Working to support frontier entrepreneurs in North Korea is never easy. The country's bureaucracy is challenging to work with, its guardians paranoid and global understanding of North Koreans and their country prone to gross stereotyping. Fundraising for our work is never easy in the best of times, and is now much more complicated as inter-Korean and US-North Korea tensions reach new peaks. What is more depressing is the lack of political will, fresh thinking and easy solutions to reaching a negotiated outcome - one that all sides can accept. One can imagine the current situation going on for years if not decades, as it already has.
Despite all this, the work we do in-country is important for showing that there are possible areas the international community can work with North Koreans in ways that everyone is better off. Its not us versus them, but rather where North Koreans themselves want to get to (more entrepreneurship) and us also believing that the outcome is positive for the people and the international community.
Our work also sheds lights on interesting economic and social trends taking place away from the media gaze. North Koreans are experimenting with cool new ideas, and longer-term changes are lost in the easy stereotypes of the media.
We have over the years built up a network of close to 1600 North Korean entrepreneurs, researchers and policymakers. We have supported an intimate two-way exchange of knowledge and ideas. This work has to go on as the day might come when North Korea is integrated into international society and the institutional knowledge and relationships we have built will be exponentially important. As we look towards a very uncertain funding situation in the next two years given the current tensions, this Harvard Business School case profiling our work will be useful in helping us rethink our model and approach.