Yanchun “Lily” Li travels so frequently between New York and China that she’s become a very familiar face on Air China flights. All that airborne time is all spent with one goal in mind: to bridge the cultural gap between the two countries.
In 2016, she launched Harvard Wealth Strategy and Management with this mission at its core. Through the organization, which she started with a business partner, she hosts cultural exchanges, bringing American students and adults to China. In her opinion, that is the path to peace in the world. “By doing things together, we gradually understand why people think and talk this way,” she explained. “And then, with understanding, we can create more respect.”
She grew up in China’s northeast, attended college in Beijing, and earned her MBA at Harvard. She now sits on the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board and is its only member from mainland China.
This month, the Midtown East resident is preparing for the Chinese New Year Spectacular at Carnegie Hall on February 24. The concert celebrates the musical talent of artists from both China and the U.S.
Tell us how Harvard Wealth Strategy came about.After my entrepreneurship for almost 24 years in the pharmaceutical industry and with all the experiences from my travels, I started to realize how important cultural exchange could be. And also how important it is to cultivate new generations to have a better understanding about different countries, especially China and the U.S., two of the biggest powers in the world right now. So, with that motivation, I started this company.
What was your mission in creating it?One of the missions is to bridge the cultural gap, especially between the U.S. and China. I don’t view it in a very complicated way. Actually, it is very simple and practical. That is, let us do things together. I see the whole path and, I think, the starting point will be cultural exchange.... More and more young people in China are starting to come to the U.S. Half a million come to study. They are not only contributing to the growth of the economy of the U.S., but the more significant part is they learn the culture here. And also, I see more visionary American families have started to send their kids to China to learn Chinese culture. The real hope is the future generations. So why not use my resources, funds and experience to do this?
You’ve been hosting cultural exchanges to China for the past 10 years. I’ve been inviting Wall Street brokers, managers, lawyers, auditors, to China. Many groups came with me to China, including, in 2013, 20 members of the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board, who came with me for a 10-day trip. All of those experiences are really amazing, even to me. I’m also really surprised because for a lot of them, this is their first trip to China, and all of the women on the board are global leaders. I would have never imagined that if it didn’t happen in front of me.
Who are the students you have brought there and what have their experiences been like?Last year, with my business partner, Charles Sullivan, we took 12 PAL [Police Athletic League] performing arts high school students to China to join the Joy Dance Beijing Youth International Festival. Students paid the airfare, but all the other expenses were covered by the Beijing government. We were the first who took American students to join this event. Our company is the representative of the Beijing government for this festival. In 2016, we also took 20 Regis High School students to join this event. Some students were so excited, they cried. We couldn’t control our tears when we saw that. We also invited 18 high school teachers to come to China. They were all first timers. We couldn’t imagine. And a lot of them didn’t have passports or Visas, so we facilitated them to go through all those complicated procedures. All of these experiences really encouraged me and my company to go further along this road. We feel it is so important and meaningful.
Explain how the Chinese New Year Spectacular was born.Charles and I are the initiators of this project. At the very beginning, it was a very simple idea. Jiaxin Tian is a really talented pianist who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music. Her mom, who is a very good friend of mine, said, “My daughter is desperately eager to have an international stage. She has accumulated so many skills and is so talented, but there’s no stage for her.” So I talked with Charles, who is very experienced in the entertainment business, to help. That was the starting point. Young Chinese artists are really in the demand to have this kind of stage. It’s exciting to have the capability to have these talented artists become so successful and to realize their dream.
What are some of the Chinese companies you work with here?Ton Ren Tang, a 340-year old company. It is the number-one brand in traditional Chinese medicine. So we have helped them to acquire their first mainstream clinic in Manhattan on Madison Avenue. This is something very meaningful for the entire industry, because 90 percent of the patients are American. Harvard Wealth also has a section of investment, so we also invest in education and high-tech companies. One is UBI Blockchain Technology, a company using biomedical technology to focus on food and drug safety issues.
Tell us about the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board. What are some initiatives you work on together?I’ve been on this board for seven years already. We exchange opinions towards equality and issues around equality. And also policy making, and how we can make women more of an important part of the whole process. We also help young women to achieve career success and a better balance between family and career life. So, on the one hand, we discuss all those initiatives in a conference room on campus. On the other hand, every year, we have conferences all over the world. And each year, we have different topics to discuss. That is a very enriching process for me. On that board, I am also the only one from mainland China. I think one of the reasons is the language barrier. Because for young generations, like my son’s, language won’t be a problem. My son can speak English very well. But, for my generation, especially when you are a successful entrepreneur, you really devote your time to your business. And in my generation, we really didn’t have the chance to study abroad to learn another language. I’m trying to find Chinese entrepreneurs in different arenas with language skills to join the board.