My Story with Choson Exchange

Given that our newsfeeds are overloaded with headlines about North Korean global affairs, we decided to take a break this week from our usual blog posts to feature a member of our staff, Stephanie.

My story with Choson Exchange started with a cold-call LinkedIn message five years ago. I first read about CE in a 2013 Economist article, and to this day I can still remember the overwhelming sense of excitement that flowed through me when I read the words “business educations for North Koreans.”

As a business major studying abroad in Asia, who also was intensely interested in North Korean affairs, it felt like it was a sign from the Universe. I had to know more. Through a series of conversations, I eventually I came to work for CE in 2015 on a North Korean incubator proposal, and now in 2017 I’m back with CE taking an approved leave of absence from my job in the US.

I am currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and my focus is to research best practices of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems in frontier economies, and to build a multi-year plan on how to create one in North Korea.

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Working in context of the North Korean economy obviously has many differences than the corporate environment I am typically used to. Back in the US, I work for a large consulting firm and my daily life revolves around billion dollar multi-national corporations that can churn out a standard financial report on a dime.

However here with CE, I am reading workshop requests from our North Korean partners asking for advice on how to create a standard financial report in general. This stark contrast gets to the core of why I’ve been involved with Choson Exchange for the past several years. There is an egregious lack of information, resources, and support available to North Koreans entrepreneurs, and I believe the workshops we hold and the mentors we bring to North Korea are an effective source of knowledge exchange and a progressive method of engagement.

 

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Aside from our core mission, I also believe that our workshops are a channel for more empathy and understanding of people who come from one of the most geopolitically complicated nations in the world. For example, for one of our recurring workshops, we ask our participants to fill out a ‘business model canvas.’

What I find particularly poignant as I read through these business proposals is how I see a bit of my own parents in our participants. My parents immigrated to West Texas in the 1970’s and the only thing they had was an earnest desire to build a livelihood. Concepts such as market segmentation and inventory turnover were as foreign to them as the country they just immigrated to. But they had a sincere determination to do something with their opportunity, and they learned these concepts along the way.

We see this same drive in our North Korean participants as well, and we want to support them with the knowledge and skills to help them be successful in their own business endeavors. Although North Korea may be one of the most difficult nations to empathize with, through our work I believe you will come to find that in many ways, the North Koreans are not that different from you or me.


If you would like to know more about our work or talk to previous workshop leaders about their experience, please contact us at ceteam@chosonexchange.org.