Amy Chiou likes to make waves, and she’s good at it. From helping run presidential and mayoral campaigns to penning thought-provoking (some might say controversial) op-ed’s for the Charlotte Observer, Amy is a force to be reckoned with. The 35-year-old Plano, Texas-native first moved to Charlotte 10 years ago to work on Hilary Clinton’s campaign, but has made the Queen City her home, and for the last two years she’s been working as the Executive Director of Queen City Forward, an organization that works with entrepreneurs trying to impact social change. (Amy is an entrepreneur herself having launched an app that helps voters get informed about candidates for lesser known positions.) We are excited to welcome Amy as today’s newest FACE of Charlotte.
How important is your family in your personal and professional life?
My family is, first and foremost, so much fun. We have a great time together, whenever we are together. My parents, April and Mark, are retired and live in Plano, Texas, where I grew up. I have a brother, Andrew, who is a chef in Washington, DC, and a sister, Ashley, who is a consultant in Dallas, Texas. Without my family, none of this is possible. They challenge me, hold me accountable and laugh with or at me when necessary. My brother and sister are two of my best friends, my business partners, the other members of our tiny book club, travel buddies and everything else in between.
You came to Charlotte to work on the presidential campaign. What made you decide to stay?
The opportunity came in the form of a campaign and a relationship, but I made my decision to move to Charlotte based on the light rail and the library. I knew that a city that invests in public transportation and public libraries would be a place I could call home, at least for a little while.
What is it like working on a presidential campaign?
It’s one of the most fascinating ways to experience America and democracy. On a presidential campaign, the stakes are high, and the passion that fuels the effort is a force that can be felt across the country. You are constantly aware that you are part of something big. Working on a campaign is not glamorous. The hours are long, the work never ends, and it can feel like an extended and constant whirlwind. There are days when making phone calls and knocking on doors feels tedious, but then someone opens their door and invites you [in]. And, somewhere between listening to their story and sharing yours, differences evaporate, strangers become neighbors, and neighbors become friends. I believe that this process of having these conversations door-to-door and as a country every four years is an important commitment and re-commitment to the ideas and values that serve as the foundation for our country.
How has the current political climate given women more of a voice?
In tough times, courage shows up in the most unexpected of ways. I don’t believe the current political climate has “given” women more of a voice. The current political climate has made it clear that existing political, economic and social systems do not serve women, and we are showing up to rework the system. For too long, women believed that there was too much at stake for speaking up. Now, we know that there’s more at stake for not speaking up. From reclaiming our time to reclaiming our dignity, women are speaking up. It’s beautiful and powerful.
What is the coolest part about being the Executive Director of Queen City Forward?
My favorite thing about Queen City Forward is that I’m surrounded by people who believe in better lives and better tomorrows – for all of us. The entrepreneurs, mentors and advisors that are part of Queen City Forward bring forward innovative ideas to address pressing social challenges: hunger, access to healthcare, work force development, not enough girls in STEM, at-risk youth development … the list of problems is never-ending. Fortunately, neither are the ideas. It’s refreshing, motivating, and humbling to be surrounded by people with so much heart and hustle.
What do you think is the current status for entrepreneurs in Charlotte, and what do you think the future holds?
It’s harder than it should be to be an entrepreneur in Charlotte. There’s a dissonance between entrepreneurs and business and civic leadership in Charlotte. There are too many people who don’t understand, let alone appreciate, the importance of nurturing and developing people with bold ideas, an appetite for risk, the hustle to keep it going and the grit to tough it out. We need entrepreneurs, not just to start companies and create jobs, but because their belief in the future and the power of what is possible is contagious. That sense of creative optimism spills over into education, civic life, public policy and so much more.
You’ve written some thought provoking editorials in recent months. How did that “job” come about, why did you want to do it, and what has the reaction been like?
I was invited by the editors of the Charlotte Observer. It was an unexpected, but intriguing opportunity. The reactions have been mixed, which is unsurprising. Some people hate what I have to say, and others love it. What I find interesting is that many people who love one op-ed will be violently upset about another one. I’ve learned that sometimes “provocative” is learning that you have something in common with someone completely different; other times, it’s learning that your well-intended thoughts are not well-received. I would argue that we don’t offer or receive enough direct feedback in this world. This experience has helped me become a better writer, but more importantly, a better advocate.
What do you love about Charlotte, and what does Charlotte still need to work on?
The thing I love most about Charlotte is the potential that someone feels when they first arrive. It’s part of the history of the city. From starting a revolution, to the Gold Rush, to choosing to build Model-Ts here, to launching a startup, there’s an energy that attracts people to the city.
What we need to work on as a city is harnessing that optimism and potential for the greater good. The successes of some have limited the success of others, and that is unacceptable. We need to make sure that someone who is born and raised here feels that potential, that sense of possibility and the ambition to be part of the future of this city. We need to make sure that magical feeling of potential stays with someone whether they arrived yesterday, they’ve been here 10 years or they’ve been here their entire life.
You juggle a lot of important stuff! How do you unwind?
I find learning new things to be a good way to unwind. It sounds counter-intuitive, but things that are new require my full-attention. Being focused and in the moment relaxes the rest of my mind. Also, the perspective of a learner keeps me fresh and humble. I’m terrible at most of the new things I try – baking, photography, gardening. I love it!
What is your best piece of advice?
Say yes first; figure it out later.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Chips & queso, coffee and glitter. Butter if I get a fourth thing, definitely butter.
Thank you, Amy, for your contagious passion and love of Charlotte and its people. And thank you, as always, to the talented Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for today’s stunning photos!
Meet more amazing Charlotte women in our FACES archives. Click here and prepare to be inspired!