An Interview With May yer Thao, Hmong American Partnership’s New President & CEO



The Hmong Times was fortunate to have a chance to sit down (virtually) with HAP’s new President & CEO – May yer Thao. We’d like to thank Ms. Thao for taking the time to share her story, experience, leadership and vision for HAP’s growth and outreach in the community.

Hmong Times:  Thank you for taking the time to meet today. Please share a little of your background with our readers.

May yer Thao:  I grew up in Minnesota, have lived and worked in Thailand and I have lived in Milwaukee the last 15 years of my life. My husband is from Milwaukee, so I married into Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

When I moved to Milwaukee, I started working at the Medical College of Wisconsin for a violence prevention initiative and then moved to grants administration eventually managing grants dollars and philanthropic dollars for the College’s expansion into Green Bay and Central Wisconsin.

I was recruited by Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce as grants administrator and within 6 months the Executive Director retired. I inherited the Executive Director position at the Hmong Chamber of Commerce. I lead the organization in fulfilling its economic development vision and mission by providing strong oversight and management of resources and programs, specifically working with Hmong businesses statewide so they were aware of what programs and opportunities were available to them. During my tenure at the Hmong Chamber, we deployed the most business micro-loans in the organization’s history and more than quadrupled its revenues.

While I was at the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, I was approached by Governor Tony Evers who appointed me as the Assistant Deputy Director for WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority). The focus at WHEDA is to stimulate economic development for equity, diversity, and inclusion by providing affordable housing and business financing products for emerging market developers to make sure they had access to our resources to help them become successful.

HT:  May yer, how long have you been President & CEO of the Hmong American Partnership, and why was there a change of leadership in the organization? Why were you chosen to lead the organization?

MYT:  I have been with HAP for 4 months now. Bao Vang, the former President and CEO, retired in January of 2020 and I was recruited by community members in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Having worked in many of the spaces that HAP has strong programs in, it was definitely the right fit for my career and for HAP to make the move. Bao has created such a legacy that its now my responsibility to grow that legacy and make sure that it continues to be impactful.

There was a process where HAP formed a search committee with community members and the board of directors. That committee then met with the community to discuss what HAP’s next chapter would look like. I was approached by the community and invited in for an interview. I went through the interview process and was selected for the position of President & CEO.

HT:  What attracted you to this position? Tell us more about yourself.

MYT:  Outside of the organizations that I’ve led, there is a grass roots effort that introduced me to the greater Hmong community in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin United Coalition of Mutual Assistance Organizations (WUCMAA) is a coalition of many Hmong nonprofits that are united in their efforts to advocate for the advancement of Hmong and other Southeast Asian residents in Wisconsin. I was the first Hmong woman to Chair that coalition. That allowed me to meet a greater Hmong community, to work closely with the Hmong leaders in Wisconsin, and to do a lot of mentoring with not only the Hmong community, but all communities. I want to give back when I can and help to grow young professions along the way. Not just in the Hmong community, but all refugee communities. I have a calling from my past experiences to give back to the community and I felt this position at HAP is the next stage of my life’s journey.

HT:  Does this change in leadership mean a change in HAP’s direction and mission?

MYT:  Not at all. My vision is to continue creating a greater impact to work towards answering the following questions:

  • How do we do better for our communities?
  • How do we create a broader and deeper impact within diverse communities?
  • How do we lift up other communities?

It’s amazing how the Hmong community has grown and made huge advances and incredible achievements. It’s our duty to help other communities grow and advance. I believe in the power of unity with organizations. I believe in helping young folks and mid-career professionals dream big and reach their goals. The time has come to not just move the needle but spin the needle. We need to grow beyond just moving the needle. I’m tired of our communities surviving day to day, we need to help folks reach their dreams, aspire to greater dreams and achieve economic security to start building generational wealth.

HT:  What do you hope to achieve in this role? What are the most important issues, challenges and opportunities Minnesota’s Hmong and Southeast Asian communities and HAP are currently facing?

MYT:  I see several opportunities to help people in underserved communities with disparities. COVID magnifies these disparities; mental health disparities, social disparities, and economic disparities are just a few disparities that need to be addressed in our community.

I will hone in on three areas where I see the greatest need in communities and the greatest opportunities.

  1. Economic: How do we move to a prosperous life? How do we prepare our community with the right training, the right education, and the right leadership to achieve financial stability and career success if that’s what they aspire to? The HAP Academy OIC Workforce Training Center is one of our programs that is aiding in this goal – and we are in the process of attaining accreditation for the HAP Academy OIC program, which we will achieve over the next few years. [Accreditation helps students and employers identify legitimate post-secondary schools and programs that meet acceptable quality standards. Getting your education through an institution that is accredited by a recognized agency is important for several reasons, including eligibility for financial aid and occupational licensure or certification.]
  2. Mentor Young Professionals: We must mentor our young professionals and help them be able to network. Relationships are so significant to success. If you don’t know how to network and engage with folks, they won’t see your talents and skills. If they don’t see your talents and skills, how will they know that they should hire you? There is a need to be savvy – to have the ability to negotiate all worlds.
  3. Small Business Assistance: Small businesses need help to scale up to build wealth. They need to know what opportunities are available. Are there grants, loans, and mentoring opportunities available? Small businesses need to learn how to market outside the Hmong community, how to invest in products and services that will lead to success

HT:  Thank you for the opportunity to connect and share your story and vision. It has been a privilege to be able spend this time with you and give our readers some insight on your (and HAP’s) past present and future. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

MYT:  Yes, I’m asking for a call to action for our community. There is a need for all to come together to be united and support each other. We all need to work together to leverage resources and relationships. The work is for all of us to do what we can to move our community forward. We have work to do, but our mission is attainable. By working together, everyone can be successful.