Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, February 26, 2010

Bi wants to eliminate barriers to sustainable environment

Xiaojia "Lydia" Bi

For Xiaojia "Lydia" Bi, public service is about breaking down barriers, whether in helping people in developing countries or supporting sustainable wetland restoration in New Orleans.

Bi comes to La Follette by way of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, from which she graduated in May 2010 with a master of science degree. She decided to pursue a double degree after meeting a few La Follette students during her first semester and talking with her URPL advisor. She expects to complete her Master of International Public Affairs degree in May 2011 and then do research and policy analysis that advances international development.

"My interest has been broad, including environmental, economic and social policy," Bi says, "but I have been focusing on environmental policy in my graduate work, with an interest to transform our communities into sustainable living spaces."

She finds the La Follette curriculum is expanding her perspective. "I appreciate building on URPL's regional and local focus, and gaining global competence through the international public affairs program for a meaningful career in the public policy arena," she says.

Bi brings her experience of growing up in China to bear in her consideration of creating policies that advance a sustainable environment in an equitable way. "Because of political and social underdevelopment in many developing countries in the world, there are major barriers for the general public's interest to be advanced in these countries," she says. "I hope my work will help make public policy accessible to people in developing countries and help them overcome the various political, social and cultural barriers that hinder their full participation in the civil society. I also hope to conduct research that helps policymakers in developing countries to consider putting social and political  developments on the top of their agendas and to close up gaps with the developed world in these regards."

The importance of helping people who are not part of the policy world make sense of proposals became more apparent to Bi after she went to New Orleans twice in 2009 with an interdisciplinary student group from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. They collaborated with grassroots neighborhood organizations, local schools, big agency players such as the Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, and research groups such as the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to promote sustainable wetland restoration and environmental justice in the city's Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I saw the devastating effects of natural disaster on communities and people's lives," Bi says. "Through interviews and interactions with our partners in the different agencies, I gained firsthand information on how institutions seek to mitigate natural hazards. This experience was a great introduction to how unsustainable human practices led to devastating effects. It broadened my purview of grassroots organizations and public institutions and the interplay between them."

In the summer of 2009, Bi worked with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Division of Transportation Investment Management's Bureau of Aeronautics. She researched and revised the Wisconsin Airport Land Use Guidebook to help communities develop compatible uses of land near airports through environment and wildlife hazards mitigation. This project complemented the certificate in transportation management and policy she completed in May 2010 and formed the basis of her master's professional project for URPL.

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During her first year at La Follette, Bi has gained insight into social policy through her project assistantship with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's Labor Market Information Section. Her work is helping to improve the funding distribution formula for the agency's statewide dislocated worker program. "I analyze different scenarios of funding outcomes to be received by sub-state units," she says. "I change the eligibility thresholds and assign different weights to a variety of factors in the funding formula, such as unemployment concentration, long-term unemployment, unemployment insurance claimants, declining industries and farm hardships, as stipulated in the federal Workforce Investment Act," Bi says.

"I found the macroeconomics and statistical packages I learned at La Follette particularly useful in the work," she adds, "and I appreciate the opportunity to learn policy analysis in a real-world scenario where real politics exists."

All these skills and experiences, including her exposure to the American civil service system and policymaking process, are preparing Bi to help people in developing countries address political and social underdevelopment in the public policy arena. "A couple of developing countries will step up and be major players on the global stage," Bi says, "so it is also important to research about the possibility to create a fairer and more equitable global governance environment and structure."


After graduating in May 2011, Lydia Bi became a research analyst with a company in Shanghai. The firm serves multinational corporations in the Greater China region to mitigate risks in an unfamiliar business environment, to negotiate cultural differences and to promote transparency, ethical business practices and international governance standards.

In 2012, Bi became a sustainability analyst with InnoCSR, a management consultancy in Shanghai that specializes in corporate social  responsibility. Bi manages the Fortune CSR Ranking 2013 project, a China-focused annual ranking of multinational and Chinese companies based on  their corporate social responsibility performance published in the Fortune China magazine in its March 2013 issue. In 2013 she joined Canalys as a research analyst. She conducts research and analysis for Canalys' portfolio of mobility-focused advisory services. Based in the company's Shanghai office, she works on the quarterly market estimation processes and forecasts. She tracks vendor performance and industry trends for smart phones, tablets and PCs, with a focus on Greater China and EMEA.

Bi spent the summer of 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland, thinking about how to help cities become more resilient and reduce risks posed by natural and human-activity induced disasters and global climate change. She interned with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and worked on its World Disaster Reduction Campaign 2010-2011: Making Cities Resilient: "My City is Getting Ready."

"I was involved in brainstorming and defining campaign strategies, building and maintaining campaign partnerships and monitoring partners' activities, which included the U.N. Environment Programme, U.N.–HABITAT and the World Bank," she says.

Bi assisted the organization and preparation of the Shanghai Forum on Disaster Risk Reduction, which is closely associated with the Shanghai Expo 2010 "Better Cities, Better Life." She drafted and translated invitation letters and official documents to engage government officials, high-profile civil society leaders and celebrities from across the globe into the campaign activities; compiled and analyzed information on worldwide urban disaster risk reduction initiatives and activities for the development of campaign-related information products; and managed content and compiled updates for the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction campaign website.

"The internship was an extraordinary opportunity," Bi says, "and I enjoyed living in Geneva, the smallest of the world's most international cities. I worked with professionals with the highest competency representing the broadest nationalities and cultural backgrounds, and I became friends with an impressive group of young professionals from all over the world."

— story last updated June 20, 2013