Pearl Leung’s position as Amazon’s Head of Community Affairs for Bellevue, feels like a full circle moment to her at times. She moved to Seattle to pursue a degree in Architecture at the University of Washington, but felt so intimidated by her first Professor that she never took another class toward that degree. Instead, she chased her growing interest in American Ethnic Studies, her curiosity about the connection between nonprofits and business, and her passion for equity. Along the way she interned for Governor Locke and managed a City Council campaign for Velma Veloria. Recognizing how real estate and equity through land use are central to the American Dream, and pivotal towards empowering and building community foundations and infrastructure, she returned to the UW for a Masters in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development—a different, but no less impactful, kind of architecture.
At 24, Pearl became the youngest employee at Vulcan Real Estate and recalls a critical learning moment in the early days of growth and redevelopment in South Lake Union, “The Cascade Neighborhood Council had a socio-economically diverse membership from condo residents to people recovering from homelessness. There were members with very different viewpoints including those who were not supportive of the redevelopment in the neighborhood. It was early in my career, and I remember being nervous about attending this meeting since I represented a developer. Not only was I welcomed by members of the council, but I learned so much from participating in these meetings; how to be inclusive, how they saw me as an individual versus the organization I represented, and how to have healthy, respectful civic disagreements and dialogue towards a common goal. That really shaped how I show up today and how I work in the community.”
Leung applies lessons learned from early Amazon growth in Seattle to Bellevue such as early engagement and advocacy. “In Bellevue, we can look around corners, help and add, join conversations with Bellevue leaders. If we know the growth is coming, we ask how we can collaborate with the city, neighbors and stakeholders to keep Bellevue beautiful and livable. We can anticipate pain points such as affordable housing and transportation needs.”
For Pearl, thinking holistically about how Amazon can be a proactive, good neighbor starts with listening. She enrolled in the City of Bellevue Essentials Program, a 10-week introduction to civic engagement highlighting the structure and daily operations of Bellevue city government. A day in the life of this Head of Community Affairs can include conversations with arts and culture groups to find ways to support equity efforts such as cultural mapping with Easthub, attending the groundbreaking for the Eastrail Link at the iconic Wilburton Trestle because Amazon worked with the foundation to fill the funding gap. And don’t be surprised if she is in line ahead of you at her fave haunt Fogrose Atelier.
Leung recognizes the challenge of change—and Bellevue is changing. She also knows the power of connecting people and organizations. It’s often so much more than just a donation, we like to leverage other unique assets at Amazon and roll up our sleeves to bring in volunteers, make connections, be a thought partner, leverage our technology and logistics expertise. “That level of collaboration and creativity is what gets me excited. I love the Eastside!” she says. “My favorite part of my job is that I get to dream with organizations. We are dreaming together and then actually doing it!”