Purpose requires finding the right mindset early on

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This country is as diverse as it is because it is a collection of different nationalities and backgrounds. Many people make the trek from across the world to broaden their horizons and change their life. Christina Ho was no different.

On this episode of Women of Washington, host Gigi Schumm welcomed Ho, CEO and co-founder of PolicyInsights. Ho previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for accounting policy and financial transparency at the Treasury Department.

“I came here all by myself,” Ho said. “I think that was a defining moment for my life because it was a big risk going to a country that far away, that speaks a different language from how I grew up.”

Traveling to the U.S. from Macau, an island near mainland China, was an impulsive decision Ho made. She said it was out of character at the time, but that decision began to represent a theme in her life.  She originally came to the U.S. to pursue an education and kind of stumbled upon a career in analytics and accounting.

Working as an accountant for the Pennsylvania State Department for a year and another consulting firm in Washington, D.C. for two, Ho realized she wanted to do more with her career. She took a leap of faith and joined the IT department at Verizon Wireless.

“Even though I didn’t know anything about IT, they were looking for people with analytical skills,” she said. “I was at Verizon for seven years and I did very well there.”

She said that even at that point in her career, she didn’t know specifically what she wanted to do and something was missing.  Ho changed her career path several times before she realized that what was missing was a feeling of purpose — of true calling.

That’s how she  ended up working for the Treasury Department. It was during the country’s financial hardship, in 2009, that Ho saw potential in joining the federal workforce. She said in this role, she finally felt the mission.

“I could see the impact of my work in everything because public policy and what government does really impacts people’s lives on a daily basis,” she said. “So I definitely think that my work at the Treasury made me feel that I was making a big impact.”

One piece of legislation Ho said she felt most proud to be part of pushing for was the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). This is the law requiring federal agencies to publicly disclose direct expenditures and to link federal contract, loan and grant spending information to federal programs for taxpayers and oversight groups.

Christina Ho, PolicyInsights

“That was a significant improvement in a thing that many industries and the public would find useful. So that was my crowned accomplishment,” she said.

As a member of the federal workforce, many constraints both in technology and regulations kept Ho from doing the large-scale analyses on that data and find real value in it. So, she started her own consulting firm called PolicyInsights, Inc. to show not only her former colleagues, but also herself, just how pertinent that information could be if studied further.

“So that’s what I decided to do. Like, if I look at my life, I often take these risks to make changes in my life,” she said. “Startups are not easy and statistics are not on my side … but I think that just goes to show how I am if I really believe that something would be good.”

Following her conviction has always been a motto in Ho’s life. She said she would rather fail than not try.

“I think it’s very important to find out early on what you really care about and pursue that and don’t let those voices on the side convince you that you shouldn’t,” she said. “I believe that if you have the passion and strong conviction in doing something … even if they’re hard … you will be successful.”