**Holly Chang of [Project Pengyou](http://projectpengyou.com/) reveals why she chose to start a non-profit organization in China and have the Ford Foundation approach her for work.**
Holly Chang had a good thing going before she relocated to Beijing from the United States five years ago—great job, her own home and an independent lifestyle working for a major corporation. “In every way, I was a very successful young person,” she says.
In truth, she still is, though now in a very different way. Rather than climbing the corporate ladder in America, she’s enacting social change as the founder of the Beijing-based non-profit Golden Bridges and the head of Project Pengyou, a massive campaign to improve U.S.-China relations through interpersonal exchange that is part of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative.
##Forging New Friendships
Project Pengyou is a social networking site where people who currently—or have previously—lived in China can connect with one another and seek opportunities to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. With vocal support from the U.S. government, and financial backing from the Ford Foundation, Project Pengyou seeks to let those who have ventured outside their comfort zones to live in China know that they are pioneers, much like Chang herself. “Against all odds, you came to China, you survived, you thrived, and you have a unique skill set,” she says.
That Chang has found success bridging the gap between U.S.-China cultural understanding is no fluke. Born in Malaysia to Chinese parents, Chang grew up in America, and often found herself caught between two worlds, causing friction between the generations.
Holly Chang launches Project Pengyou
“Living in America, China was very far away from me, as a country, as a language,” she says. She would “go to school in one world, one mindset, and come home and try to communicate in another mindset.”
But those family ties led her to leave behind the security she had created for herself in the West. When her father underwent a second heart surgery in Malaysia, Chang says she reassessed her priorities. “I didn’t even know about the first one. That made me realize how estranged I was from my family.” In an effort to reconnect, Chang sold off her house and moved to China to be closer to her parents and learn Chinese.
“Moving here really humanized the Chinese experience for me,” she says. “Before, it was just something I had to deal with,” she says.
##The Birth of Project Pengyou
One of Chang’s goals was to delve into her passion for philanthropy, and she founded Golden Bridges, a small non-profit that facilitates U.S.-China charitable cooperation. The group found success working on a number of projects, including climate action initiatives that involved bringing delegations of American and Chinese students to United Nations climate forums in Copenhagen and Cancun. Golden Bridges also helped launch the China Foundation Center, which pushes for transparency in the philanthropic sector in China.
In October of 2010, Golden Bridges launched the 10-10-10 movement, a series of 300 grassroots youth events throughout China. The initiative caught the eye of the Ford Foundation, which approached Chang and offered her organization US$100,000 in seed money to develop Project Pengyou.
Signing up for Project Pengyou
December of last year saw Project Pengyou’s Beijing launch with a list of well-known expats, including The New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos, sharing stories of why they first came to China, and why they stayed. Chang says future events may include a fundraiser with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The hope is to raise enough money to hire more staffers to keep Project Pengyou moving.
Chang’s passion for Project Pengyou is evident as she describes the mission, and speaks of future plans. Her enthusiasm is a driving force in pushing it forward.
It’s a long-term endeavor, with plans being made for several years of development. But Chang’s commitment isn’t wavering.
“This journey will mean something to U.S.-China relations,” she says of the expat experience, “which in turn will mean something to the world.”