Three years ago, I worked with some North Koreans to have some candidates sent to a highly-prestigious conference overseas. The theme for the year was “entrepreneurship” and that partner told us that the theme was not suitable for North Koreans as it was a socialist economy. Given our focus on business innovation and talent in North Korea, entrepreneurship is always a cornerstone of our programs and we are launching an education program specifically focused on female entrepreneurs next year. We have a team in Pyongyang, that includes some very successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, running some programs this week . I am also visiting Pyongyang next week to discuss a venture capital idea we have been mulling over for more than a year, and we have been placing young North Koreans at start-up incubators overseas for internships.
However, I still do not know how North Koreans understand the term “entrepreneurship” or how they would react to it. Past mentions of the word in KCNA have either been neutral, used in reference to situations in external countries, or negative. Hence, I almost did a double-take when I saw the term “entrepreneur” on the front-page of Rodong Sinmun’s website recently:
Immediately after the liberation of Korea from the colonial rule of Japan, Kim Jong Suk, woman General of Mt. Paektu, was engaged in revolutionary activities in Kyongsong County to arouse the people to the building of a new society. One day, a brewer came to see Kim Jong Suk.
Kim Jong Suk kindly greeted him.
After hearing out his career and present difficulties, Kim Jong Suk said: "Now, some people are finding fault with small entrepreneurs, labeling them as objects of overthrow or bourgeoisie. But, their accusation is an idle talk made by factional elements who act contrary to the will of General Kim Il Sung. From the period of the anti-Japanese armed struggle, Kim Il Sung trusted not only in small entrepreneurs and tradesmen, but national capitalists. In the liberated country today too, he believes in them as ever. You should more positively turn out in nation building for the country".
Keeping her instructions deep in his heart, he urged his fellow businessmen in the Kyongsong area to turn out in the construction of the country. A few days later, Kim Jong Suk called on the brewer at his house. Learning about his business in detail, she said; "Only when you run your enterprise for the country and people, can you be highly trusted by General Kim Il Sung and enjoy the respect of the people."
She went on to say: "General Kim Il Sung shows deep trust to small entrepreneurs and tradesmen who render cooperation to nation building. No matter who may say what, you should not vacillate at all, but trust and follow the General. He does not discriminate those who love the country and nation". In this way Kim Jong Suk implanted an unshakable faith in his mind.
Thanks to such a great loving care and trust of Kim Jong Suk, the brewer who was wandering at the crossroads in his life found out the path of a new life and turned out together with his colleagues in the general ideological mobilization movement for nation building. Afterwards, he was elected a deputy to a local power organ.
Paek Yong Mi
So remember, the President wants you to go forth and be entrepreneurial. Now if only policymakers chip in with policy changes that help make life easier for entrepreneurs. You might also be interested in this interview I gave at Knowledge@Wharton on entrepreneurship in North Korea.