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Helping clients ace cross-cultural communications

li-dottie-mf-webAs a 9-year-old girl in China, Dottie Li regularly listened to Voice of America’s Mandarin broadcast. The program “opened my eyes and as I listened, the world opened to me. I didn’t know there were other things other than what was in front of me in China, the little view that I had as a kid. I had a dream. I want to become a Voice of America broadcaster. That dream eventually led me to the United States.”

Following in her father’s footsteps by becoming a print reporter in China, she would later come to the United States and achieve her dream of becoming a broadcaster for Voice of America and then as a producer at C-SPAN.

During her time as a spokesperson for Inova Health System, Li felt like she needed to work on her accent and way of speaking. A nonnative English speaker, she also had picked up a southern drawl while living in Alabama attending the University of Mobile, so she decided to undergo training.

“I got to learn how to reduce my accent, how to sound better but that process really truly changed my life, changed my career for the better,” she said. “I would say hands down that is the best thing I ever did for myself and for my career was to go through this accent reduction and modification which eventually became my mission and passion for the rest of my career.”

After working for The White House during the Clinton Administration as a presidential advance lead and communications positions at firms and a nonprofit, she knew her heart and calling was in cross-cultural communications. She founded TransPacific Communications designed to offer coaching, consulting and media training helping public and private sector clients with education, awareness and training to improve cultural competences.

“(This) is what we are doing to transform people’s careers by giving people the effective communication tools they need to advance, to realize their full potential,” Li said. “Our job here is to help people finish that (acculturation) process faster, easier, better and quicker so they can avoid some of the things I fell into during my career so they can come out more successful and using the tools they need to complete that journey.”

One obstacle Li had to face in her entrepreneurial dream was that as a journalist and communications specialist, she didn’t know much about running a business including project budgets and federal procurements.

“I had to become a quick study,” she said, noting she reached out to mentors and business associates as well as educating herself. “I am just so blessed and fortunate to have these supporters and my personal board and business associates who just come to rescue me from time to time.”

Li has spent her career pivoting, so when the COVID-19 pandemic caused shutdowns in the spring, she knew her business needed to transition with a renewed focus on translation. Right before the pandemic, the boutique firm was doing translation work for the State Department. During the international health crisis, the Small Business Administration (SBA) needed to have all of its COVID materials including the PPP loans and applications translated into 17 languages such as Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Portuguese.

“We were in the perfect position to go after that award,” Li said.

Besides translation, the project also includes designing materials that are culturally appropriate for each language. Li notes it is important to provide culturally appropriate materials. If they are not, the message could be ineffective or offensive, causing unintended problems and issues. The project allows the company “to be part of the fight of the pandemic, but more importantly to support American small businesses who don’t read or speak English well,” she said.

Li is active in the community serving as a commissioner on the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and as a board member for the Montgomery Community Media, Inc.

“I’ve been supported and helped by people who are generous in their wisdom, in their time, energy and everything else,” she said. “I think I have to give and I am happy to give. … What really drives me is my desire to serve because I was helped and I know I can serve and help others. I want to make a difference.”

Li has won countless awards over the years for her work, but she doesn’t see herself as a success.

“I just know I am someone who works hard, works toward goals and tries to remove all the barriers. The result comes because of all that. If people want to label that success, so be it.”

Minority Business/Expanding Opportunities 2020 cover

Expanding Opportunities

This article is featured in the 2020 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.

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