Fiona Teng, Director of Marketing and Storytelling, Civic Hall
“I believe in leadership that listens and self-reflects, marketing that cares about its audiences, and civic tech communities that strive for equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
Fiona is a Hong Kong-born, California-raised, New York-based writer and activist. She literally contains multitudes: Her identities include immigrant, non-native English speaker, woman of color, mindfulness practitioner, and an “extroverted introvert” — making her particularly keen on viewing the world through an empathetic, compassionate, and inclusive lens.
Fiona has just joined Civic Hall as Director of Marketing and Membership (Director or Marketing and Storytelling as of Jan. 2020): “I believe in leadership that listens and self-reflects, marketing that cares about its audiences, and civic tech communities that strive for equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
Fiona is a board member of Epitome of Soul, an organization that serves underserved youth; on the leadership team of Human Rights Pen Pals, an organization supporting pen pals with incarcerated individuals; is scuba dive certified; now drums with Batala New York, an all-women Brazilian percussion band.; and follows the Stevie Wonder Live Band Dance Party religiously. You can connect with Fiona on her website and via email.
What Does She Do?
As the Director of Marketing and Membership — two weeks in — Fiona will be serving in the inaugural marketing role at Civic Hall. Through conversations and planning with members and staff alike, she hopes to create an integrated and customized marketing strategy from which Civic Hall can grow, and which will be iterated as strategies and tactics evolve for different needs. Fiona will also serve as a liaison with members to best understand how Civic Hall is serving its communities, and how it can continuously improve.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
“I was groomed in an environment where there were anxieties and fears for one’s genuine safety. There was this looming sense — that something could go wrong. One of our biggest reasons for coming over to the States came in 1994…”
While Fiona was turning ten as the family prepared to leave Hong Kong, she was only five years old in 1989, during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. For her family, it marked the moment in time, making the imminent nature of the handover – Hong Kong reverting to mainland China control after existing as an independent colony of the British Empire for 99 years — a figure of dread.
Fiona’s family did not emigrate intact. Her father – whom she remembers as being a serial entrepreneur, but without the success – did not join the family, leaving her with an older sister and a newly single mother. The Tangs found themselves in the Bay Area amid a thriving east Asian community.
While a student at UC San Diego, Fiona noticed that Zipcar had arrived on campus. “As a fervent environmentalist then (and now), I was dedicated to never owning a car. I loved the idea of a community carshare and called the company asking for a job. I became a grassroots brand ambassador selling the idea of carsharing on university campuses and at farmer’s markets and citywide festivals. Soon I moved up the ranks at the organization, all the while being met with resistance to make the service more inclusive.” Despite her personal attempts to bring carshare into the Mission District and serve low-income households in residential buildings, her efforts were stonewalled. Zipcar seemed to place profit over people.
During this time, as she was thinking about her next move, Fiona picked up The Green Collar Economy by friend of Civic Hall Van Jones, finding his seamless blending of labor, environment and racial justice an inspirational blueprint, one that drove her to matriculate at UCSB, where she pursued a graduate degree in environmental science and management, with an emphasis in urban sustainability. Academia, however, wasn’t much more hospitable than a startup: “We’d we talk about fish; we’d talk about forestry, we’d talk about fossil fuels a lot… we’d talk about climate change. But we never talked about people.”
Fiona’s activist voice began to find its register. Much of her personal and professional development began to center — and still does to this day — communities of color and marginalized communities, whether it’s the founding of the Environmental Justice Committee at UCSB, from which UCSB Bren School Environmental Justice Club was born, or through her writing, which has seen her share her personal struggles as a way of opening up dialogue about challenging topics such as financial debt, racial inequity, immigration and assimilation, and the colonial practice of “divide and conquer.”
What Project(s) Is She Working On?
This is Fiona’s second full week at Civic Hall. Be gentle; as our new Director of Membership and Marketing, she’s still in intake mode.
“The biggest project that I am working on at Civic Hall will be to survey the Civic Hall community on a variety of topics. I’m interested in getting a pulse for what the community is thinking and feeling as a way to better understand this current moment at the organization, and also as a way to uncover things that are going well and areas of opportunity. I’ll be working closely with Shaneka and Savannah to map the intersection of membership, community engagement, and Civic Hall program offerings. Additionally, I’ll be participating in planning conversations about Union Square, but am dedicated to optimizing the member experience today.”
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
At Zipcar and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, Fiona worked adjacent to civic tech prior to arriving at Civic Hall. To date, her professional challenge had been finding a civic-tech space that intersected with her other passion: social justice. Knowing this, a friend of hers forwarded her this role at Civic Hall, declaring it “the perfect fit.” And so it was.
And as it turned out, Fiona was already inside of the networks of Civic Hall folks without her knowledge, where her entrepreneur, technologist, and general do-good friends had interacted with the community in one way or another.
The most random connection, however, was through Fiona’s life partner and his non-profit. A year ago last week, ioby – a crowdfunder for grassroots projects – was having its annual fundraiser and… honored Civic Hall co-founder Micah Sifry.
What is She Reading?
- Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
- Roxane Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist.
- Lisa Kho’s new novel, The Leavers.
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
“There is an opportunity for open and transparent communication. A lot of things have happened to Civic Hall over the last year-and-a-half, and the community felt the impact. Perhaps some things had to happen, and perhaps some things didn’t. Regardless, I think that there is an organizational responsibility to acknowledge the kind of impacts that transitions have had on the community. I spent two months in South Africa learning about post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation. Not to co-opt the incredibly heart-filled and challenging work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, but the first part of the process is the truth.”
Fiona is prepared to meet her learning curve with open ears and inquiry. She intends to ask the community a lot of questions and would love to connect with community members meaningfully, whether that means through online conversations, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or other means. Ultimately, her ask of Civic Hall community members is to share openly and honestly about their experiences, and for them to participate in designing an even more collaborative civic-tech space together. There’ll be more communications to come around how we may more formally connect, but in the meantime, if folks want to reach out to Fiona to chat, they can email her at email@example.com.