Inside BSR: Q&A with Olivia Li

June 22, 2022
  • Olivia Li portrait

    Olivia Li

    Manager, Transformation, BSR

Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, and where are you based? What is your favorite hobby?

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China and currently work as manager in Sustainability Management at BSR.

Olivia Li

In my spare time, I enjoy dancing—jazz and hip hop—as well as jogging and swimming. I’m also a fan of Chinese contemporary arts. I visit art galleries on a regular basis and would love to introduce these talented artists to the world.

How did you first get involved in sustainable business? How long have you been at BSR? What is your current role, and what does that entail?

My career has been driven by a passion for advancing diversity and inclusion, and a practical approach to social entrepreneurship. 

I was exposed to real-life social issues in my undergraduate years, and directly interacted with the first generation of social entrepreneurs and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) practitioners through my work at student associations and volunteer groups. With their support, I organized on-campus events to spread knowledge on social inclusion and combat discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

In subsequent years, I visited slums in Nairobi and Delhi, where I witnessed real-life challenges facing c women and children in poverty. I worked at a well-established NGO in Toronto that benefited from one of the best social support systems in the world. I connected with a community of colleagues, friends and mentors who were passionate about bringing positive impact through different professions and methods.

My experiences abroad inspired me to come back to China and work in sustainable business, with the aim of mobilizing corporate resources to help build a more sustainable and equitable world.

I joined BSR’s Beijing office as an intern, and then moved to the newly established Shanghai office as a coordinator. Since then, I have done extensive work in supporting companies to implement their sustainability strategies, plans and programs, including in-depth research on the most cutting-edge sustainability issues affecting China and Asia.

What are some interesting projects that you get to work on as part of your role at BSR? What do you enjoy about them?

A project that I am proud of—and that I currently manage—involves working with a technology company to design a socially inclusive project using wireless technology. The mobile application offers audio and visual support as well as volunteer accompanying services to assist blind and visually impaired people to overcome their daily challenges.

Before launching the service to users, the project team conducted various pilots to ensure that the mobile application could smoothly link the blind user and our partner volunteer organizations.

Xiao Wang was our first pilot user of this service. He needed to travel from Yantai, Shandong alone to Beijing for his summer internship at a blind massage center. Our mobile application helped him find a volunteer to pick him up at a Beijing Railway Station and accompany him to his home in the suburbs.

One year later, Xiao Wang informed me that he had left his massage job, and was about to take the National Bar Exam to practice law. He would very possibly be the first blind law practitioner of his province. He is continually giving back to his local community to support the disabled, and mentioned that our work has been a source of inspiration.

I was deeply inspired by his inner strength, kindness and resilience. There have been challenging times throughout my career; either responding to a complex client requests, or living as an entrepreneur to create and execute innovative solutions. Xiao Wang’s story reminds me of my original goals, which has helped to reinforce my passion and resilience toward my work.

What issues are you passionate about and why? How does your work at BSR reflect that?

I have a natural passion for writing. I write in the Wechat Blog platform in Chinese to share my knowledge on sustainability consumption and green lifestyles. At BSR, I have co-written the China blog series to unpack the sustainability and business impacts of China’s 14th Five Year Plan toward the western sustainability community.

At BSR, I am a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) taskforce, a voluntary group that assesses organization culture, policies and procedures related to DEI, and provides recommendations.

I also actively engage in diversity and inclusion related projects at work, including leading the mobile App project that supports blind people in China, conducting women’s empowerment research in Asia-Pacific, implementing women’s economic empowerment programs in Vietnam, and executing women’s health programs in the global supply chain.

What were the things that brought you joy amid the uncertainty and challenges of the past two years? What are you looking forward to in 2022?

The past 2-3 months were extremely difficult for us in Shanghai due to the city lockdown, especially in early April, when delivery and logistics were cut off and we had issues with accessing food and other essential products.

I appreciated the companionship of colleagues and friends at the Shanghai office, who helped turn the frustrating moments into trivia and jokes, as well as the support and positive messages from colleagues and clients across the globe. 

The constant reminder of the impact of my ongoing and past projects is a great source of energy for me and helps me navigate through difficult moments knowing that I am giving back to my community.


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