On a trip like this, your notepad fills up quickly and your head can start to spin, so I’m trying to organize 48 fast, fascinating hours with SVP Seoul into a few buckets that make sense — at least to me.
Sometimes it feels like it’s 1998 again …
… On the drive from Incheon Airport, I asked one of their founding Partners why he is in SVP and in his best English (infinitely better than my non-existent Korean), he told me it “refreshes me.”
It’s fascinating for me to hear how different people around the world express the way SVP feels to them. In his case, very simple, pure. In countries like Korea (and Japan and China), some moments feel like the early days of SVP.
Sixteen years ago, Paul Brainerd created SVP to engage a “new generation of givers.” Today, SVP Seoul is helping catalyze, in many ways, “the first generation of givers.”
Ponder that for a second. They are building the “donation culture” in their country.
At our final evening session, as I met with SVP Seoul Partners they talked about how they wanted to “have a role in how their society is” and “to help move, change my city.”
By the way, it’s nice on your first morning in a faraway place to meet a fellow Iowa State Alum, Mrs. Lee (right). How cool is that?! And how many time have I thought “how cool is that?” on this trip?
No, make that 2014 …
… We toured the new Social Economy Center (below), which felt a lot like home at www.220andchange.org. Same energy, same vibe, sense of possibility and connections, expected and unexpected. The most obvious enhancement were several resting / quiet areas with mats … hmmmmmmm.
Walking along the last evening to a traditional dinner with rice wine, I talked with a new Partner. She is a Korean native, NYU MBA, back in Seoul to work near her family. She told me how she was looking forward to using her professional expertise with one of their Fellows (their name for investees).
I could’ve been walking with a Seattle Partner down 2nd Ave to dinner. In those two days, we got so many windows into a rapidly changing society and “social economy,” as they called it. It’s head-spinning how much things have changed in South Korea in the last few decades; there is a vibrancy and sense of real openness to the future.
So actually 2020 …
… We are exploring how to add impact investing to SVP Seattle’s toolkit in the coming years. In Seoul, they’ve already made two investments in for-profits with a social purpose. One is www.letsplayplanet.com.
We took one of their local tours on the second afternoon with a local host (above). The organizational form (for-profit vs. nonprofit), the kind of capital given (grant vs. equity, sort of) was almost an afterthought to SVP Seoul. They’ve leapfrogged us; they are using whatever form of capital makes sense to invest in the social entrepreneur that they think will create the greatest impact. This is an approach to philanthropy that is only now beginning to take root in the U.S.
SVP Seoul is also ahead of the game on their relationships with community leadership. One of our first stops in Seoul was to meet Mayor Park Won-soon. (See some of the news coverage here.) Outside city hall was a very moving monument and yellow ribbons everywhere, remembering the lives lost in their tragic ferry accident.
Mayor Park Won-soon was a unique person. I don’t know his politics or ambitions, but I’d remember his name, you might hear it again on a larger stage someday. He has a wall full of post-it notes with dreams, complaints, suggestions from their citizens and two sets of bookcases askew to remind him of the inequalities in society.
Mayor Park Won-soon has been coined a “social designer” … he believes social entrepreneurship and the work organizations like SVP are doing in the “main force to change the world.” He also believes the public sector will not be the place where new forces and change will come from; his “job is to support change, but it will come from outside the current system.” When was the last time you heard a politician say that?
The seamlessness with which a philanthropic group like SVP Seoul could connect to public sector leadership was something SVP’s in the U.S. could work towards. He has over 800,000 Twitter followers and oh, he was the first person in Seoul to alert a small group (that became the co-founders of SVP Seoul) about SVP. How cool is that?
Steven, Mr. Jong, Mrs. Lee, Sun, and everyone at SVP Seoul, thank you for your amazing hospitality and openness. The sense of possibility is palpable. As I said with the final toast last night, please know that it may seem like you are a newer, smaller, faraway SVP, but you make the whole SVP network across 38 cities in 7 countries feel stronger and full of bigger possibilities because you are a part of our global community.
See you in Austin in October, Steven! 🙂