Our YEN program has seen encouraging progress last year, with more than a dozen business ideas put together by local participants in collaboration with foreign volunteers who joined us on trips. We have increased the impact of our YEN programs by developing a more interactive workshop format that produces real, usable, solid business ideas. Choson Exchange programs have also provided a platform for local entrepreneurs to meet like-minded people from other parts of the country.
To better understand the changing urban landscape in DPR Korea, we collaborated with the Architectural Association to host a workshop focused on architecture and real estate, covering the intersection of entrepreneurship and infrastructure. Led by Choson Exchange colleague architect Calvin Chua, we shared best practices in infrastructure development from abroad, and gained insights into the sector in the country. We also frequently visited Unjong Park, a technology zone next to the city of Pyongsong, for consultations on developing facilities and regulations to support startups.
When we started preparing the first Women In Business program in DPR Korea, our idea to focus on female participants seemed strange to local partners. No exchange program of this kind, focusing on this demographic, existed. Asking for significant input on who would attend these events, aiming for a high rate of repeat participants, teaching business content to a majority-female audience — our partners did not think this was a good idea. Nonetheless, we pitched our vision, and pushed forward to build the very first initiative of this kind in the country.
Four committed Choson Exchange volunteers joined our trip to Pyongyang this month and talked about topics that are among the most pressing for many frontier entrepreneurs in North Korea: How to test business ideas quickly and effectively on a small budget, how to create a brand that resonates with customers in an increasingly competitive market, and how to use accounting to keep track of money in a company.
2016 was a tough year of tension and international policy changes. However, Choson Exchange continued to implement trainings and capacity-building programs, bringing the spirit and knowledge of frontier entrepreneurship to the DPR Korea.
Let's have a look at Choson Exchange Annual Report 2016 to review our work, achievements and future vision, in order to support the entrepreneurship in North Korea.
Jim Rogers, who co-founded legendary hedge fund Quantum with George Soros, once said in 2016: “North Korea today is where China was in 1981. Deng Xiaoping started opening up in ‘78. Most of us, including me, either weren’t aware of it or if we were aware of it. We ignored it, didn’t pay any attention. North Korea is doing that now.” North Korea’s Korea Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Committee (KFIECC - a mouthful!) published a new guide in 2016 on the business and investment environment in the country.
The room we conduct workshops on has also fostered debate. We've seen our participants really go at it over marketing and growth strategies, debating to a point where it got a little uncomfortable for the rest of us. We've also seen real cooperation and solidarity as participants try to figure out challenges our volunteer workshop leaders have assigned them. The room is large, easily accommodating one hundred people or more, and let's us move people around to create small, active groups.
There are questions on how much Moon can engage, or how soon, given the potential US political backlash. But anyway, here are our colleague Andray's personal views on how a new economic engagement policy under South Korea should look like: "Supporting smaller-scale investments in North Korea by South Korean companies offers a more promising path to achieving greater North-South economic cooperation....Even at the KIC’s peak era, the limitations on its success and spillover effects into the North Korean economy were manifold..."
In September 2016, Marcus Olsson, the co-founder and CEO of Swedish tech startup SceneThere which produces custom 360-degree video experiences, visited North Korea as a volunteer with Choson Exchange to lead workshops on innovation and entrepreneurship as a workshop leader. He realized that there is more to DPRK than what he has read in the media and created the world's first interactive VR experience from North Korea, to encourage better understanding of this country.