December 2009–just a few weeks after I moved to DC, I heard about CAPAL through some college alumni who were serving on the board. Having been active in bringing together the Asian American community in college and grad school, I was immediately drawn to CAPAL’s mission of creating the next generation of Asian Pacific American (APA) leaders in public service.
Serving on the board was seriously magical. As a board member, you quickly realize that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. All it requires is for someone to step up and mobilize a team–and just like that, magic happens. My most memorable moment was putting together our first CAPAL Ball at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was mind boggling and frankly overwhelming to try to reach our ambitious goals of having 500 people attend the ball with high profile speakers, as most of our galas were around 100-150 attendees in the past. We did all kinds of backflips during many sleepless nights to make that event happen, but at the end of the day, the team brought out around 700 APAs from around the country with fabulous speakers and an amazing silent auction that helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for CAPAL. That wouldn’t have happened without everyone’s hustle and firm belief that we could make magic happen.
I made some of my best friends and most important professional contacts through CAPAL. My job at the U.S. Department of Treasury would not have been possible without a contact that I had made through the organization. I have to say that I’ve flown to more CAPAL weddings than any other weddings by my group of friends. It’s amazing to see the lives of the board members and volunteers evolve over time as they start having families and move on to different cities, but you’re able to share the common bond of having been in the trenches together organizing professional development events and helping students get public service scholarships to help widen their vision for life.
CAPAL fills an important niche for young professionals who want to stay connected and give back to their communities. CAPAL makes you realize that public service is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. Most people are willing to give and to help. All you have to do is ask and find a way to engage them.
Every year, CAPAL manages to surprise me with its adaptability, resilience, and creativity. The Washington Leadership Program never gets old because the faces of the participants change and new energy is created through each cohort. The biggest challenge for CAPAL has always been keeping institutional knowledge and continuity of relationships with a constantly changing board. I was stoked when we hired our first Public Service Fellow, and later on our first program manager, who is now our managing director. Now we also have a programs and operations associate. Man, that’s also magical.
The most important lesson CAPAL has taught me is that the successes that you achieve in your career are not done alone. You do have to stand on the shoulder of giants–and if not giants, then ordinary people who have extraordinary faith in you–to be able to achieve big dreams. I believe CAPAL alumni need to support each other as we continue on this journey and we need to reach out and support those who can benefit from our experiences. Keep the network strong!
Priscilla Baek is currently Policy Lead for Asia at Uber, a smartphone app that gives people the option to get a ride at the touch of a button. In her role, she leads government affairs initiatives and partnerships in key countries in the Asia Pacific, with a focus on South Korea and India.
Priscilla started her career in policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she managed a national campaign in collaboration with the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC to successfully advocate for the passage of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement in Congress. She was then appointed as a key adviser to leadership at the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Financial Leadership, an agency created through the Dodd-Frank Act to mitigate and prevent another financial crisis. She has also served as senior manager of public affairs at Mitsui & Co. USA, the US subsidiary of a Japanese trading and investment company, where she specialized in political risk mitigation, policy analysis, and relationship management.
She has served on the board of directors and advisory council of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, a DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the next generation of Asian American public service leaders, and was elected Chair of the Board in 2012. In 2015, she was selected as a fellow for the Network of Korean American Leaders (NetKAL).
Priscilla holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and Spanish Studies from Duke University, where she was awarded a full-tuition scholarship through the Robertson Scholars Program. She holds a Master of Arts in Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where she was the recipient of one of 3 National Security Educational Program Fellowship Scholarships.
Posted by Elizabeth Thompson
Prior to CAPAL, Elizabeth Thompson worked in a development and communications capacity for Asian Arts Initiative, a community-based multidisciplinary arts center in Philadelphia. She is currently a mentor for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPNdc) Mentoring Program. Elizabeth recently served as the grantmaking co-chair for The Spruce Foundation, which cultivates the next generation of philanthropists through community giving. She is the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Diverse Communities Conference and Bridge Conference scholarships and received a scholarship for ProInspire’s Managing for Success Program. She is an active member of AFP, YNPNdc and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Elizabeth received her BA in Art History from Western Washington University and her MA in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania. When not promoting young philanthropy and leadership, Elizabeth spends her time thrifting and playing with her handsome Manchester terrier.