American community – and how that we do have a lot of commonalities across our cultures and across our backgrounds.
Similarly there are those in African-American and black populations, in Latino populations, in white populations and those of other backgrounds, that we can learn from. We can build bridges. That there's a lot of common values and common principles that could bring us together; and that too often because of segregation in the City of New York, because how neighborhoods come about in New York City, because of everyday life with people being so busy with the hustle and bustle of New York City, that there's not a lot of opportunity to learn from each other. But Inspiring Diversity is such a great opportunity for people to learn from each other, to hear from each other, and to be a platform for people to truly get to know each other.
At the core of nonprofit work, at the core of social justice, I believe it's really about community building; that if people from different backgrounds and different experiences could just get together more often, learn about each other that they'd be more empathetic, that they'd be more understanding, and they would recognize why we need their policies why we need better services for the more underserved of our population. I look forward to continuing being part of Inspiring Diversity and I look forward to using Inspiring Diversity with our participants at CPC.
Bonus: On Po Ling Ng, the inspiration behind Inspiring Diversity
The P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles are really interesting to me because I actually know Po Ling Ng. Not only as the person in charge of the Chinese-American Planning Council, where Po Ling has worked for many many years, but I've been fortunate to have known her for my entire time in New York City, since 2004. And I remember the first time I met her, at a meeting where we were talking about what can we do to make sure the Asian American community just got more attention from city government and state government. And it was clear when I met her that Po Ling is a powerhouse. She believes in community work. She works hard on behalf of the clients that she serves. She's passionate about representing the community. She knows how to work with other people. She inspires other people to do their best and also to make sure that they reciprocate to the communities that we care about.
And that's where having joined CPC, and now working more closely with her, I get the opportunity to see that on a day-to-day basis; whether it's the senior that comes into her Senior Center, and the way that she engages them and knows what's going on in their lives, and knows what supports that they need. Or if we're sitting in a management team meeting and we're talking about strategically about what can we do during this time in the United States where it seems like a climate of fear of hate is coming back. And Po Ling’s ability to just ground us and remind us of why CPC is here, what we've accomplished in 52 years, what we need to continue doing on behalf of children and families across generations, has been a remarkable thing. And every day that I engage with her, I learn something new about the community. I learn something new about social services. I learn something new about being a community leader.
That's why when I learned more about the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles it definitely resonated with me. Everything that was on there from ‘Perseverance for your Passion and Priorities’ to thinking about ‘Others’ to ‘Leadership’ to ‘Inspiring’ others to ‘Growing’. All those are very important principles for anyone not just in the nonprofit sector, but I believe for anyone who wants to succeed, who wants to give back, who wants to be part of a community. These principles can really guide you moving forward.