Update: The launch event scheduled for Thursday, Feb 23 has been postponed due to inclement weather. A new date will be announced soon.
Barbara Phuong Koldos was getting restless during the early days of the pandemic.
“I’m an extrovert,” she said in an interview this week. “I’m just sitting here at my house, working from home. I needed to build a community.”
So Koldos, who is vice president of business development at the regional economic development organization New North in Appleton, reached out to a handful of fellow Asian American professionals, who formed a social group that met once a month or so on Zoom. Informal at first, it evolved into an organization that called itself NEW APIDA Professionals – Northeast Wisconsin Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi-American Professionals.
By the time the group was able to gather in person last summer, more than 40 people showed up.
“When we saw that, (we knew) we need to be more than just a social group,” Koldos said. “We need more.”
Koldos said she wanted the group to provide networking, mentorship and leadership development for current and prospective business leaders from Northeast Wisconsin’s Asian American community.
“We don’t see a lot of people who look like us in leadership positions. And the ones who are, get tapped all the time. There needs to be more … of us,” she said. “We’re collaborating, we’re connecting, and we’re building community with the focus of bringing visibility to AAPI leaders, and building the next generation of AAPI leaders.”
As the organization grew, Koldos and the other four people on the board of directors thought about what the next steps could be. Koldos reached out to Jason Wong, an old friend from when she lived in Arizona years ago. The two had been members of the National Association of Asian American Professionals together, and Wong has since formed a new organization: Asian Corporate and Entrepreneur Leaders (ACEL).
NEW APIDA Professionals then decided to become the eighth local chapter of ACEL to make the most of what Wong and his team had already built.
“We can leverage what they’ve already done,” Koldos said. “They have collegiate chapters, they have a very well tuned mentorship program, they’re a 501(c)(3). They will do all of that one-to-two work, if you will, so then we can take it from two to 10.”
That relationship will become official Thursday, February 23, as the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of ACEL formally launches with an event at Hinterland, 1001 Lombardi Avenue in Ashwaubenon. The event will feature networking time from 5 to 6 pm, speakers from 6-6:30 and meet & greet time from 6:30-7. Speakers will include Wong and Koldos as well as Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and other dignitaries.
Northeast Wisconsin joins seven other chapters from Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Orange County and Tucson, as well as collegiate chapters at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University.
Looking ahead, Koldos said the organization has a speaker series planned called “InspirAsian” featuring local leaders. She also hopes the organization provides young professionals the chance to serve on its board and committees to gain important experience.
“It’s my way of pulling others with me,” Koldos said. “I’ve been given this opportunity, this platform to be involved in boards and organizations outside of my affinity group. How do I build others within my own affinity group? It’s twofold. It’s young professionals looking for that leadership opportunity, but it is also for the more seasoned folks to give back.”